Our society has inherited a great deal from the Romans, especially when it comes to the norms which govern community relationships. The word ‘province’, according to its etymology and use in ancient Roman times, signified the area of influence and competence within which a magistrate carried out his functions. The task of provincial administration was initially entrusted to the praetor. In time, Emperor Diocletian assigned two governors to each province – one was in charge of civil matters, and the other of all things to do with the military.
Under traditional Spanish administrative law, the province was a geographical area which was midway in size between a municipality and a state. Its main role lay in the administrative sector; its closest predecessor can be found in the 18th century, resulting from the centralism and uniformity imposed by King Phillip V. From the year 1718 onwards, the nation was divided (and sub-divided), in accordance with historical peculiarities, into parties, ‘valles’, principal mayorships, ‘merindades’ and other minor territories. The division was territorial in spirit, but each territorial group had additional competencies in a number of different areas, including taxation, war, justice, police affairs, etc., though there were often clashes with the chief magistrates of the respective provinces. Later, during the reign of Ferdinand VI, in 1749, the Intendant also served as the chief magistrate of the capital, thus limiting the activity of the rest of the magistrates to bureaucratic tasks. During the reign of Charles III (1759-88), a project was once again set in motion to divide Spain into provinces headed by a Tribunal.
The intendants played an important role in the creation of the Marqués de la Ensenada Land Registry Office (1750-51). Later, working alongside the Count of Floridablanca, they helped publish “Spain divided into provinces and governmental territories. Nomenclature”. This was the first publication covering the political-administrative division of Spain (1785) and it listed 79 constituencies or jurisdictional parties. The intendants were also the representatives of the King and the central government in each of the 31 peninsular provinces and they were entrusted with the task of creating maps indicating the different types of land (Crown land, monasteries and private land), as well as rivers, pasturelands and walkways. The intendants were assigned the task of setting up factories, fabric making facilities and various mechanical and artistic offices, which would be of great use in each province. Finally, they took the first steps towards creating the provincial maps of Coello (1833) and the highly useful Dictionary of Madoz (1840).
Nevertheless, it was the Courts of Cádiz, the originators of the 1812 Constitution, which appointed a commission whose main aim was to design and publish a project for the territorial division of Spain that reflected the ideas of uniformity and centralisation that came to the fore during the French Revolution. In this new project, the Province was considered an autarchic territorial entity represented and managed by the Council. On 27th January, 1822, a Court Decree regarding territorial division was promulgated; the first division failed to take into account the prefectures decreed by Joseph I on January, 1822. A little later, during the third and final restoration of the Councils, the Royal Decree of 30th November 1833 was published, also concerning the subject of territorial division. This time, Spain was divided into 49 provinces. The delimitations of the province of Málaga were slightly modified (especially in its north-eastern part) until finally, its territory was defined as it stands today.
Interestingly, in Juan Antonio Estrada’s “General Population of Spain, its Kingdoms and Provinces, towns, adjacent islands and African Prisons”, the name of Málaga fails to appear, since until the year 1801, it was divided between the kingdoms of Granada and Sevilla (Córdoba and Jaen were the other two Andalusian provinces). The kingdom of Sevilla comprised: Teba, Cañete la Real, Archidona, Estepona, Hardales y Sierra de las Yeguas. Granada, meanwhile, comprised: Málaga, Ronda, Antequera, Fuente Piedra, Marbella, Torre del Mar, Vélez-Málaga, Comares, Coín, Alora, Alhaurin, Cártama, Casarabonela, Casa Bermeja, Almoxia, Alhaurinejo or Alhaurin el Chico, Colmenar, Río Gordo, Torrox, Nerja, Frigiliana and Monda. A Royal Decree of 22nd January, 1801, declared Málaga to be a maritime province which was independent of Granada. Later, in 1809, the Spanish peninsula was divided into ‘departments’. Málaga was declared to be the capital of a ‘department’ called El Salado.
The area of Melilla tends to be included in the province of Málaga; since its conquest in 1497, Melilla depended on Málaga at various levels (organically, administratively and judicially). Málaga was a crucial ally in terms of securing weapons and soldiers in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, serving as an important maritime link and resource base for troops seeking to maintain Spanish control in the fort, city and stronghold of Melilla. Finally, before these provincial divisions, at the end of the 18th century, the Count of Floridablanca ordered that a census be carried out in 1789, in which the majority of the peoples who now call Málaga home, were officially considered residents of Granada. The census mentions six cities (including Melilla), 53 ‘villas’, 25 ‘lugares’ and 10 ‘pueblos’, in addition to the six ‘villas’ and two ‘lugares’ belonging to the Kingdom of Sevilla.