For reasons lost to history, it was probably abandoned by the time Roman settlers arrived in the first century BC; few settlements larger than small pueblos flourished in these harsh conditions. The Romans probably built a (now lost) bridge across the Río Turón here to serve their road from Ronda to Malaga, and used it as a trading base and staging camp on to Ronda and elsewhere.
El Burgo seems to have hit its stride following the Moorish invasion of 711AD. A castle was built, and its ruins can still be seen around the old town. The Town Hall has suggested that the castle may be restored and rumours have even been circulated that it will become a hotel in the future. Following the invasion, El Burgo grew chiefly on the production of silex, a flint-like deposit found in the surrounding hills and used to make any number of implements and weapons. It was also a hotly-contested defensive point on the Ronda-Malaga road during the Arabic occupation. By the mid-17th century, it boasted three leading schools or workshops producing silex wares, and its population had expanded to over a thousand. Recent centuries have seen a steady increase in ganaderías (cattle farms).
The town's name is Arabic. It was originally called Al Burgis (El Borch) in the Moorish period. The name refers to a tower, which stood in the village and formed part of the fortress, possibly built by the Carthaginian armies of Hannibal (Anibal, locally). The only reference to its existence comes from records noting its destruction in the aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
The story of the Christian Reconquest in 1485 closely follows that of the fate of Ronda. However, when compared to other pueblos in the immediate area records seem very scant. We are only told that it was taken by Pedro de Barrionuevo in the name of the King and Queen. Records of any large revolts during the 16th century Muslim uprisings do not seem to have survived. The inquisition came to El Burgo in 1560, which led to the huge Muslim uprising of 1568 - 70. The pueblo was recorded as having 241 residents at the time, though the expulsion figures of 1570 are not available. What is known is that the area was repopulated in 1579, predominantly by landless peasants from Estepa.
One interesting factor in the various uprisings was the clash of cultures and eating habits. The Moors irrigated their terraces, planting many varieties of vegetables and fruit. The new Christian masters wanted cereal and meat and this completely changed the farming techniques in the area. Cultures are not adaptable to different diets and the uprisings could be seen as acts of resistance against a new, and alien, externally imposed lifestyle.
As El Burgo settled and expanded, it was also exposed to other forces of nature, notably the earthquake in 1755. Damage to the castle was noted at the time and many houses would have collapsed. But why was the village affected, when other surrounding pueblos were not? It all had to do with the rock structure and displacement of shockwaves from the epicentre. Starting as a sea-quake off the coast near Lisbon, a chain reaction sparked off a similar-sized quake near Fez. The shockwaves bypassed much of Andalucía but villages such as Manilva on the Costa del Sol and El Burgo were hit by tremors.
The fabric of the castle was once again battered by the retreating French in 1812, just two years after invading the region. The French would have refortified the outer defences when they arrived, but in a well planned retreat they destroyed many of the defences.
In later history, El Burgo became locally famous for its banditry folklore. The bandit Pasos Largos ("long strides", referring to his height and manner of walking) was born Juan José Mingolla Gallado in 1873, in the small hamlet of Los Empedrados between Ronda and El Burgo. His nickname was taken from his father, which suggests that Pasos Largos was an unusually tall man. After fighting for the Spanish forces in Cuba he returned home sick with fevers contracted in the Caribbean and turned to the life of a poacher and bandit. His favourite lair was a conveniently hidden dip in the landscape at the Puerto del Viento (Pass of the Winds) just outside Ronda.
He was 'denounced' to the authorities by a local landlord and arrested by the Guardia Civil while sleeping. In prison his condition worsened and on his release he killed the man who had denounced him. It is said that at this time he killed his own father, a reading that may have been intended to blacken his character even further but he remains a 'heroic' figure today. He took to the hills and lived a 'bloodthirsty' life, and was finally captured in 1916. He was released in 1932 and died two years later. A film was made about his exploits in the 1980s and today a statue can be found to him in the small garden by the service station.
The Spanish Civil War did come this way but the only real skirmish took place on 17 January 1937, when the Nationalist troops started their advance on Malaga from Ronda. Under the command of the Duque de Sevilla, three battalions took the Malaga road near El Burgo. The initial push seems to have met little resistance and the Republicans retreated to Malaga. The Duque entered the city in February supported by nine Italian Black Shirt battalions. Nationalist records suggest that all the Ronda villages were taken without a fight, although older inhabitants may remember things differently. Certainly the old Guardia Civil barracks in the village is an aggressive building, suggesting that law and order took a priority in this isolated corner of Andalucia.
The village today has around 2,000 inhabitants many of whom work on the Costa del Sol and return at the weekends. Despite its harsh circumstances, modern-day El Burgo thrives, thanks perhaps to its good management of its limited resources. Its February carnaval is held from the 26th-28th of February, when the local speciality, Sopa de Siete Ramales, a traditional vegetable dish originally improvised from farmers' staples, is served. Semana Santa (Easter) has a spectacular finale with the Quema (burning) de Judas on Easter Sunday, when a terrifying model of Judas, more than two storeys high, is paraded through town and set ablaze. The annual feria takes place around August 28th, the holy day for local Saint Agustín, the namesake of one church. As elsewhere, music and dancing are the order of the day.