Although the exact details as to the founding of Nerja as a town are not known, it seems that there was a “Villa” on the same site in the time of Abderramán 3rd. The first written reference that exists that refers to Nerja is by the Arabic poet Ibn Sadî, a tireless traveller of his day who passes through in the year 917. He comments that there was a town as big as a city there which was surrounded by luxuriant landscapes and that it was admired by all who set foot in it. It reached its peak as a city and world-wide fame during the industrial period thanks to the manufacturing of all kinds of coloured silk cloth.
The Arabs named it Naricha or Narija, which means "manantial abundante" (abundant spring). It was part of the province of Rayya at that time and the population live by the protective walls of the castle, whose remains can still be seen today at the place that the road to Frigiliana crosses the neighbouring towns boundary at the quarry.
There are no historic records of the existence of any settlement in the area of Nerja before these dates. However, some historians say that there must have been some human activity her in the Palaeolithic Period, not only in the caves that are known locally as “Caves of Nerja”, but also near the town centre. There are also those who believe that there was a Roman settlement here during the occupation of the Roman Empire, due to the presence of the Roman Villa discovered at Maro, which has been named Detunda.
Nerja was under Christian rule even before the Duke of Nájera conquered Vêlez. However, the Moorish inhabitants were allowed to stay in their properties. In June in the year 1500 mercy was granted to all the places under its jurisdiction, like castles, fortresses, amongst which was Nerja.
After the Mudejar uprising and the abandonment of their properties, Doña Juana ordered the Christians to repopulate the area, which they did by occupying the abandoned homes left by the fleeing Mudejars. To compensate the Christians, Doña Juana exempted the from paying taxes, services, or any other kind of official, including the sales tax on the articles they sold, like fish. These privileges were confirmed by the two next kings, Felipe 3rd and Felipe 4th.
By the end of the 18th century Nerja already had a government in place made up of two mayors, three councillors and a spokesperson and began its history as an independent town at the beginning of the 19th century. It was precisely during the first part of this very century that the town’s industry began to grow again due to the sugar manufacturing factories, more locally known as “ingenios”, and which were set up all over the locality, including Maro. It is just outside this wonderful village of Maro that the “Aguila´s aqueduct” can be seen today. Water used to flow across this fantastic example of an aqueduct, which has four tiers and 37 half-rounded arches, to the sugar plant named San Joaquin. The world famous “Caves of Nerja” are also located in Maro and they are also called “The wonders (Las Maravillas)” in honour of the local Patron Saint. It was totally by chance that in 1958 Francisco Navas Montesinos and four other young people from Maro discovered this, “Natural Cathedral of the Costa del Sol”, only five kilometres from Nerja.
However, there is a lot more to see in Nerja. One of the most spectacular views of all is from the "Balcony of Europe (Balcón de Europa)", which is a superb vantage point which overlooks the beaches of Nerja and allows visitors great views of the Mediterranean coastline. Tradition has it that it was king Alfonso 12th who named this incredible place that literally clings to the rocky outcrop over the sea.
His visit was in 1884 and he had come to the area to see the devastating effects the earthquake had had on the locality. There are two ancient canons and a stack of canon balls on the balcony. These canons used to defend the fortress that stood on this spot and which was destroyed in 1812. Because of their strategic position they were able to control all the beach accesses to Nerja on both sides. There is a staircase that passes under an arched gateway takes visitors down to a small, protected bay known locally as El Boquete de Calahonda. Other beaches which are well worth a visit are; Burriana, Calahonda, Playazo or Torrecilla.
Nerja certainly enjoys a privileged position on the coast and surrounded by the Sierra de Almijara. In many ways it is the Pride of the Axarquia region, as it has been the main instrument in allowing this area to break free from the feeling of being second-best that it had always had concerning the more visited western side of the Costa del Sol. The influx of German, British and even many Spanish visitors all year round has enabled the town to escape the typical seasonal boom syndrome of many tourist resorts and consolidate a all-year-round tourist industry. Having said this, Nerja has not abandoned age-old traditional industries and still has an important agricultural activity. The whole area is like an enormous greenhouse at times as locals cultivate courgettes, kidney beans, green beans and some tropical crops.
Lovers of Nerja say that it is one of the most quintessential Andalusian towns that exists, with its white-washed houses splashed with geraniums on the walls and balconies. However, there are more modern looking buildings especially amongst some of the many luxurious housing estates on the outskirts of the town.