Estepona - History

The old and new coexist perfectly in Estepona. © Michelle Chaplow
The old and new coexist perfectly in Estepona.

ESTEPONA HISTORY

PREHISTORY

In Estepona various tools have been found made from local flint or quartzite using methods attributed to the Neanderthal era. Since we know the now-extinct Neanderthals lived in Gorham's cave in Gibraltar it raises the possibility that 30,000 years ago they were the first human (or at least humans' relatives) inhabitants of Estepona.  These tools have been found in the Corominas and at Arroyo Vaquero.    

Seven thousand years ago during the Neolithic period there were changes in human behaviour on the Iberian peninsular. While man was still hunting and living in caves, there were increasing examples of seasonal agricultural camps such as that found at Arroyo Vaquero. These communities perfected tool-making  with wood and polished stone. Ceramics were also used.

During the Chalcolithic and Copper Age the inhabitants began to take advantage of the sea. Proof of this is the discovery in the Lomo de Alberica archaeological site of hundreds of pits full of materials. Lomo de Alberica is a small hill between Arroyo Vaquero and Arroyo Enmedio about one kilometre inland. Here large number of limpets and mussels were found.  Other sites are Cerro de Alcornocal, La Cacerias, La Escribano and Mesas de Saladavieja. This was the time when the Dolmens were constructed.

At the end of the Copper Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age (about 2000 BC) a series of hill camps were detected, Cerro de los Castillejos on the slopes of Sierra Bermeja, and this was also probably the beginning of mining on Sierra Bermeja.    

Phoenicians

There was certainly a small Phoenician settlement at El Torreon, a promontory on the Rio Guadalmansa which was probably navigable at that time. The settlement was dedicated to fish salting and mineral and agricultural trading.  At El Torrejon Anphoras, clay jars and household objects, jewellery and a figure of an Egyptian god have been found.  The Phoenicians were not the first to settle in El Torreon; however, it is not known who were the original Iberian settlers.  The site was deserted in about 200AD after 800 years of uninterrupted occupation. It is also possible that there were small Phoenician settlements on Cerro del Aguila and Cerro Patriana near the coast, but they have not been excavated.

Roman

The Romans arrived in this area a little before 200 BC. The precise location of their two recorded fishing and agriculture settlements, Salduba and Silniana, is uncertain.

Some suggest that Saluba was at El Torrejon since Saluba could be a Phoenician name. Silniana has also been linked to Estepona but more likely occupied the spot close to what is now San Pedro Alcántara. It was destroyed by a seaquake in the fourth century AD. As for Silniana, some commentators put it firmly on the site of modern Marbella.

Villa Romana de las Torres is located immediately beside the Torre Guadalmansa watchtower. There were excavations in 1915-16 and 1929 which revealed an extensive Roman villa complex. The first excavation uncovered the remains of a large building and several pools, which led the leader of the dig, José Martinez Oppelt, to conclude that it had been a "termas", or bath house. More>

In 2001 the site of the Roman Baths of Saladillo were excavated and found to date to the first century BC. The baths were abandoned three centuries later but the zone remained populated until the Bazantine time. An oven was also found nearby and it is though it was used to bake bricks for use in the construction of the baths.   

There are no substantive Roman remains to be seen in the town today, and in the old town centre it is only recently that direct evidence of settlement has been discovered. An octagonal structure which was a Roman Mausoleum constructed in the fourth century and abandoned in the sixth has been found in Calle Villa. Tombs forming a first to third century AD cemetery have been found in Calle Caridad.  

Moors

Estepona's modern name is probably derived from the Moorish Astabbuna. If Estepona was not Salduba or Silniana, we have no record of its name before the arrival of the Moors. In spite of its undoubted antiquity, it was totally absent from written historical records until the Califate era.

Towards its end, the town had already seen better days, since Aben al Jhatib, writing in the 14th century, tells us that it was in a state of decadence, that its monuments had largely disappeared, and that it was living on its reputation as a source of delicacies - presumably fishy ones.

© Michelle Chaplow Estepona Port
Estepona Port depicted in a mosaic on the wall of the market.

Christians

Estepona, like so many villages in southern Spain, was fought over by the moors and the Christians until it was finally captured by Enrique IV of Castile in 1457. He ordered the building of a church on the site of the old Mosque.

It was around this church that the community began to grow, On this site today is the Simón Fernandez school and all that survives of the church is the clock tower. Work on building the castle of San Luis began about 1500. It was intended as a defence against the northern African Berber pirates.

Finally, under a charter of 1502, when the infant town housed no more than 25 families, the land was divided among the victorious new colonists from northern Spain, and as a result many of the side streets around the castle and the church were built between 1507 and 1600.

Until 1729 Estepona had only been an administrative district of Marbella: in that year it was granted its own charter by King Filipe V.

Twentieth Century

Estepona entered the twentieth century as a village of 9,000 farmers and fishermen. A census of 1940 records other professions as well. Namely eight weavers, five rice manufacturers, two tailors, two blacksmiths, a gunman, a printer, a lawyer, two vets, a couple of cabinet makers, three dressmakers, two customs agents, two midwives and no fewer than five doctors. There was a hardware store, shoe shop, pharmacy, bank, college, sawmill and cinema. There were two cake shops, three inns, seven taverns, one restaurant, one refreshment stall, a bodega and a single hotel.

The British navy aircraft carrier the Ark Royal, which served in some of the most active naval theatres of the Second World War, was torpedoed on 13 November 1941 by the German submarine U-81 and sank off Estepona the following day; one of her 1,488 crew members was killed. The wreck was discovered at a depth of about 1,000 metres by an American underwater survey company using sonar mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle, under contract from the BBC for the filming of a documentary about the ship.

Estepona was put on the world map in 1997 when it became one of the two dozen landing points for the FLAG  (Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe) round-the-world 27,000-kilometre undersea telecoms cable. The exact location is not public, but its adjacent landing points are Cornwall and Sicily.

Like other coastal towns, Estepona experienced rapid population growth around the turn of the twenty-first century. The 1991 census recorded 36,307 inhabitants, and 20 years later it had nearly doubled to 65,667. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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