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A Brief History of Nerja

In 711 following the battle of Guadalete a new age of Muslim rule came to the axarquia region. From this period come the first references to Nerja or as it was called by its Muslim inhabitants at the time Narixa (translated as abundant spring). During this period the areas wealth and importance increased as the production of textiles became part of the local economy employing in the region of 13,000 people. With the arrival of the catholic Kings in 1487 and the conquest of Malaga, change came to the region. Nerja continued to be inhabited by Muslims however the Christian and Jewish populations grew. This was the case until a new order arrived that all non-Christians should convert to Christianity or leave the Kingdom. Some stories claim that this is how the beach “El Salon” received its name as it was the location of a mass exodus of Jewish inhabitants who said goodbye to each other with the word “Shalom”.

Many Muslim families also saw themselves obligated to move from the homes their families had known for generations which left Nerja very under populated at the start of the 16th century compared to its previous state. Sensing an opportunity many people from the North of Spain came to the area and repopulated the town. This was a real mix of people from all over the northern regions and included Asturian’s, Galician’s and Valencian’s. This new wave of inhabitants didn’t come to a paradise though. The moors were still an influence in the region and the threat of an Islamic invasion remained. Indeed it was such a concern that inhabitants were obligated to carry weapons and canons were placed in the Torre de los Guardas (now the Balcon de Europa) so, in the following years thanks to the threat and the ups and downs of local politics, the town’s population remained somewhat unstable

In 1567 the battle of the Moorish rebellion of the Alpujarras marked what is considered the last Islamic battle in the area and took place in Competa close to the territory of Nerja. Following this, the town began to grow although the threat of pirate raids was a concern, so the chain of defensive towers that are still visible today were built. These were intended to spot pirate raiding parties as soon as possible and raise the alarm. In Nerja La Torrecilla was built which today lies in ruins on the western edge of La Torrecilla beach. Nerja continued to grow and prosper. The first sugar factory in Spain was built (found between Nerja and Maro) and in 1697 the first phase of the church of El Salvador found on the Balcon de Europa was completed. This was then followed by the completion of the chapel Ermita de las Angustias in 1720.

With the arrival of the 19th century and significant political changes to Spain as a whole, Nerjas growth continued as did improvements to the town and existing buildings. Streets were paved and important buildings like the church of El Salvador were extended. Agricultural practices undertook great improvements becoming more efficient and increasing productivity.

During this time road building was on the agenda and Nerja was linked with both Malaga and Almeria bringing obvious financial benefits to the increasingly productive town. Nerja now had a population of some 8000 people.

Come the end of the 19th century Nerja was once again a turbulent place with the war of Spanish independence raging. The forces of Napoleon faced the English and Spanish allies which lead to the destruction of La Torrecilla and the Castle of Nerja to avoid these defensive structures falling into the hands of the French.

As well as this, in 1884 Nerja was rocked by an earthquake which caused significant damages to the town. Unfortunately Nerja was about to experience a drastic downturn in its fortunes. Agriculture suffered significantly due to insect plagues and droughts and emigration of the population to new lands in South America started a decrease in the population. Those that remained found themselves without work as the local economy suffered and outbreaks of cholera and typhus were common at the beginning of the 20th century. Social disorder increased as people became frustrated by the situation and the apparent lack of government measures to combat it.

With the coming of the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1923 a degree of stability returns to Nerja and a general improvement in the towns fortunes. Despite drastic measures to maintain order the creation of jobs meant that the state of peoples day to day lives improved at least until the coming of the Spanish civil war. The military coup that started in North Africa brought out bitter political divisions all over the country, Nerja being no exception. Neighbours turned on each other leading to damage to property and physical violence amongst the population. An atmosphere of fear descended on Nerja which was amplified once more with the arrival of rebel troops lead by General Franco in Malaga on the 8th February. A river of residents left the town in the direction of Almeria. This exodus of people was attacked as they left causing a significant loss of life and in the following weeks many more died at the hands of Franco’s army despite their initial escape. Yet more tough years followed the civil war until the discovery of the Nerja Caves which brought increasing interest and visitors to the area and helped in creating the Nerja we know today.

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