The meaning of the name of Fuengirola is still debated today. SUR
Fuengirola: From a star to a natural spring

Fuengirola: From a star to a natural spring

The meaning of the toponym has long been debated, but historians generally agree it alludes to the local natural springs

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Friday, 21 April 2023, 13:35

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The place name of Fuengirola has been the subject of debate for many years, and historians and academics have long disagreed about its origin and its meaning.

The area has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years: the Phoenicians first settled in the area close to the castle and named it Suel, a name said to have been inspired by a star that is visible from the castle. However, this theory has been rejected by some historians.

The name of Suel survived until Roman times, but was later changed to Suhayl, (Sohail) by the Moors.

Evidence of the Roman town comes from a column pedestal used in the castle's construction. The column records the name of Suel, and also that the town was granted municipal status in AD 53, acquiring a certain importance in the Bética region as a result.

Although the Moors had a considerable fortification in the area, the main seat of power was Mijas. Fuengirola did not officially gain its independence from Mijas until 1841.

Sohail was a large settlement, which included farmland and a small village, and it is believed that most of the surrounding area was used as pasture for the Moorish rulers' camels.

The settlement became a mound of ruins after the town burnt to the ground during the Middle Ages.

Only the fortress remained in 1485 when the Christian Monarchs retook it during the reconquest of Spain. An attempt to repopulate the site failed, and in 1511, it was registered as uninhabited.

In his book, Fuengirola Revisited, social anthropologist Patrick Meehan, who has lived in the town for more than 20 years, claims that the name Fuengirola began to enter local municipal documents in 1470, "although in variations". These included Fonoryola, Fenogyrola, Fenarola and Fenoryola, among others, although he states that "scholars have still not agreed what the name means or where it came from".

Meehan also states that there are "competing narratives" with reference to this place name, pointing out that it is generally agreed that 'Fuen' derives from 'font' (fuente is Spanish for spring, source or fountain), but that it is the second part of the name that has "divided" historians.

A new urban settlement developed in the 17th century, and at the beginning of the 18th century, a tavern was opened close to the beach, offering accommodation to travellers and seafarers. A small village made up of fishermen's huts was built nearby.

According to historian Alonso de Palencia, the name was changed to Font-Jirola, in reference to the natural spring at the foot of the castle.

Natural springs

Other historians claim the name is of Castilian origin, as it bears no relation to either the Roman Suel or Arabic Sohail. However, they also believe the name alludes to the presence of a number of springs which provided sailors with water.

The current name of Fuengirola is thought to have appeared in the 18th century, by which time, it had become a provisioning stop-off for Genovese ships en route to the Straits of Gibraltar.

Some academics claim that the toponym derived from the name of the dragnets (gironas) used by the Genovese sailors, although this has never been clarified with any evidence.

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