The name of Fuengirola appears to be of Castilian origin, as it bears no relation to either the Roman Suel or Arabic Sohail, appearing instead to allude to the presence of a number of springs which provided sailors with water.
The Phoenicians established a settlement here which experts believe to have stood near the hill on which the Romans later built a castle that they named Suel and which would soon become the symbol of the town. This fortress has played a key role over the centuries: it stood firm in the face of the Romans, Arabs, Castilians and, finally, the French. In addition, it was a vital location in the line of defence that protected the coast against pirate incursions. From the road, its remains can clearly be seen on top of the hill that overlooks the mouth of the River Fuengirola. The Castillo de Sohail was restored by students from the workshop of the same name between 1989 and 1995.
Returning to the town’s history, the year 53 Anno Domini saw Fuengirola receive official municipal status, acquiring a certain importance in the Bêtica region as a result. Proof of this are the Roman hot baths at Torreblanca, the remains of several Roman roads, the Cañada Real and the discovery of pieces of marble from the quarries of Mijas which were used to build a temple-like monument in the Plaza de Castilla in Los Boliches.
Before the arrival of the Arabs, the Visigoths came to Fuengirola, though they did not settle here permanently. The Arabic presence in the area was consolidated from the 8th century onwards, a fact witnessed by the presence of a necropolis alongside the hot baths at Torreblanca. The name Sohail, a phonetic corruption of the Latin Suel, also dates back to these times. During the Arabic occupation, the town was destroyed by a Viking attack in 858, the local populace taking refuge in Mijas.
It was not until the mid 10th century, when the Emir of Córdoba, Abderramán 3rd, rebuilt the fortress and the town itself, both of which fell into Christian hands in 1487. The coastal defences were subsequently strengthened.
In the 18th century, the castle was rebuilt in an attempt to combat the smuggling that was rife in the area. From this century onwards, the town became an important supply centre for ships sailing for the Straits of Gibraltar, and the name Fuengirola definitively emerged, being derived from "girona", a reference to a type of Genoese boat which fished using a net known as a “boliche”. The term "boliche" has remained in the name of the neighbouring Santa Fe de Los Boliches, now practically a district of Fuengirola itself.
In the mid 19th century, Fuengirola gained its independence, receiving along with it the area which now stands within its municipal boundaries, a 10 kilometre square area tucked between Benalmádena and Mijas.
As is the case with almost all of the coastal towns, the local economy is based on tourism, though the large colonies of foreign nationals, mainly Scandinavians, living in Fuengirola mean that residential tourism is of particular importance here, as well as ensuring that real estate is another economic mainstay.
As the whole of Fuengirola lies on the coast, the town has its own fishing port and pleasure harbour, the Club Náutico. However, it is also fortunate in that it is the last port of call on a railway line from Málaga that includes Torremolinos and the airport among its stops, meaning that excellent communications can be added to an already long list of attractions. Its seven kilometres of coastline are home to seven beaches: La Gaviota, Los Boliches, San Francisco, Torreblanca-Carvajal and El Ejido-El Castillo.
A stroll around Fuengirola will help us to appreciate the immense influence that the tourist industry has had on the town, where huge, modern buildings surround more traditional areas. Its streets will lead us all the way to Los Boliches, formerly a separate borough but now part of Fuengirola itself, and Santa Fe de los Boliches, whose name is a reference to the fishing techniques once employed on its beaches, where boats known as bolicheros caught fresh anchovies. The urban layout of this area has also been affected by tourism, though it still retains its marine traditions, such as the worship of the Virgen del Carmen, whose image is carried in a maritime procession from a boat to the shore on the shoulders of local fishermen in mid July.