The old San Joaquín factory in Maro, in the Pago de Tetuán area, is used for filming. :: E. C.
For 400 years the economy of the coastal towns in Malaga province was basically sustained by the cultivation of sugar cane, which had been introduced by the Moors. From the mid-16th century until the 1960s, there were dozens of factories and refineries in which the cane was milled to extract the juice which was used to make molasses and sugar. Nowadays, only half a dozen of these buildings remain, all of them in La Axarquía region and in varying states of repair.
The greatest part of this historical legacy is therefore to be found on the eastern side of Malaga province, but the buildings have fallen into disrepair due to lack of funds to rehabilitate them. One of the municipalities where this aspect of the past is most in evidence is Nerja, where there are four such enclaves. Unfortunately, a lack of funding combined with the fact that most of these buildings are privately owned - many are the property of the Sociedad Azucarera Larios S.A. (Salsa) - means that now, at the height of the crisis, they have been completely abandoned and forgotten, and are at the mercy of unwanted visitors.
For a few years during the property boom, there were various initiatives to convert these buildings into hotels or museums, such as the San Rafael refinery in Torrox, which dates back to the 18th century, where in 2006 Salsa-Larios proposed creating the village’s first four-star hotel. However, when times became hard these industrial buildings were used, in many cases, as settings for making short movies or as paintball and model airplane tracks, when they were not becoming rubbish tips and places where works materials and rubble accumulated.
One of the largest factories, and one which is in a better state of repair, is that of San Joaquín in Maro, near Nerja, which dates back to 1880 and is situated in the Pago de las Mercedes. “I can’t understand why these historic buildings have not been given special protection in the Town Plan, they are just being abandoned,” says local historian Francisco Capilla, one of the co-founders of La Volaera association, which was set up in March 2011 to promote the protection of the historical and industrial heritage of Nerja. “Under Andalusian law, the owners have to ensure that industrial heritage is maintained, but in this case the administrations are just passing the ball from one to another,” he adds.
In Nerja, the oldest refinery is the 16th century San Antonio Abad, but little remains of it now. In Maro, that of Armengol, which dates from the same period, is in an equally derelict condition, while the last one to close down, in the 1960s, that of La Maquinilla or Rifol, is the only one in the hands of the Town Hall, which uses part of it for storage.
In Torrox, two remain: San Rafael, which is inland, and San Javier, on the coast. The local IU party has launched a campaign to collect signatures on a petition and at the last council meeting a motion was approved to demand that the authorities “take steps to recuperate them” and for the buildings to be protected by being declared Bienes de Interés Cultural (BIC).
IU councillor Teodoro Ruiz describes the “progressive decay” and the state of “complete neglect” of the remains of the old San Javier refinery, which is one of the three sugar complexes which have existed in Torrox over time. The others are Nuestra Señora de la Concepción “of which hardly anything remains” and San Javier, both of which were built in the final quarter of the 16th century.
In 2006 the coalition presented a non-legislative proposal in Parliament to have the San Rafael refinery declared a BIC, but it was unsuccessful.
“And although we understand that we are in a crisis and there are other priorities, this situation should not mean that we are left without our historical heritage,” says Teodoro Ruiz.