The town’s archaeological discoveries rank among the most significant in the province and include fragments of pottery, walls, pieces of metal, coins of the Lower Empire and Roman columns. The Castle-Fortress has witnessed the arrival of all of the different peoples that have settled in Cártama over the centuries. When the Phoenicians, came to the site of the present-day town, which they called Cartha, they discovered a “castro” or military camp inhabited by the Iberians atop a hill known as Cerro de la Virgen. The two cultures co-existed for a time, founding the factories of La Vega and La Sierra to facilitate the agricultural exploitation of the area. The original camp was subsequently renovated and, under its protection, a town known as Carth-Ma, meaning “hidden mother city”, sprang up.
In the year 195 before Christ, the Roman consul Marcus Pontius Cato conquered the citadel and its military camp. Once they had settled in the town, which they called Cartima, the Romans set about transforming the camp into a castle, extending and fortifying it so that it now stretched across the mountainside. Later, both the Visigoths and the Arabs made further alterations to the fortress, but it was during the time of the latter that it developed into the building we know today.
Cártama played an important economic, social and political role throughout the centuries of Arabic occupation. During the Nazarí period, its fortress became a key location as a result of its strategic, economic and political value. During this time, the fortress took the form of a typical military enclave, its architecture leaving little room for aesthetic features, bearing a great resemblance to that of Álora.
1485 saw the decisive Christian attack on Cártama. The fortress initially stood firm against cannonballs that were not capable of causing significant breaches in its walls. However, its defenders capitulated later that year and the castle would soon play host to Fernando El Católico and his allies. The king, well aware of its strategic importance and the decisive role it would play in the subsequent conquest of Ronda and Málaga, ordered the consolidation of the castle. Within these walls, the Council of Noblemen met to plot the conquest of Málaga.
Following the conquest of the Kingdom of Granada, the castle lay inactive until War of Independence, when it was the scene of a heavy attack upon the French who had taken refuge here following the siege led by General Ballesteros. The passage of time has left the castle with its present-day appearance.
The streets of the area around the castle are long and flat, in contrast to those that lead up to the chapel, certain sections of which still retain their original stone surface. The chapel in question, which was originally built in the 16th century and renovated in the 18th, stands out from the whitewashed houses that surround it. Legend has it that it was built out of gratitude to the Virgin, who performed a series of miracles during the plague that devastated the town. It was this reputation for miracle working that earned her the name Virgen de los Remedios. The neighbouring white buildings still retain their traditional architecture, the highlight being the church of San Pedro, with its magnificent Mudéjar plasterwork, and houses such as that of González Marín, an example of the Neo-Mudéjar style.
The town is divided into a number of districts: Cártama, Cártama-Estación, El Sexmo, Loma de Cuenca, Nueva Aljaima, Sierra de Gibralgaira, Loma Tres Leguas, Doña Ana and Ampliación de Cártama. A key feature of Cártama is its station, which owes its existence to the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century. The train brought expansion and development in its wake, and this has been consolidated while at the same time respecting the essential character of the town. In the mid 1920s, an iron bridge was built over the River Guadalhorce at the point where it passes through Cártama-Estación.
The local economy is largely based on citrus fruit production, though vines were also cultivated prior to their destruction by the outbreak of phylloxera in the late 19th century. Since then, the plains have become an immense garden filled with the aroma of lemon blossom. In fact, the area is known as the Valle del Limón or Lemon Valley. The sale of the aforementioned fruit is therefore the main economic activity, followed by the cultivation of olive trees and cereal crops. Cattle farming also plays a small role, as does the meat industry.