As is the case along practically the whole of the Málaga coast, Estepona’s history is heavily marked by the presence of the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs. The town was founded during the Phoenician colonisation, when it was known as Astapa; however, it was in Roman times that it really flourished. The most significant settlement of the time stood near the River Guadalmansa, where remains of thermal baths that may have belonged top the Roman town of Salduba have been found.
In the early 8th century, in the wake of the Muslim conquest, the fortress known as "Munt Nis" or El Nicio Castle was built at the top of El Padrón, acquiring great significance during the Arabic domination. Later, during the times of Caliph Abderramán 2nd, the building of another fortress, known as Estebunna, was ordered. At this time, the Arabs called the town Astabbuna. It attracted a number of sailors, who found it the ideal place in which to settle; proof of this is provided by the remains of buildings built during this period and the presence of Muslim watchtowers on the coast, namely El Velerîn, Baños and Guadalmansa (which is believed to have served as a lighthouse).
The Arab domination of the town came to an end in 1456 following a raid ordered by King Enrique 4th of Castile. This signalled the beginning of the best-known period in Estepona’s history, with the king himself (though some historians point instead to Queen Isabel) ordering the rebuilding of the castle, whose walls are still standing today.
For many years, Estepona was subject to the jurisdiction of Marbella, the area being governed, in the absence of the Catholic Monarchs, by Juana "La Loca" (the mad). At this time, it had a population of just over 600 inhabitants. Eventually, during the reign of King Felipe 5th, the town gained complete independence, as witnessed by the Charter of Villazgo signed in Seville by the King himself on the 21st of April 1729 and still kept in the municipal archive.
A tour of the town will take us to the Torre del Reloj, a clock tower which still stands in the heart of the town centre and is the only remnant of a church built in the 16th century. We will also encounter the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, an 18th century church which was once a Franciscan convent. The town is characterised by the peace and tranquillity that pervade its streets, squares and promenade. However, the population trebles in summer, when the streets throng with people enjoying a stroll along the seafront or seeking out the many charming corners that the town also has to offer.
With 21 kilometres of coastline, the number of beaches on offer is enormous, the visitor being able to choose between large, crowded beaches or tiny coves, all of which are magnificently conserved. These include Rada, Bahîa Dorada, El Cristo and Costa Natura, one of Andalusia’s first nudist beaches, to name but a few. However, the visitor can also find mountain retreats, one of the most beautiful spots being the Sierra Bermeja, the mountains that shelter Estepona and boast a forest of Spanish firs at their 1450-metre-high peak (in Los Reales), as well as being home to a number of falcons, eagles and even the occasional otter in its rivers. The mountains turn to gentle hills as we approach the town itself, and their slopes are home to the Parque Municipal de Los Pedregales, which surrounds the Ermita de San Isidro, named after the town’s patron saint.
Naturally, tourism, the construction industry and real estate are the mainstays of the local economy. However, the town’s old traditions have not been allowed to die, and festivals such as San Isidro Labrador, which includes a popular pilgrimage, a cattle fair and an exhibition of agricultural produce and machinery, bear testimony to the importance of agriculture in Estepona, where citrus and tropical fruit are major products. Other celebrations, such as the Virgen del Carmen festival in mid July, are proof of the affection felt by the local fishermen for their virgin of the sea, to whom they offer gratitude for the protection she affords them. It is these same fishermen who enable the town to offer a range of excellent fish, the highlight being sardines, sand piper and red mullet. So, agriculture and fishing still play an important role in Estepona’s economy.
Of course, Estepona is also a tourist resort, so next to the fishing port we find the pleasure harbour. In addition, the town boasts a full range of other facilities normally associated with top-quality tourism, such as golf courses, luxury hotels and exclusive residential developments.
However, there is one factor in Estepona which marks it out from other tourist enclaves: the enormous efforts the town has made in the field of culture. Don Josê y Doña Marîa Nadal, in their desire to thank the town for the affection they received here, decided to leave it their inheritance with which to create a foundation whose sole aim would be to found a university in Estepona. The first step in this respect was the signing of an agreement between the local council and the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, and the dream is beginning to materialise in the shape of a number of summer courses that have been set up as the first step towards bringing the project to its fruition.