Seven Estepona Watchtowers

18th Century Map of watchtowers on coast
18th Century Map of watchtowers on coast

Watchtowers on the Andalucia Coast

There have been about 200 watchtowers (Torre Vigia or Torre Atalaya or Torre Almenara) or forts build along the coast of Southern Spain.  All with the purpose of looking out for invaders from the South.

Some of the watchtowers seen today are Moorish origins, most constructed by the Nasrid dynasty of Granada after 1250.   Ibn Al-Khatib (1313-1374) praises these watchtowers on the coast of Malaga enthusiastically, saying: "their ‘calahorras’ (watchtowers) are like small cities, because of their layout and their gates covered with ornaments, which testify to the skill of their builders and the energy of their rulers and princes".

Some were constructed (or reconstructed) by the Christians in the early 1500s with special focus on the Kingdom of Granada. This was shortly after Moors were defeated and expelled in 1492, the coast being depopulated, required special protection from incursions. 

Over half the towers constructed have lasted to the present day; both due to their remarkable solid construction and due to being in use up to the middle of the 20th century they have been repaired.  There are about 10 different architectural constructions. The towers that are Moorish or early Christian periods are identified as being rectangular or cylindrical in shape with vertical walls, whereas those constructed or reconstructed post 1570 are slightly conical in shape. The walls slope inwards at about 4% to form a more stable structure.

The primary aim of the towers was to watch for incursions and to signal warnings so the local inhabitants could go into hiding. The warnings were smoke made from a fire of damp straw by day, and the light from a dry straw fire at night.

After 1518 he attacks increased mainly by Barbary pirates, (also known as Barbary Corsairs, or Ottoman corsairs) who were Admirals of the Ottoman Sultan, based in North Africa, conducting war operations for political ends. Initially the pirate raids concentrated on shipping but later escalating to land raids. They were slave-hunters, and their methods were ferocious, capturing young people for the Ottoman slave trade.

Unlike today Spain's southern coast proved difficult to populate from other parts of Spain. This included the towns of Rincon de la Victoria, Benalmadena, Mijas, Marbella and Estepona. This lead  King Filipe II to order a major watchtower construction programme including the construction of 12 new forts. The majority of towers seen today date from this project. These towers are slightly conical in shape.



After 1587, the sole object of the Barbary Pirates became plunder, on land and sea. The maritime operations were conducted by Captains (as opposed to Admirals) and some of the most notorious pirates were European renegades such as Jack Ward who had moved to the Barbary Coast and became Yusuf Reis. These outcasts, converted to Islam and brought up-to-date naval expertise to the piracy business. Jack Ward was the base of fictional character Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

The watchtowers were generally manned by a Captain and two or three soldiers supported by local ‘towermen’ employed for housekeeping duties. A common feature that can still be noticed today is a rough opening or 'hole' at high level. This was the 'door' of the tower, which was reached from outside by a lowered rope ladder.

Inside at this entrance level is generally the only room which featured a domed ceiling and stone stairs up to a rooftop terrace. The fire for the day smoke signals was made in a fireplace in this room which had a chimney to the roof. The fire for the night light was made on the roof.

By the 1700s the towers became defensive, and many were supplied with four-pound cannons. Charles III instigated a plan to fortify the coast. The old towers were surveyed. Installing one or two four-pound cannons required the roof to be strengthened and the parapet lowered. Most towers also had a ‘garita’ (guard post) on the roof added with an embrasure (slit shaped window) for rifle shooting. Many towers also had an overhang called a machicolation (from the French 'mâchicoulis' ) added to the  roof parapet wall above the entrance which was for pouring boiling oil onto would be attackers.

After 1829 many towers became;Casa de Carabineros posts. This was the Spanish armed corps whose mission was the surveillance of coasts and borders, and the repression smuggling. Adjoining or nearby barracks were constructed. In 1940 these posts were assumed into Guardia Civil barracks.

In 1949 the first law in Spain was introduced to protect the defensive architectural heritage. In 1985 Spain’s historical patrimony law came into force and the watchtowers towers were listed by the regional government being declared declared ‘Bien de Interés Cultural’.

Useful sources

FALCÓN MÁRQUEZ, Teodoro: Torres de almenara del Reino de Granada en tiempos de Carlos III, Sevilla: Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Obras Públicas y Transportes, 1989.  ISBN  894-87001-17-3

FRESNADILLO, Rosario: El letargo de los siglos XVII y XVIII, La fortaleza de Fuengirola y su territorio: una aproximación histórica, Cádiz: Universidad, Servicio de Publicaciones; Ayuntamiento de Fuengirola, 1998. ISBN 84-7786-512-4

TEMBOURY ÁLVAREZ, Juan: Torres almenaras: costa occidental, Cádiz: Diputación Provincial de Málaga, Instituto de Cultura, 1975. ISBN 84-500-6685-9

SAENZ RODRIGUEZ, Ángel J.. “Las torres de la costa en 1616”. Almoraima. Revista de Estudios Campogibraltareños, 48, octubre 2018. Algeciras. Instituto de Estudios Campogibraltareños, pp. 189-206.Angel: Las Torres de la Costa en 1616

MARTIN SANTANA, Pablo; Guia parala intervención en las torres de defensa de la costa oriental de Andalucia, a partir deo su caracterización y valuracion. Trabajo final de master, 2015 en Tecnología en la architectura línea restauración y rehibilitacion de edificios. Universidad Polytecnica de Catalunya.  

ESTEPONA Watchtowers

Estepona has seven such towers that remain to this day. From west to east. 

Torre de Arroyo Vaquero
Two Medieval towers share this name; one within the urbanisation (housing complex) of Bahia Dorada and the other inland near Estepona golf club. 

Torre de Saladavieja
This unusual tower is signposted on the southern extremity of Estepona town.

Torre de Padrón
This tower is now a feature within the grounds of the Kempinski Resort Hotel

Torre de Velerín
The tower is named for the Velerín river which runs close by.

Torre Guadalmansa
The tower is named for the Guadalmansa river which runs close by.

Torre del Saladillo

Torre Baños

CASARES Watchtowers

Torre del Sal
Located on a headland on the coast between River Manilva and Playa de la Sal.

MANILVA Watchtowers

Torre de la Duquesa
Located near Castillo de la Duquesa   

Torre de la Chullera
at Punta de la Chellera 

SAN  ROQUE,  CADIZ Watchtowers

Torre Quebrada de Torreguadiaro and Torre Nueva de Torreguadiaro
both located between Torrequadiaro village and the entrance to Sotogrande,

Torre Rocadillo
Located within the important Carteia Roman town site near the refinery at San Roque.

Marbella Watchtowers

Six Marbella Watchtowers

Mijas Costa Watchtowers

Majas Costa Watchtowers

Torre de Rio Padron, Estepona ©Michelle Chaplow
Torre de Rio Padron, Estepona