Short and sweet

La Tribuna, the oldest building in Arroyo de la Miel.
La Tribuna, the oldest building in Arroyo de la Miel. / SUR
  • history

  • Arroyo de la Miel was once an enormous estate, where an Italian businessman made paper for playing cards

Sunday 8 April 1787, Easter Sunday. British traveller Joseph Townsend is watching attentively as Mass is celebrated in the recently completed cathedral in Malaga. Amid the incense, organ music and ceremony, a well-mannered young man approaches him and offers to answer any questions this curious traveller may have.

Afterwards, as they seemed to be getting on well, he persuaded Townsend to accompany him to Calle Granada, where his father, Félix Solesio, lived opposite the church of Santiago. Townsend and Solesio immediately struck up a friendship and the traveller was invited to spend a few days at their house in the countryside.

Félix Solesio, who was Genoese, had bought the estate called Arroyo de la Miel three years earlier, in 1784. It had a huge amount of land, measuring 11 kilometres in length by nearly six wide, now Benalmádena Costa and Arroyo de la Miel.

This immense estate had cost the Italian 300,000 'reales'. Bearing in mind that he had bought his three 'houses' in Calle Granada for 141,000 reales, we get an idea of what land on the Costa was worth in those days.

The estate bordered the Molino del Moro to the east, neighbouring estates owned by people from Benalmádena to the west, the Sierra de Mijas to the north and "the coast, sand and sea" to the south. From the early 16th century this land had belonged to the Zurita-Zambrana family, and one of their descendents had sold it to Solesio.

So, the English traveller was to spend a few days on the Arroyo de la Miel estate. He arrived on Thursday 12 April after just a few hours' travel from Malaga.

Townsend described with typical British precision everything he saw. In the two and a bit years that Solesio had owned it, he had planted 200,000 grapevines, 5,000 olive trees, 100,000 mulberry trees, 580 fig trees, 300 pomegranate trees, 700 lemon trees, 700 orange trees and a large amount of sugar cane.

He also had 56 oxen, 1,200 lambs, 400 goats and 158 pigs. The shepherds slept next to their herds and every night a man on horseback rode around the estate to prevent possible attacks by thieves.

The archway leading to the San Carlos complex.

The archway leading to the San Carlos complex. / SUR

The figures may sound exaggerated, but they are supported by historical documents, as historians José Carlos Balmaseda and María del Carmen Martín show in their book Félix Solesio, Fundador de Arroyo de la Miel.

There was also a quarry on the estate and in an area near the sea they had even discovered Roman baths with mosaic floor tiles.

Félix Solesio built six mills to produce paper. We know their names: Los Fundadores, Santa Rita, La Victoria and San Bonifacio, which produced white paper, and Los Apóstoles and San Nicolás, where brown paper was made. All these provided work for around 112 people, according to Townsend, nearly 20 per cent of the population of Benalmádena.

Félix Solesio was a dreamer. He called his dream the San Carlos industrial complex after the King, Carlos III. In Arroyo de la Miel today you can still see the entrance leading to the houses on the estate, with a marble inscription explaining that everything had been created in the public interest and for the future of the nation. It was the dream of every illustrious man.

Statue of Félix Solesio.

Statue of Félix Solesio. / SUR

Félix Solesio has always been overshadowed by the man who was his protector, José de Gálvez, Minister of the Indies from the Court of Charles III and Marquess of Sonora, and for that reason his figure has rarely been given much attention. Solesio was appointed director of De Gálvez's playing card factory in Macharaviaya, for which he produced the paper in Arroyo de la Miel.

Townsend described him as an "enterprising man who uses all his profits to make improvements on his estates".

By 1797 his industrial complex was valued at five million reales, in other words its worth had multiplied by 15 in just 13 years.

In 1800 Arroyo de la Miel was already like a small town which was to grow during the 19th century thanks to its paper mills.

The mansion owned by Félix Solesio in Malaga's Calle Granada, has now been converted into the new Palacio Solecio hotel.