The Balcón de Europa, Nerja
One of the most spectacular promontories in Andalucia
The Balcon de Europa, situated in the centre of the old part of central Nerja, is one of the most spectacular promontories in Andalucia, with stunning views of the coastline and the Mediterranean sea.
During the day, the avenue has plenty of shady benches where you can sit and gaze at the well maintained flower borders or just watch the world go by. Then, on summer evenings you will see many locals taking a ‘paseo’ (stroll) in the cool of the evening to watch the sun going down into the Mediterranean sea.
At night (and sometimes during the day) it comes alive with street entertainers and musicians as well as local artists and craftsmen. During local fiestas the Balcón de Europa is often the heart of any celebrations with traditional Flamenco dancing and music, as well as spectacular firework displays.
There are various monuments along the length of the Balcon. On the left hand side there is a sculpture of a globe to commemorate the discovery of the Nerja caves. Towards the bottom there is a rusty old cannon that was part of the original defences. Next to it is a life-sized statue of Spanish King, Alfonso VII (1857-1885) in commemoration of his visit to the area in 1885.
Around the Balcón de Europa
Most people on holiday in Nerja will find themselves wandering around the area of the Balcón de Europa, the beating heart of Nerja, with the adjoining streets of Puerta del Mar, Calle Pintada, Calle Cristo and Calle Carabeo, all of which are pedestrianised.
It is a great place to find bars, ice cream parlours and restaurants, with some having lovely views to the sea. [Photo of the area in the evening by Paco Haro Ramirez].
At an angle to the Paseo Balcón is the Plaza Balcón de Europa, which has some of Nerja’s best eateries, including what is known to many locals as one of the best Italian restaurants in Nerja, Bella Roma; a lovely family run restaurant which is always busy – not only with tourists but with local residents too!
Just next to this plaza, heading towards Plaza Cavana, is Nerja town hall (La Ayuntamiento). There is the Oficina de Turismo situated on the ground floor as one heads through the arch below the council building. This useful tourist information centre offers a comprehensive tourist information on the town with guides, programs, plans, directions, schedules, etc. Staff there speak Spanish, English, French and German.
Behind the town hall, passing completely underneath it, is the Plaza de España, on which you can find Nerja’s fascinating museum.
Brief history of the Balcón
The site of a castle for a 1000 years – from a 9th century Moorish fortress to a fortified tower destroyed in the early 19th century (read more in our history of Nerja) – the Balcón is now a palm lined avenue (Paseo Balcón de Europa), leading down to a ‘balcony’ which overlooks the sea.
Local tradition says that the name ‘Balcón de Europa’ was coined by King Alfonso (photo of his statue, above) while visiting Nerja in 1885. He had come after a major earthquake in the region, to offer his support to the people and inspect the damage. During his stay he visited the Balcón area and is said to have been so impressed that he described it as the ‘Balcony of Europe.’ Unfortunately, the truth is that this nickname predates his visit (see below). But whether it is true on not, the Balcón has always been an important and strategic landmark in the town.
During the 10th century Nerja’s Moorish rulers built a fortified watchtower on the site, eventually known as La Castilla Baja. After the Catholic reconquest, a new fortification called La Torre de los Guardas was built to protect Nerja from Berber pirate raids. By the 17th century this fortress was remodelled to accommodate artillery cannon, and became known as La Bateria, (plan, above).
It is usually claimed that this fortification and the tower situated on La Torrecilla in Nerja were destroyed by British ships in 1812 during the Spanish Peninsular War against Napoleon, (partly based on the Royal Navy biography of Thomas Usher). Unfortunately, like the naming of the Balcón, this is also not entirely accurate! According to a convincing thesis published by Doctor Francisco Capilla Luque, Historian and Coordinator of the Advisory Commission of the Nerja Museum, as well as a respected local author, Castillo Bajo was destroyed a year earlier. His report was published in April 2017 using recently restored Nerja archives and the Archivo General Militar de Segovia. So, while it is true that in early May 1812, the Termagent, one of three British ships sent to flush out the French from along the Spanish coast, fired on a Nerja fortress, in all probability it was the one at La Torrecilla. This is because it is believed that the castle on the Balcón had already been dynamited the previous year, (read more in our history of Nerja), and La Torrecilla was no longer just a watchtower as before but a fortification with cannons, etc. In both cases though, they were destroyed to prevent them from falling into the hands of the French. You can still see evidence of the original masonry, (photo, above). The two rusty old cannons on the balcon dredged from the sea have been put there as a reminder of this battle, (photo above).
In 1821, the construction of another fort was proposed in its place but was never built. In 1832, the Mayor of Nerja asked the military authorities for permission to clear away the rubble from the old castle which was agreed. The result was a public square of 119 metres long by 28 metres wide. There are historical documents at Nerja town hall that attest that the name Balcón de Europa was being used by 1839 to describe the views off the cleared area. Nerja’s first town hall was built in the early part of the 19th century at the beginning of the Balcón, next to Calle Puerta del Mar (see photo above).
The area around the Balcón was built up in 1930, with a short promenade leading to it added. In the 1960’s the Hotel Balcón de Europa was built.