When you hear the words Costa del Sol the first thing that springs to mind is a beach holiday in the Spanish sunshine with plenty of things to do for the entire family. What you may have overlooked though, is that this particular area of southern Spain is steeped in rich history dating back thousands of years.
The Iberians were the first human inhabitants to settle in the area we now refer to as the Costa del Sol before the Phoenicians arrived in the 10th century BC to found the city of Malaka. In turn, the area was in the hands of the Carthaginians, Romans, Germanic peoples, Byzantine Empire, Visigoths and, finally, the Moors, who made Malaga (Malaca) the capital of their Taifa until 1497.
All of these civilizations have left their mark on the Costa del Sol with historic treasures just waiting to be discovered by adventurous tourists. The following is a list of suggested historical things to see and do while visiting the Costa del Sol.
The Costa del Sol has an excellent bus and rail network that connects most of the towns along the coast and the villages in the mountains. Tickets are generally quite reasonably priced. Several tour operators offer group excursions to the historic sites we mention below and have buses to either pick you up from your hotel or meeting point. If you want to do it at your own pace with a private guide you can book a guided transfer here or alternatively you may wish to hire a car and explore the sites at your leisure.
Discovered in 1959 by an adventurous group of boys out hunting for bats, the Nerja Caves are a treasure trove of geological wonders with cave paintings dating back thousands of years. Stretching over 5 kilometres the caves are open to the public and regarded as a major tourist attraction. The caves are open every day except for January 1st (New Year’s Day) and May 15th (Romeria de San Isidro) from 09:00 – 17:30 (Closes at 18:30) with entry to the caves every 30 minutes. The tour starts off with a 10-minute video presentation before you are allowed to go off and investigate the grotto at your leisure. Give yourself around 45 minutes to explore the subterranean labyrinth before emerging back into the sunlight.
The caves can be chilly and damp so be sure to wear non-slip shoes and bring along a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt.
Necropolis of Trayamar
Located near the town of Algarrobo halfway between Nerja and Malaga is the Phoenician necropolis (ancient burial place) of Trayamar. Dating back to the 7th century BC, Trayamar is a collection of Paleopunic tombs of Phoenician origin and is the most important find of its kind anywhere in the Western Mediterranean. Discovered during irrigation work in 1967 the tombs were sealed off and excavated by German archaeologists from the University of Madrid. Finds from the dig include pottery, jewels and a gold medallion emblazoned with Egyptian motifs. Algarrobo can be reached from either the Mediterranean Expressway A-7 or the old N-340, which follows the coast, by taking the very well signposted A-6203. To appreciate the significance of the site and what was discovered you need to visit the Provincial Archaeological Museum in Malaga where they have a scale model of what the tomb would have originally have looked like.
Located in the mountains just 17 kilometres from Malaga is the town of Cartama where you will find a fine example of Roman engineering in an aqueduct that was built to ferry water from a nearby spring into town. While in the area also try and visit the charming town of Alhaurín el Grande for tapas and an ice cold beer.
Malaga’s Alcabaza and Roman Theatre
Often referred to as a mini Alhambra, the Alcazaba fortress and palace is the best preserved Moorish citadel in Spain. Built in the 11th century using materials from a nearby Roman Theatre, one of the only ancient ruins left in Malaga following Italian bombing raids during the 1936-1939 Civil War. The Alcazaba is a testament to 700 years of Moorish rule. It also offers the visitor the opportunity to witness Roman, Arab and Renaissance culture, all within a few metres of each other.
For an excellent day trip away from the beaches, head to the historic town of Ronda and its spectacular views atop El Tajo gorge. Known as the home of modern bullfighting and its association with American Hispanophiles Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, Ronda has an exciting past dating back to the Roman Empire. Citizen Cane star Wells, loved Ronda so much that he had his ashes sent from California to Ronda where they are buried on a piece of land that belongs to a wealthy local family. Prior to his death Wells is quoted as saying “A man does not belong to the place he was born in, but to the place he chooses to die.”
If you want to avoid the tourists take a 45-minute hike along the Tajo River where you can see a Moorish minaret and what remains of an Arab bath dating back to the time the Alhambra was constructed in Granada.
While just outside of town you will find the Roman ruins of Acinipo, a town built following the battle of Munda in 45 BC, as a place for Julius Caesars Legionnaires to live out their retirement. Remember to take plenty of drinking water with you to avoid dehydration if you plan to go exploring outside the city. For further information or other historical places to visit, please see the Andalucia Tourism website.