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History of Vélez-Málaga

Diputación de Málaga

History of Vélez-Málaga

The earliest settlements in the Vélez-Málaga date back to Prehistoric times, as witnessed by the Mozarabic eremitic complex at Valle-Niza, the Phoenician urban complex of Los Toscanos and the Necropolis at Cerro Mar y Jardín.

The town of Vélez itself, which dates back to Moorish times, lies inland, while Torre del Mar stands next to the beach. Among the most interesting monuments of the period are the Arabic fortress and walls, which date back to the 8th century, though some suggest that they were built in the 13th. The fortress dominates Vélez, crowning a series of monuments which slope down from here throughout the whole town, telling of both the recent and the more distant eras of its history. From the majestic homage tower, the old quarter known as La Villa is visible, clearly marked out by the remains of the Arabic walls. It is entered via two gates in this wall that are still standing: Puerta Real and Puerta de Antequera. The former, so called because the Catholic Monarchs once passed through it, features an image of the Virgen de los Desamparados in a glass cabinet. It is a precedent of the religious art that changed the face of the town following the surrender of the village to the Christians by its last Arabic governor, Abul Kasim Benega.

The numerous towers, such as those of Santa María de la Encarnación (15th century) and San Juan (16th century) not only mark the presence of the churches to which they are joined and the location of the original mosques on which they were built but also tell the story of the urban reorganisation undergone by the town in the wake of the Reconquest.

Outside the walled area are the districts of San Juan, Pozo del Rey and San Sebastián, dating back to the 16th century, followed by San Francisco, Capuchinos and El Carmen, which sprang up around the convents built by the various religious orders. These typical quarters are home to buildings of immense archaeological value, such as the delightful Palacio de los Marqueses de Beniel. Also to be found are fountains, such as the one named after Fernando 6th, which has four spouts, and a house at which Cervantes is said to have stayed. This combination of Vélez’s high-quality architecture and the tasteful manner in which it has been blended in with the newer buildings earned the town the status of "Historical and Artistic Complex " in the 1970s.

Torre del Mar, the former Mariyya Balis or "Vélez watchtower", provides the town with its Mediterranean outlet and has brought significant growth in the torurist sector. Other important dependencies among the thirteen that Vélez Málaga currently boasts (areas which account for over 50 percent of its population) are Chilches, Almayate and La Caleta, which are following Torre del Mar’s lead in moving gradually towards independent municipal status.

Though tourism, services and construction are the mainstays of Vélez’s new economy, local agriculture still has a key role to play, given the extraordinary richness of the valley through which the River Vélez flows, which, along with a sub-tropical climate, provided ideal conditions for the cultivation of olive trees, vines, avocados, mangos, kiwis, tomatoes and potatoes. Ironically, it was the terrible phylloxera plague of the late 19th century, which ruined the vineyards, that led to the locals introducing these new tropical crops.

Vélez’s commercial activities, along with its position as an administrative nerve centre, have long had a significant influence on the town. The painters Gerrardo Valle, Bonilla, Jurado Lorca, Hidalgo and Evaristo Guerra have earned Vélez a distinguished place in the history of contemporary Spanish painting, bringing about spectacular growth in the town’s artistic, cultural and commercial life.

However, many other illustrious names have brought renown to Vélez-Málaga, including the unforgettable flamenco singer Juan Breva in whose memory a sculpture was erected in Plaza del Carmen, and the town’s most famous daughter, María Zambrano.

In spite of Vélez’s role as the capital of the Axarquía region, and the consequences this has brought in terms of modernisation (to the extent that Vélez even has its own aerodrome), strenuous efforts are still being made to ensure the survival of old traditions such as the Sanjuaneo, (St. John’s Night celebrations), the maritime procession in honour of the Virgen del Carmen and a number of popular pilgrimages, not to mention Holy Week, which has been celebrated here since the mid 18th century, and the Feria de San Miguel.