Watchtowers in Nerja

18th century Maritme chart showing Costa del Sol watchtowers
18th century Maritme chart showing Costa del Sol watchtowers

Costal Watchtowers

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 cylindrical or rectangular in shape with vertical walls shape, whereas those constructed or reconstructed post 1570 are slightly conical in shape. The walls slope inwards at about 4%.

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 fires of damp straw by smoke signals by day, and the light of dry straw fires 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 escalating to land raids. They were slave-hunters, and their methods were ferocious, capturing young people for the Ottoman slave trade.

The south coast was proving difficult to re-populate from other parts of Spain. In particular 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 are date from this project. From this point one the new and rebuilt towers were slightly conical in shape.



After 1587, the sole object of their successors became plunder, on land and sea. The maritime operations were conducted by Captains and some of the most notorious corsairs 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 Jonny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

The watchtowers towers 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 rope ladder.

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

In 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.  



Nerja Watchtowers

There are six watchtowers in or near Nerja. From west to east. 

Torre de Macaca
Torre Vigía La Torrecilla
Torre de Maro
Torre del Rió de la Miel
Torre del Pino
Torre de la Caleta


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