Roman remains: ruins of the baths at the Finca del Secretario in Fuengirola. / SUR

The rise and fall of Suel

On 2 February 2022 the municipality of Fuengirola was 180 years old. This series reviews the rich history of the location, from prehistory to the founding of the modern municipality

PATRICK H. MEEHAN

In the seventeenth century the lost Roman municipality of Suel was discovered beneath a millennia of mountain deluge around Fuengirola castle. This discovery lifted the curtain on the forgotten age of a thriving municipality which, for half a millennium, the Roman Empire called Suel.

Suel's prime position suited the needs of Rome, which brought with it peace, stability and prosperity for longer than ever before or since. Roman Suel was a crossroad town with a fishing ground, a port, rivers and a market for local agriculture, oil, wine, marble and metals. Written evidence for Suel comes from eminent Roman writers such as Pomponius Mela, Pliny and Ptolemy.

Suel enjoyed prosperity as the empire rose, followed by the industrialisation of fish oil production as it fell. Monetising the abundance of fish has a downside; the foul smell it creates makes luxury living anywhere near it impossible. Despite the smell, Rome needed money for two centuries of endless wars and fish oil was both valuable and transportable.

Fuengirola's three Roman ruins, located around the castle, the Finca del Secretario and the Termas Romanas, all tell the same story of luxury villas converted to fish factories.

The castle lands are currently being excavated in a project called 'Ciudad Romana de Suel' that will excavate 1,600 square metres of land over six years. This project has uncovered a Roman villa with clear evidence of having been converted into a fish-salting factory.

In Los Boliches, the Finca del Secretario exhibits the ruins of a luxurious Roman bath house with the later addition of a fish salting factory. Another significant Roman site waiting to be excavated is the Termas Romanas on the hill behind Edificio Promosol at Torreblanca.

Termas Romanas shows two connected octagonal rooms, with pools, which were part of a spa, with later evidence of fish-salting.

In all three ruins you can see concrete-lined tanks used in fish-salting; they are so well made that they still hold rain water until it evaporates.

The Roman army was defeated from the north of Europe and by 425 AD forces had been withdrawn from Spain to try to defend Rome.

They left the high-born Latin speaking, Iberian Romano citizens of Suel defenceless for a decade against plundering Mediterranean pirates.

The victors sacked Rome, claimed its empire and searched for its best location; thus beginning a long relationship between this location and the Scandinavians.

  • Patrick H. Meehan is a 20-year resident of Fuengirola and author of Fuengirola Revisited, a unique book that tells the story of the location through the ages. Feedback can be sent to info@fuengirolarevisited.com For more information visit www.fuengirolarevisited.com or follow @fuengirolarevisited on Facebook.