What is now the modern Plaza de la Axarquía was the birthplace of this town more than 500 years ago. J. A.
Torre del Mar: a holiday destination on the Costa del Sol with a hidden past

Torre del Mar: a holiday destination on the Costa del Sol with a hidden past

The remains of a castle that once stood on the beach, an old sugar cane factory which can now be visited and a manor house are all part of the town's legacy

Javier Almellones

Torre del Mar

Monday, 1 July 2024, 18:16

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Torre del Mar is one of the best-known tourist destinations in the Axarquía on the eastern stretch of the Costa del Sol. Its beaches and promenade are among the most popular in Malaga province and the town is an ideal place for those looking for excellent facilities and restaurants on the beach.

However, not many decades ago the town was quite different from the bustling seaside town it is today. Fishing and agriculture were the main industries in Torre del Mar, which was independent during a short period in the 19th century, but today belongs to the municipality of Vélez-Málaga.

Lookout. It is hidden between buildings, but both it and one of its lighthouse keepers have a place in history. J. A.

The coastal town is home to not one, but three lighthouses. Towards the west of the long promenade are two of them: the modern, taller blue and white striped one which stands next to the second-oldest and somewhat shorter one. However, the town's first lighthouse, which is nearly one hundred years old, is set back from the beach and hidden among the residential buildings just off Avenida Toré Toré, which were built during the town's tourist and urban development boom of the 1960s.

This 1931 building and above all the lighthouse keeper who occupied it have a place in history because of what happened during a particularly dark chapter of Spain's Civil War, known as La Desbandá.

The man in charge of the lighthouse during that time, Anselmo Vilar, is today considered a hero for disobeying the order to switch on the light during the 'Desbandá' as thousands of people from Malaga, mainly women, children and the elderly, attempted to flee to Almeria as Franco's troops invaded the city.

Vilar did so in an attempt to stop the Italian air force and the 'Canarias' and 'Almirante Cervera' ships from bombing the thousands of 'Malagueños' as they passed through Torre del Mar on their way to Almeria. However, his heroic actions to try to save the lives of thousands of civilians ended in his own life being taken with his execution by firing squad just a few days later.

Today Anselmo Vilar's name is remembered on the square where the original lighthouse still stands, as well as in books and other documents detailing the Desbandá.

It is more difficult to find the old castle of Torre del Mar. Today only a few walls remain in the area around the newly reformed Plaza de la Axarquía. It is well-concealed, but remembered by an information board in Spanish and English, describing the history of the fortress.

Inside the old sugar mill you can see pieces like this one. J. A.

Although many are disappointed not to find in intact castle, it must be remembered that the place had an eventful past. It played a vital role in the surveillance of the area in very turbulent times since its origin in the 15th century, when it was called Torre del Mar, which is where the town gets its name.

Significant dates in the history of this castle include the Battle of Vélez-Málaga, the most famous episode of the War of Spanish Succession, when Spanish-French and Anglo-Dutch fleets clashed without a clear winner.

Not far from there, on Paseo de Larios, the wide pedestrian avenue that connects the town's San Andrés church with the beach, stands Villa Mercedes, a late 19th century manor house which forms part of Torre del Mar's rich industrial legacy, linked to the 'Azucarera' or sugar cane factory.

Known as the Antigua Fábrica de Azúcar Nuestra Señora del Carmen, the factory was one of the most important 'azucarers' in Malaga province in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today it houses an exhibition of some of the machinery that was used when it was a functioning factory.

Today the space is used to host temporary and permanent exhibitions, including one that explains the history of Torre del Mar, with information detailing its industrial and agricultural splendour.

For nature-lovers Torre del Mar is also home to a riverside bird sanctuary. At the mouth of the River Vélez, to the west of the town on the border with neighbouring Almayate, the area has become popular among ornithology enthusiasts who go to spot a wide range of birdlife, especially during migration periods.

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