Buyer's Guide
Costa Tropical
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History - Salobreņa and Motril

Selambina to Salubania to Salobreña – has had many names due to its privileged location and fertile surroundings provided settlement for numerous civilizations. During the Neolithic period, semi nomad shepherds frequented the area leaving signs of their culture in the Cave of the Captain, near the village of Lobres. In the VIII century BC the Phoenicians disembark here and create the small community they named Selambina. By the VI BC the Carthaginians conquered and, already under Roman domination the settlement was integrated into Bética, the richest province of Roman Hispania.

During the Roman domination it was an important port that linked Cástulo with Malaka; but by 713 AC Abdelaziz, son of Musa, occupied these territories, beginning the Muslim rule of the province that lasted eight centuries and was renamed Salubania by the Nasrid rulers of Granada. Historically, the centre of the town was formed around neighbourhoods built inside a large wall (now missing) that fortified the castle and city through to the Middle Ages, and so made Salubania (Salobreña) one of the most unconquerable and best fortified places on the Al-Andalus coast. Today this is evident in the districts of La Loma, La Fuente, El Brocal or the Albaycin which conserve peculiar corners with an authentic medieval structure that winds between facades, narrow streets, bends, inner doors, windows, passageways and steep ramps. Between the main plazas or squares the Arab castle, the Mudejar church, the passage of the flowers, the Viewpoints of the Postigo, the Frescunda and the Albaycin offer dramatic and photogenic viewing points.

In 1489 the conquest of Salobreña by the Christians took place. The siege, by the artillery captain Francisco Rodriguez de Madrid, eventually ended with the capture of the castle and the Nasrid king, following his earlier escape from Granada and the palace of the Alhambra, Boabdil. In return for his valour the Catholic Kings named Francisco, alcaide of Salobreña - the first mayor of the town; and so continued the town’s prominence as a significant out post. Following a brief occupation by the Napoleonic French troops from the beginning of 1810 until expulsion in 1812, it was not until the second half of the XIX century that the town lost its military significance and urban development was driven by the sugar industry.

Today, the Villa de Salobreña historical museum located in the old town square summarizes the six thousand years of history of the town through scale models, ceramics, tools and exhibitors who show to the visitor the historical importance of the community through time.

The castle, a most emblematic and significant monument (it appears on the coat of arms of the town), is located at the top of the promontory, so its towers over an impressive panoramic view where the limits of the sky and the sea get confused, combined with the green of the fertile plain, the mountains and, in the distance, the summits of Sierra Nevada. This fortress of Phoenician origins, has suffered successive transformations throughout history. The castle has a trapezoidal plant and it is formed by three enclosures: an interior one, of triangular plant, which corresponds with the alcazaba or Nasrid palace of the Alhambra in Granada; and other two strictly defensive ones built by the Christians at the end of the XV century.


Motril has historically been a very important exporting haven for the rich wealth provided by the surrounding fertile plains of Spain’s Costa Tropical. This “sweet gold” route however soon became a victim to its own success with the inevitable advent of taxation and the associated bootlegging. The economic influence of the sugar cane industry in the area was typically much coveted and had a great influence on the province. Today, and while difficult to locate, there is still evidence of these great times that once saw huge holdings of sub-tropical fruits and stately homes.

The recent opening of the Pre-industrial Museum of the Sugar Cane has made fashionable a study of local industrial heritage that is while common to the rest of northern Europeans, quite a moving shift in Spanish history. At the first entrance to Motril (off the N-340), the House of the Palm raises sumptuously, building that houses the local library and the official headquarters of the UNED (Universidad Nacional de Ensenanza a Distancia, Spain’s Open University). Passing the Al Campo commercial centre, the old cane factory of La Palma (a factory housing the latest technologies of the time) accommodates an interactive museum where you can journey through the processes of sugar manufacture. Be careful because there are no signs advertising the space, and the door is at the left side of the building, in Zafra street, and is only open from Tuesday to Sunday.

At the Ronda de Poniente, there is a building: the Sugar factory of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, which in the near future will be used for the Industrial Museum of the Cane. It is hoped that much of its impressive facilities on a site in excess of 4,500 square meters, will explore just how the steam age influenced cane and molasses production. Today the area is protected and waits further funding before its doors can open to the public. This heritage museum once operated a factory that was, until its last milling in 1984, one of the areas greatest employers and also its greatest industry. It still houses machinery from between 1880 and 1929, with 10 steam engines of different technologies and various milling machine types such that the Spanish Association of the Industrial Patrimony considers it to be Andalucia’s most significant industrial monument, and the fifth most important site in all Spain.

Other significant buildings that once relied on the cane industry include the factory of San Luis, a small sugar installation distilling sugar paste and alcohol at the beginning of the XIX century and that was given to the Canary Islands rum distillers Destilerias Arehúcas, before closing in 1987. Another, the factory of Nuestra Señora de la Almudena was recently restored to its former glory and has been converted as a banqueting suite; a very popular location for hosting wedding parties. The factory of Santa Isabel lies hidden today amongst the sugar fields and chirimoya orchards. As you enter the town from the coast road, passing under the aqueduct on this tight corner, it is impossible not to see the numerous water channels and streams that once supplied these factories. It is easy to forget the fact that by the mid XIX century Motril actually had the greatest concentration of steam machines in Europe.

Finally as an example to the status and prosperity once enjoyed by the wealthy industrialists, there can be no better example than the Cortijo or Casa de los Bates, which dates from the XIX century. Once only used as a summer residence by the family it has been most tastefully conserved by the present owners who run the residence as a boutique style, 4 room hotel; ideal for discrete parties and celebrations. The original structure and its interior retains much of its past century charm and decoration, and from the windows of the upper floors you can enjoy an incomparable view of the delta of the Guadalfeo River and the fertile plains. The main attraction, however, is the Arab gardens, of the XVIII and XIX centuries and the various viewing points established in the XV century. Its “generalife” has a traditional Isabelino design; not too distant from the Moorish designs we see at the Alhambra in Granada. The alignments of palms and cypresses and the various exotic palms that still grow in these gardens offer a priceless and unique collection. Other features of the garden include a magnificent fountain and the ceramic jars filled with scented jasmine a further reminiscence to the traditional gardens of Granada’s Generalife.

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