Written by: Simon23 for Geo Travellers
Located in a unique microclimate between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sierra Blanca mountains Marbella is famous for it’s beautiful weather, stunning highland vistas and glitzy social scene. To think of Marbella as Spain’s Monte Carlo is relatively accurate however there is more to this harbour city than luxury, a distinctive history and architecture make Marbella a rare jewel just waiting to be explored.
With 320 days of sunshine every year there is never really a bad time to visit Marbella, you can go celebrity spotting all year round! Even the winter months are mild and relatively dry. June and October are famous for their festivals in the town, both honouring patron saints of the region and lasting for a full week. This is a great time to discover the local cuisine and culture with various performances held in the towns many beautiful squares througout the weeks.
In addition to the more traditional celebrations numerous international events take place in the city too, the International Jazz Festival takes place during June, Marbella Reggae Festival takes place during July and the Marbella International Opera Festival takes place during August. There is also the Marbella International Film Festival, the Spanish Film Festival and the Festival of Independent Theatre. There is always something to see in Marbella.
The history of Marbella began as early as the Roman times with a small Roman town having once stood on the site of the present day “El Casco Antiguo”, the old town. Evidence of Roman settlement is still seen today in the shape of the old town wall which contains Roman materials recycled in the building of the old towns defences by the Moors. During the Roman era the town was known as Salduba which means “the salt city”.
The Roman town stood for some centuries before being pillaged and burnt by the Normans who were then followed by the Moors who occupied Southern Spain for nearly 800 years! This huge period of time accounts for the distinctively Moorish architecture of the region and the presence of many Moorish buildings in Marbella, as well as the fortifications.
Marbella did not return to Spanish hands until 1485. The following 500 years were marked by the peaceful life of a jasmine lined fishing town, with the notable events mainly being the construction of the Fuerte de San Luis de Marbella as well as numerous beautiful churches in the El Casco Antiguo.
In 1943 Ricardo Soriano, Marquis of Ivanrey purchased an estate in the area and began to encourage his wealthy friends to visit. This was the beginning of Marbella as a luxury tourist resort and by the 1970′s the presence of movie stars had evolved into the presence of Sheikhs. An idea of the rapidity of the grwoth is evidenced by Marbella’s population 900 in 1945 to 300,000 today.
The backstreets of the old town are a particular pleasure to explore with small beautiful chapels sitting alongside tapas bars and family restaurants with many streets being intersected by beautiful shady squares lined with jasmine. The old town is composed of the Bairro Alto (high town) and the Bairro Nuevo (new town) and still retains many features of its 16th century Castilian renaissance origins.
The most famous square in the region, the Plaza de los Naranjos is to be found here overlooked by Town Hall, the Mayoral House and the Santiago Chapel which is the oldest religious building in the area. The other notable churches and chapels of the old town include Capilla de San Juan de Dios and Church of Santa María de la Encarnación. The high town is also known as San Francisco due to the previous presence of a Franciscan Convent.
Built around the Avenida del Mar which runs from the old town to the sea, Eixample is home to the botanical gardens called Paseo de la Alameda, not to mention numerous other beautifully designed parks and fountains. In one small park stands ten sculptures by the artist Salvador Dali, a lasting testament to Spanish creativity.
The area of Las Chapas is the site of the oldest phoenician remains to be found, near to an ancient iron mine. There two ancient watchtowers also present here, the River Tower and also the Tower of Thieves. The famous Hilton Hotel of Marbella was also located here however today it has new owners and is called the Don Carlos. There are numerous other modernist buildings in this part of the town which will be of interest to architectural buffs.
Las Chapas is not the most important archaeological site in the town though, nextled amongst the 19th century buildings of San Pedro de Alcántara are various remains including the Roman Baths, an ancient Christian Basilica and yet another ancient watchtower. Those with an archeological passion will also want to visit Cerro Colorao which is a still active archaeological site charting the progression of pre-Roman settlement onwards.
One of the most famous aspects of Marbella are its harbours. The rows of yachts and even superyachts are an instant reminder of the resorts luxury status. There are numerous bars and restaurants to treat yourself to and the culinary delights certainly rival those of the old town, though with a distinctly different atmosphere. The Puerto Banus is however designed in the traditional style of an Andalucian village and was world famous for its beauty when opened in 1970. The new black and white restaurant which overlooks Puerto Banus is building itself a very good reputation. The Al Dente and Champagne Bar is recommended if you feel in a spending mood.
Marbella is blessed with 24 beautiful beaches which run for some 27km. The waters are clean and swimming is considered safe.
There are numerous beachside clubs in the Marbella area, offering every kind of music imaginable. The beach close to “The Golden Mile” is home to many luxurious venues with a very classy feel. One particular club that has a very good reputation is Nikki Beach Marbella, an upmarket nightclub which plays funky house alongside salsa inspired grooves.
With the presence of two harbours and so many boats it’s very easy to find boating trips, whether you want to go sightseeing along the coast or you want to relax with some fishing rods hanging off the back, there are plenty of options available. There are numerous diving expeditions also available not to mention accredited PADI schools offering certification. As with all things in the city, the prices are not exactly cheap.
Caving involves exploring underground caves and chambers formed by water that has dissolved soft rock like limestone. It involves a combination of walking, climbing, abseiling and sometimes even a little swimming! A safe but unforgettable experience highly recommended.
Visit the Hipodromo Mijas Costa and experience some Spanish horse racing, the races feature what are arguably some of the best raised horses in the world. Rivaling the Arabian breeds.
Near the Puerto district is the option to go parasailing, this is very much recommended as the price is very reasonable for Marbella. Probably because it only attracts the young as opposed to wealthy older clientele!
There are many top quality golf courses in Marbella, which means no golfer will ever be bored. The views from many of the courses are spectacular which is yet another reason why Marbella is so popular with the international jetset.
In summary then, Marbella has everything one could ask for from an upmarket Mediterranean resort, it may well have a reputation as a playground for the rich but its deep historical legacy not to mention natural beauty means there is something for everyone here.
Also you can visit Nikki Beach News for more entertainment options.