In Ancient Times
Phoenicians settled along our coasts in around the VIII Century B.C. as it is documented in the urban centres of Toscanos and Chorreras. Their presence was due mainly to commercial reasons. A very important and quick trade with inland people was developed from these maritime- urban centres taking advantage of all the natural mountain passes.
The Roman occupation of this territory is documented in different sites and can particularly be seen in the important maritime city of Maenoba (Sea mountain) where the systematic exploitation of the area’s resources developed, leading to prosperous fishing, agricultural and commercial activity as was the case of the successful salt industry named garum, introduced by the Phoenicians.
The Muslim period
The archaeological remains from the Iron Age are the first historical traces of the Velez Malaga urban area that have been found but the settlement does not seem to have continued in time. The indications are that the city was founded around the X century with its fortress-castle and La villa district (the oldest Muslim part of the city). The topographic features of the settlement and the subsequent urban development in the rugged terrain show how the city’s objective was mainly military.
It was one of the most important Muslim cities in the Nazar Kingdom from the XIII to the XV century, being a small but fortified city that was well protected within its walled compound.
During this period a remarkable population growth overflowed the walled enclosure creating suburbs which are now the “Arroyo de San Sebastian” neighbourhood and the Constitución and San Francisco Squares.
Already in the XIII century there were other rural areas which became important agricultural centres such as Almayate, Benamocarra, Benajarafe, Pedupel, Benadalid, Cajiz, Iberos, Iznate, Torrentes, Alcalaín, etc. which are mainly located on the western area. Most of these settlements turned into the urban centres that are now located in the municipality of Velez Malaga.
Between the XII and XVI centuries, authors like Idrisi, Abulfeda, Ibn Battuta y Abd-al-Basit wrote about the city and its growing importance. “It is like the Velez fig where all new comers hang their bag” cited by the writer Ibn Asim (1358- 1426) which reflected that Velez was considered a fertile and welcoming land to all travelers in Nazar time.
Information based on Mrs. Purificación Ruiz Garcia’s research work.
The Christian occupation and the XVI century
The city surrendered before King Ferdinand on April 27th, 1487 as he entered Granada’s doors consecrating all the existing Mosques. The Muslim inhabitants were expelled in accordance with a generous stipulation that allowed them to leave with their personal possessions. They were replaced by Christians from lower Andalucía, Extremadura, Murcia y Castilla.
Most of the Muslim population stayed as Mudejar in the Velez jurisdiction rural areas since the Crown wanted to keep the productive system of the Nazar period (specialised agriculture destined to be exported) which was of great interest to the State coffers.
But this Muslim population suffered the effect of many robberies and the hunger for land of well known people from Velez which led to many lawsuits at the end of the XV century.
After the expulsion of the Muslims, the repopulation of the city had a strong military influence since it was still bordering the Nazar Kingdom, and Granada had not yet surrendered. This meant that the city was mostly occupied by the royal guards’ squires that had participated in the Conquest. These military personnel enjoyed an estate three times that of the labourers’ in the land distribution even though they only represented a third of the 600 neighbours’ that were supposed to repopulate the newly conquered city.
Measures of distribution started from September 1488 by reserving assets that belonged to the Church and the Council’s assets. Later in 1495 Bachelor Serrano was put in charge of a reform to end the problems that were mostly based on the scarcity of cereal and pasture land. This was partially resolved with the incorporation of the Zalia territory.
Among the privileges the city enjoyed after the Conquest, was its new jurisdiction. This gave the government more land than it used to have under the Muslim occupation by adding the administrative districts of Bentomiz and Frigiliana first and Zalia in 1488. Thanks to privileges granted by the Catholic Kings, there were some tax exemptions that the Town Council used in a much broader sense than for just basic products like food, clothing and housing, including products such as silk, soap and linen.
As a result of the Nerja and Torrox mudejars’ uprising in 1488 which caused many casualties in the Christian troops, Francisco Enríquez, Andalucía major governor and the King’s uncle, was proclaimed Mayor of the city of Velez. His new post allowed his relatives and clients achieve the best positions in the Municipal Council through direct appointment by the Crown together with guards and royal servants. The allocation of agricultural land was also improved as explained in Bachelor Serrano’s research findings.
With the establishment of a new social formation which tries to create a city model opposite to the previous one, comes demographical and spatial reorganization. Thus, the newly established power with its own needs and a city concept different to the Muslim one brings along the Architectural transformation of the city with public squares and the planning of civil and religious buildings. The presence of the Church and religious orders made important changes to the city with the creation of many new religious buildings.
But the rugged terrain of the urban centre and the cost of rebuilding prevented the new city development from any rationalization attempt (Renaissance idealism).
Because if this, the urban reform mainly focused on buildings like Churches, Convents, Guildhalls, Aristocrats houses, etc. and barely on public areas which were mostly built in the Plaza Nueva and San Francisco suburbs, while the Medina, La Villa neighbourhood and San Sebastian were re-planned. In the early days, Santa María and San Juan Churches and San Francisco Convent went through the most important Architectural changes that turned Mosques into Churches. This also happened with “San Sebastian”,” San Cristobal” and “Santa Catalina” Chapels, and “San Roque” and “San Juan Evangelista” Churches.
In 1508, the Leper Hospital (now in the Plaza del Trabajo) and San Marcos Hospital were built from secular funds. In the second half of the XVI century, the New Nuestra Señora de Gracia and San José de la Soledad Monasteries were built which make this century the most important and prolific one for Velez Malaga’s urban development (mostly religious buildings).
Regarding the current Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square), the municipal authorities carried out reforms that adapted it to the new social needs creating a crucial public space, “La Plaza Mayor” in the city. This occurred a few years after the Conquest; in 1490 it was called Plaza Nueva (New Square) and it became the new vital city centre where the political and most important ecclesiastical powers would gather. The Square became more monumental in the second half of the XVI century with new buildings and architectural refurbishments like the extension of San Juan Church and especially the construction of the new Town Council, a large Renaissance building that had a ground floor and two other floors. This building was demolished in 1938.
Christians kept the same agricultural system created by Muslims based on the specialized production of dried fruits, silk, etc. Vine growing was also developed in a very special way, creating important scented wines which were exported to Northern Europe.
The XVII Century
The urban reform continued in the XVII century and was reinforced in the XVIII century with the Virgen de la Piedad Chapel, The Jesús, María y José Monastery, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios Shrine and the restoration that took place at San Francisco and Las Clarisas. These religious buildings consecrate the whole urban area and together with public activities also have a broad program of religious festivities (Holy week, Corpus Christi, etc.) where San Francisco and La Constitución Squares become very important places for large crowds to enjoy all types of celebrations (religious, civic, fun, etc.) thus becoming the most vital and privileged places of the city until recent times.
Throughout the modern age, Velez became the economical and most important centre in the area. Most of the vine and citrus crops of the region were found in the Suburb of Torre de Mar from where they were exported to Northern Europe, while the area around it grew cereals and vegetables (sugarcane, citrus, etc.) for home consumption. Not enough could be produced however, and it was necessary to import some food while still relying on the Granary market control. This was located in Plaza Mayor next to San Juan Church where a new building was built between 1747 and 1765.
The demographic, epidemic and war crisis that ravaged the Kingdom during the XVII left a profound mark in the city of Velez by greatly reducing the population and creating a general feeling of fear from the constant attacks of the Moors and Turkish pirates along the coast.
The coastal defence was based on guard towers like that located in Torre del Mar which was in communication with the Vela Tower in Velez Fortress and could therefore obtain help the city troops should the need arise.
Because of its coastal condition, Velez Malaga temporarily became the Coast General Headquarters located in the Marqués de Beniel Palace. The Town Council went through an oligarchic and patrimonial process whereby regiments became the private property of a few families monopolizing the local government during the Modern era such as Carrion, Piédrola, Igualada, Gámez, Coronado, Mena, Lasso de la Vega, Valderrama , etc. Their members increased considerably from five to thirty four at the beginning of the XVIII century, thanks to Royal concessions that disguised public offices sales in favour of the limited Royal Estate. The role of mayor was shared with Malaga as the royal official resided in Malaga and a deputy was appointed in Velez. Finally in 1640, the privilege of segregation was achieved and the City had its own Town Hall.
The XVIII Century
This century began traumatically with the Succession War which Velez endured due to a loyalty to the Bourbon dynasty; in this respect, the Town Council contributed financially to the cause through taxes and donations and then very actively on its beaches when the Battle of Malaga developed. The proclamation of Philip V took place in the Chapel of Los Remedios who then became the patron saint of the city to this day; because of this, the King and Queen’s portraits are kept in the Chapel dome.
The rest of the century is a period of splendour for the city’s history with growth at every level as reflected in the construction and renovation of temples and public buildings, urban infrastructure renewal, access embellishment and road repairs. The Enlightenment ideas began to leave a mark on the city as clearly reflected in the creation of the Economical Society of friends of the country in 1973 under the auspices of Ignancio de Liaño y Cordoba, a very strong and distinctive personality.
The XIX and XX Centuries
The XIX century began with the 1804 epidemic which clearly affected the subsequent city development. Yellow fever decimated more than half the population as it did the Town Council whose members either died or fled making it impossible to govern in this critical situation and leaving its jurisdiction in the hands of Lieutenant Colonel Ignacio de Liaño.
The subsequent invasion by the Napoleonic army and the creation of a pro-French government backed by French troops settled in the Fortress, radically divided the population creating two irreconcilable groups who fought over the government control throughout the XIX century and alternated between liberal and conservative/ absolutist periods. The political crisis consolidated demographically and socially with the arrival of epidemics of cholera, the phylloxera virus which destroyed the vine-growing and the earthquakes of 1884-5.
By the middle of the XIX century and after the crisis at the beginning of the century because of the War of Independence, Velez Malaga and its region recorded an economic revival which resulted in a significant population growth. But in the last two decades of the century, this expansion was greatly reduced when phylloxera appeared in 1878 affecting the entire vine district of Malaga.
Part of the coastal area escaped this situation thanks to the cultivation of sugar canes in an industrial way.
Department of Artistic Historical Heritage. Culture Council. Velez Malaga Town Hall