In Marbella, several factors have recently come together to bring the history of the town into the spotlight.
On one hand there is new construction: under current legislation heritage must be preserved in the case of historical or protected buildings and the works must be supervised by an archaeologist, such as is happening now with the remodelling of El Fuerte hotel, where human remains dating back to the 17th or 18th centuries were discovered last month.
The human bones were found in the vicinity of the nearby 18th century San Luis fort. As part of renovations, work is also being carried out to restore the fortress, which is a listed building.
There is also a greater awareness of history nowadays among institutions and citizens and, in addition, weather events can play a part, such as the storm in November last year that uncovered some Roman kilns in San Pedro Alcántara.
The fact is that this town on the Costa del Sol has an enormous amount of land, so important remains from practically all periods of history can be found there, explains archaeologist Miguel Vila who, with the Menia Restauración y Patrimonio company, has been involved in several of the most recent works, including La Fonda, El Trapiche del Prado, where soundings have been carried out, and the San Pedro sand dune.
San Pedro sand dune
A team of six archaeologists and four restorers from Menia Restauración have been carrying out urgent works to protect what has been uncovered by the sea.
"In the excavations, which were done during the years when the agricultural settlement reached the area of the dune, people were talking about ruins at the San Pedro dune and so it was known that there were ruins somewhere around here," says Vila.
However, it was not until the 1990s that the first excavation in this area took place, led by Fernando Villaseca. His team discovered three tombs which were older than the Paleochristian basilica, and a series of fairly deep structures. Later, in 2018, geophysical tests were carried out and those detected structures shaped like buildings which at the time were thought to have been used as some type of storage.
"What has happened now is that the sea has done something very strange. It has been directly hitting against the jetty and has emptied out the sediments beside there, making a deep hole in the ground and leaving some structures visible," he explains. "The surprise has been that when we excavated these structures, it turned out that they had been used for making ceramics," he says.
Three kilns have also been found on the site, although the archaeologists believe there are more because "they were temporary installations. They would abandon one and start using another at the side which was more stable," says Vila.
This find may not be remarkable but it is interesting because no ceramics factory has been found in Marbella until now.
"In fact, in the Río Verde area, where the Roman villa is, no signs of production have been found yet, although you would think there would have been one because the villas there used to be arranged in estates, in the same way as they are today," he says.
It also remains to be seen whether this ceramics centre at the dune in San Pedro was linked to any dwelling.
Right in the centre of Marbella old town, architects have been working on an area nearly 700 square metres in size, on the renovation of La Fonda hotel.
"We have found and excavated four buildings on that site. La Fonda was a complete surprise, because there is a church dating back to the 16th century, which was dedicated to San Sebastián, and nearby there is a cemetery where a great many bodies had been buried throughout the modern period. There was a very virulent episode of plague at that time and many people were buried in mass graves," says Manuel Vila.
"We have also been able to excavate a mediaeval suburb which nobody had any idea had existed in that period until now," he says. The discoveries show that the archaeologists have been working at different levels, from the 12th to the 18th centuries.
"The hotel wants to leave a lot of remains on view and right now the altar and the side nave of the church are visible and will be incorporated into the building," he says.
During the renovation works at La Fonda hotel, paintings have also been found on an exterior wall, but this is not the only building in that area with this type of mural.
"In Calle Ancha, Plaza del Santo Cristo and Calle San Francisco, several murals have been found during works in the past three years and they have become a tourist attraction in their own right," says Vila. The findings suggest that this street was inhabited by the well-off middle-classes in the 18th century.
"The town of Marbella has some very interesting monuments, it's just a question of wanting to see them. The old town has a perimeter and used to be surrounded by a wall and we know where the entrance gates used to be," he says. "It has a fantastic castle, which people used to live inside, and it would be very interesting to work on that. There is a whole world of opportunity there, if there were the will to carry out more intensive investigations and put what people want to see on display.
"It would make the world realise that Marbella is a truly historic town and not just a famous tourist resort," he said.