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Benalmádena: The story behind a name

Inside Benalmádena's iconic Puerto Marina.
Inside Benalmádena's iconic Puerto Marina. / ALBERTO GÓMEZ
  • There are various theories about the origin of Benalmádena's name, though the most credible relate to its mining heritage

The names of towns are always closely linked to the history, language and culture of their inhabitants.

Some have a religious explanation; others derive from local customs or characteristics which date back for centuries; and the majority of them are associated to the origins of the area.

However, in toponymy, the discipline that focuses on the etymological study of place names, things are not always as they seem.

In Malaga province there are tens of towns with names whose origin is a mystery for the majority of their residents.

This is the case for Benalmádena, whose name has changed several times over recent centuries and in many historical documents appears as Benalmaina, Benalmyna or Benalmadina, among many other names.

Behind one of the province's longest place names lie a number of theories, although the most accepted by historians is that it comes from the Arabic 'Ibn al-ma'din', which translates as 'children of the miners'.

The abundance of iron and ochre deposits in the local area support this hypothesis, although other writers argue that the name comes from the translation of another similar Arab word related to mining, 'Bina al-ma'din', which means 'the building of the mine'.

The first documents that contain references to Benalmádena date back to the 15th century, at the time when the Crown of Castille was fighting against the Nasrid dynasty in Granada, as part of the larger conflict between Christians and Muslims in Spain and Portugal.

Benalmádena's history, however, dates much further back. Data that shows that the town was already populated 18,000 years ago, in the Solutrean period of the High Paelaeolithic, although other recent studies in the nearby Bajondillo cave in Torremolinos have shown that there has been human habitation there since the mid-Paelaeolithic era, or even before.

The Cueva del Toro cave, on the slopes of the Calamorro mountain, has been very important in documenting the town's history, as it has been inhabited for 15,000 years. Its most remarkable feature is its cave painting of a headless bull.

Another theory, which is less widely supported, argues that the name originally meant 'town between two springs', from the Arabic 'Bena-A La Ena'. It's also thought possible that the name refers to the farm owned by the al-Madina family, a local wealthy Arab family who lived in the area several centuries ago, according to historical sources.

It has also been suggested that the name of the coastal town could refer to an Arab lineage, the Madana family, with the town's name meaning 'children of Madana'.

Despite the abundance of theories, however, the most accepted theories by local historians are those which emphasise the town's mining heritage.