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Guide to Marbella

Salvador Dali Rhinoceros

Marbella is a southern Spanish city and part of the Andalusian province of Malaga and of the Commonwealth of Costa del Sol Municipalities. The autopista and autovía del Mediterráneo (the latter set to be the longest motorway in Europe) run straight through this province. Marbella was a pioneer in the smelting industry in the 19th century and was full of ironworks. It remained an industrial city until the 1960s, when the tourism boom began. At that time the population numbered about 10,000. Today, Marbella is one of the wealthiest cities in Spain and in Europe and has over 125,000 inhabitants. This single town generates from 7% to 10% of the entire gross regional product of Andalusia, with about 8,200,000 residents. Accordingly, Marbella has become known for its sizeable tourist industry, ethnically diverse population and ostentatious wealth.

Marbella Beach

Marbella has been inhabited by humans since at least the Paleolithic and is an important archeological site. During the Roman era, an urban nucleus was constructed in what today is known as the casco antiguo (historic centre). During the time of the Islamic Caliphate in al-Andalus, the Normans raided Malaga's coast. To deter the attackers, the Caliphate fortified the central plaza. In the 10th century a castle was constructed and afterward, several watchtowers and a city wall. Contrary to popular belief, the name Marbella is not a compound of the Spanish words mar (sea) and bella (beautiful), but rather is dervied from its Arabic name Marbil-la, which was itself derived from an earlier name that the native Iberians used.

Following the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate, Andalusia split into rival Muslim kingdoms called taifas. The taifas of Algeciras and Malaga fought over Marbil-la, which ultimately fell under the control of Malaga (and so it remains). Malaga would eventually become part of Nasarid Granada. It was annexed by the Kingdom of Castile in 1485 in a bloodless struggle following the surrender of the Muslim Alcaide (governor).

Costa del Sol

The smelting industry was introduced to Marbella in the early 19th century when an ironworks known as los altos hornos de Marbella was built to process iron from the mine in neighbouring Ojén. These ironworks were the first civilian iron processing plant in Spain and came to produce as much as 75% of Spain's processed iron. Following a decline and the closing of the old ironworks, a British mining company, called the Marbella Iron Ore Company & Limited established attempted to revive Marbella's fortunes. The industrial crisis of the late 19th century, however, caused the bankruptcy of this company and put a definitive end to Marbella's mining industry. At this time the population was just under 10,000 and divided between aristocrats and oligarchs and the poor, with no middle class.

Marbella Birds Eye View

The first hotel, called the Comercial, appeared in 1918, while the second, Miramar, was opened in 1934. Marbella became a hotbed of anticlericalism during the Second Spanish Republic. In the Spanish Civil War it was quickly seized by invading fascist forces with the help of Italian troops, and the opposition was executed en masse by the occupiers, a modus operandi that would repeat itself throughout much of Spain during the Franco dictatorship. During and after World War II, Marbella became a haven for fleeing Nazi officials.

In the 1960s the first luxury hotels were opened and Marbella began to market itself to wealthy European tourists. Such important families as the Rotschild, Bismarck or Thyssen-Bornemiza would soon open their own installations in the town and contribute to the international renown that Marbella increasingly enjoyed. By the end of the 1960s it had become a hot spot for what was then known as the 'international jet set'. This was the beginning of Marbella's modern transformation into a prosperous Mediterranean tourist town.

Marbella Beach

Following a series of corruption scandals involving a local political party that severely deteriorated the town's image, in which as many as four successive council leaders ended up in jail, the Spanish government took the unprecedented step of intervening and dissolving the town council. This scandal is known throughout Spain as the caso Malaya (Malaya case). Marbella is presently governed by Mayor María de los Ángeles Muñoz Uriol (PP).

Marbella was a favourite holiday destination of the late Saudi monarch King Fahd who, along with his enormous entourage, would spend as much as 5,000,000€ a day in the town during his visits. Unsurprisingly, King Fahd's illness and subsequent death was front page news in Spain. It has also been the home of Scottish actor Sean Connery and the acclaimed Spanish singer Julio Iglesias. It is also one of the few Spanish towns with an American Football team, the Marbella Suns.

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