For those of us that live here Manilva is very much the forgotten end of the Costa del Sol and, apart from those who live abroad and have a property here, an unknown entity outside of Andalucia. Many would say that is a good thing because Manilva has not experienced the wall to wall high rise development seen further north on the Costa, it still has large tracts of open land between what are comparatively small urbanisations. That does of course mean that Manilva is not as wealthy as other municipalities but it also means it has retained some of the charm that has attracted people to this part of Andalucia for 3000 years.
As well as having less development than elsewhere Manilva municipality also has fewer roads navigable by modern vehicles. A glance at any map will show you that its population lives on a narrow strip of coastal plain, never wider than 500 metres that extends 4 kilometres from Martagina in the west, to Castillo de la Duquesa, Puerto de la Duquesa and San Luis de Sabinillas in the east. The A7 road follows the Via I of Roman times that was even then an ancient right of way. River valleys have been utilised in modern times to push urbanisations inland but rarely further than 1.5 kilometres. A relatively modern road, the original track was only built in the 16th Century, takes you from Sabinillas up a ridge to Manilva town itself, barely 2.5 kilometres inland. Only a small fraction of Manilva municipality's 35 square kilometres is populated today but it was not always so.
Examine a large scale map and you will see a web of tracks and paths through the campo, far more than are required to service the isolated fincas that still survive in the rolling hills that form the vast majority of the land in Manilva. To discover why they are there you have to step back in time to the late Bronze Age, about 3,000 years.
In those days there were two main population centres and, in all probability, a good track along the coastal strip. The larger centre is now called Los Castillejos de Alcorrín. To reach it you will have to finally resort to the form of transport used then, feet, although the initial part of the journey has been helped by 20th century developers who have paved the road from the A7 through the Aldea Hills urbanisations. You will be following the course of the original bronze age track and, once past the urbanisations it becomes much more bronze age like. At a fork in the track take the left hand path. If you have driven this far it is advisable to park your car.
You ascend onto a plateau with, ahead of you a steep escarpment leading down to the fertile valley of the Arroyo Alcorrín. Around the edge of the plateau, except along the top of the escarpment, can be traced the walls of a fort that encompassed an area of about 8 hectares. Mounds along the line of the walls would once have been defensive towers. Excavations that unearthed the foundations of the walls showed that the 9th century BC builders had been influenced by building techniques of the Near East and Punic pottery established a link with the early Phoenician traders. The scant evidence produced to date indicates the occupants of the fort were agrarian. This site, archaeologically, has hardly been touched yet. The Arroyo Alcorrín valley would have been used for growing crops to sustain the occupants whilst their animals would have grazed the hill itself. The ancient track leading down to the valley is along and down the northern ridge of the escarpment.
The second and much smaller settlement at that time was nearer the coast, on the hill at the centre of what is now Duquesa golf course. Only extensive excavation will show the extent of this site.
By the time the Romans arrived both sites appeared to have been in decline and instead of utilising the Alcorrín site in the same way they developed Lacipo in neighbouring Casares municipality they established a town at Castillo de la Duquesa on the coast. This became an important place with its fish salting basins, market, necropolis and an extensive villa. It must also have been the centre for the surrounding farming communities that were established at the same time. The Romans and the indigenous population seemed to have felt fairly secure in this area because they built small farming communities on many patches of fertile ground in the river valleys. Some would have been on the same sites as present day cortijos and fincas and it is probably accurate to imagine them as being similar to present day fincas with a few, more elaborate centred round small villas occupied by the wealthier landowners. An example of just such a settlement may be found at Cortijo de Calceta about 1 kilometre south west of Los Castillejos de Alcorrín. This is on the ancient track that lead from present day Arena Hills to the village of Secadero in the Guadiaro valley. The Romans also built a paved road from the Via I four kilometres up the side of the Rio Manilva to the baths at Cortesin de la Hedionda.
After the Romans left, the coastal towns, including that at Castillo, declined. The population in the interior also reduced and resorted to farming in small, isolated, communities. The Visigothic period seems to have passed Manilva by. The only possible sign that they were here causing any disruption is the 4th century hoard of coins found at Tessorillo now on display at the museum in the castle at Castillo.
Similarly, after the Moorish invasion of 711AD, the population within the present day municipality of Manilva remaining dispersed and rural with the main population centre at Casares. The remains of the characteristic hill terracing from this period can still be seen on the flanks of the hill, Llanos del Tabano on the right of the track to Secadero. A small settlement, little more than a large farm, is situated at the eastern edge of Los Castillejos de Alcorrín. This is the original Moorish village of Martagina. Martagina was occupied until the 18th century and its inhabitants grew bananas and figs, much loved by the Moors. If you go there today you will still see a number of these trees now growing wild.
The present day border between the municipality of Manilva and the province of Cádiz formed the boundary between the Nazarine kingdom of Granada and the reconquered territories after 1485 but even that event left the indigenous population unmoved. If anything the land became even more depopulated due to the threat of pirate raids. Many of the Barbary pirates at this time were dispossed Moors who were seeking revenge.
During the 16th century determined efforts were made to re-populate the land. The Torre de Chullera was built to act as a watchtower to warn the population of incoming pirates and in 1530 the Duke of Arcos, who owned the land, encouraged people to settle on a hill called Los Mártires. They built a church, Santa Anna and the present day town of Manilva was founded. It was not to be granted the royal privilege of the title town until the 26th October 1796 at which time the municipality of Manilva as it is today was ceded from what had been the municipality of Casares.
Manilva municipality remained a rural population and, during the 17th century, received a boost to its economy initiated by the Duke of Larios, of gin fame. Mills were built in the valleys to produce flour. The most prominent are in the valley of the Rio Manilva. The aqueduct you see about one kilometre up the Roman Oasis road and its middle level just downstream of the Roman baths is from this period despite local fancy that it dates from Roman times. It was around this time that sugarcane was also introduced to the area. The processing and shipping plant was situated where the Colonia de Infantil building is now, between Sabinillas and Duquesa.
Life in Manilva carried on peacefully until 1767 when King Carlos III decided to strengthen the coastal defences and ordered Francisco Paulino of Seville to build a castle at El Castillo. This was built on the foundations of a Roman building and served as the headquarters for a company of cavalry. The castle was manned through the Napoleonic and Peninsula wars although no major battles were fought in the Manilva area. Following this period the castle became home to a number of families up until the second half of the 20th century. There are still people living in Castillo that previously lived in the castle.
By the beginning of the 19th century the threat from pirates had been eliminated thanks to the American fleet and gradually the coastal strip became more populous. A fishing village at the junction of the coastal road and the road up to Manilva grew to become San Luis de Sabinillas and its first church was built at the end of the 19th century. The rest as they say is history.
Of all the municipalities, the history of Manilva is probably most emblematic of the Andalucian culture. It is a 3000 year history of a local indigenous pragmatic population, largely rural, that has preserved its own way of life whilst tolerating waves of successive foreigners be they Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Christians or, latterly, foreign expatriates. Their way of life has changed little in that entire period. Most of the visible historical remains in the municipality are there as a result of the interlopers, including the abandoned partly built urbanisations of the 21st century. It is as if the landscape is superficially dotted with the ghostly relics of the people that have passed through this area. The people of Manilva have seen them all come and for various reasons, the latest economic, go again to once again leave the area in peace.
Andalucia Life would like to thank Cesar Leon Martin, chief archaeologist with the Ayuntamiento de Manilva, for the historical data supplied and for the photographs displayed in this article.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.