Torrox Costa’s Roman Past
Despite its modern appearance, Torrox Costa has been a human settlement since ancient times. Phoenician remains have been found further along the coast and it is likely that they would have also settled in Torrox. These settlements may well have provided a base for the Roman town of Claviclum, which is believed to have been built on what is today Torrox Costa.
The Ancient town of Claviclum
For many years archaeologists had argued over the exact location of the Roman town of Claviclum in the Axarquia. Although ancient remains had been discovered under the old castle and ruins in the 18th century (the site of today’s lighthouse), no proper excavation of the site took place. (The castle was later destroyed in the War of Independence).
It was not until 1909, when the lighthouse keeper of Torrox, Garcia Ruiz decided to excavate grounds of the lighthouse that possibility that Torrox was the former settlement of Claviclum started to be taken seriously by historians.
The remains uncovered by Garcia Ruiz have revealed an established settlement with a thermal baths, villa, garum factory (a fish sauce prized by the Romans) and a necropolis (burial ground, dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries BC. Ruiz took the work very seriously and carefully classified his findings.
Sadly after Garcia Ruiz died the site became neglected. Although some of the artefacts were taken for display in Malaga’s museum, many others disappeared, most likely into the hands of unscrupulous collectors. It was not until the 1940’s, thirty years later that the findings were re-excavated.
How large the settlement was in Torrox is still disputed by historians. Roman artefacts have been discovered in the area, suggesting that the settlement could have spread out over a kilometre, or some experts have suggested that their could be another more residential settlement nearby that remains undiscovered. This theory could also be supported by the fact that Garum fermentation was normally relegated to the outskirts of a settlement due to its unpleasant smell.
Excavations April 2011
Interestingly more remains have come to light recently (April 2011) near to the lighthouse, after a local residents spotted some Roman remains lying next to the site. Archaeologists have investigated the discovery and have found dozens of pieces lintels and fragments of columns belonging to a Roman temple from the first century AD.
You can still see the remains that Garcia Ruiz discovered by taking the pathway which encircles the lighthouse and leads under the Balcon de Torrox. As you walk along the walkway, you will also see the old cove where boats would have left to take their Garum to Rome. There is also some more remains on rights as you head down onto the main promenade.
In May 2015 a visitor centre for the Roman remains found in Torrox Costa was opened in lighthouse buildings.
The origins of Torrox Pueblo
After the Roman empire failed and declined, the area was invaded by the Visigoths in the 5th century. It was during this time that the people living on the coast probably moved to the hills, to what would eventually become Torrox pueblo. There are two theories as to why the people moved away from the sea. One is that they wanted the safety of the hills to protect them from invaders and pirates from the sea. The other is that there could have been some unknown catastrophe on the coast, such as a tidal wave.
The Moors in Torrox
“And the old Moor remembering better times said he was born in…
Hisn Turrus in the province of Al Andalus…
…but that since the reconquest by the Catholics it had changed its name and he was facing being burnt at the stake for his
belief in Mohammed…”
After the Romans left, the Visigoths occupied most of Spain until the arrival of the Moors in the 7th century. They called the town Torrus or Turrux, meaning ‘Town defended by towers’.
The Moorish prince Abd-el-Rahamn Ben Muawiya, last representative of the Omeya dynasty in flight from Damascus, arrived in Torrox in 755 after having landed at Almuñécar, to unite with his own Al Andalus brethren.
He then gathered a large army of men and advanced on Archidona, where he was proclaimed Emir of the Believers in March of 756. Abd-el-Rahman was the first independent Emir and Caliph of Cordoba, and his dynasty lasted three centuries of culture, art, commerce and agricultural advancement.
Some historians identify Torrox as Hisn Turrus, the place where in the year 914 troops under Abderramán III defeated those of Omar Ibn Hafsun, the Muladí rebel who had set out to topple the Caliphate of Córdoba. The Caliph Abd-el-Rahman laid siege to the Castel of Torrox in 914, capturing the rebels and burning the ships that came to their assistance on the coast. A completely Muslim population grew up in the town in the 11th century, dependent on the Frigiliana leadership.
Some have also claimed that Almanzor (pictured above right) was born in the Castillo Alto of Torrox, in 938 (died August 8, 1002). Muhammad Ibn Abi Aami better known as Almanzor, was the de facto ruler of Muslim Al-Andalus in the late 10th to early 11th centuries. His rule marked the peak of power for Moorish Iberia. He mainly fought against León and the Castile, in 985 he sacked Barcelona and in 997 Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Although he spared the tomb of James, son of Zebedee, he destroyed the city and stole the bells from the shrine to humiliate the Christians.
During the Andalusi-Arabic period, Torrox was known throughout the Mediterranean for the production and sale of silk fabrics (read more of Torrox’s important to the silk industry). Of almost equal renown were Torrox’s sugar cane plantations, as well as the manufacture of olive oil, and the harvesting of locally picked almonds and figs. It is said that Torrox reached the height of its prosperity during this period due to its pivotal role in the silk trade between Granada and other cities in the Moorish empire such as Baghdad and Damascus.
The fall of Vélez to the Christian troops in 1487 had such an effect on the region that many other localities surrendered without a fight in order to prevent greater problems. Torrox did so on 29 April 1487, just two days after the taking of Vélez. Very shortly afterwards, however, the chieftain El Zagal recaptured the village for the Muslims, in whose hands it would remain only a few months before passing again into the control of the Christians.
The Catholic Monarchs awarded the town with the title “Muy Noble y Muy Leal Villa de Torrox” (Very Noble and Very Loyal…) in the year 1503, and Queen Isabel I authorised the building of a watch tower in the town as protection against coastal pirates.
When the Morisco rebellion broke out in 1568, half the population was made up of Old Christians and the other half of Moriscos. Many of the latter took part in the El Peñón de Frigiliana insurrection. By the year 1571 at least 22 Moriscos from Torrox had been prosecuted by the Tribunal del Santo Oficio (Holy Office Tribunal) of Granada. It is documented that the members of the Quilat family were burned at the stake, accused of professing the Mohammedan religion…
The significant participation by the Moriscos of this area in the uprising resulted in stern repression that caused the abandonment of the eight Arabic settlements that made up the municipal territory: Alhandiga, Almeida, Arcos Benamayor, Cajauja, Lautín, Lugarejo and Periana (a different locality from the modern one).
Torrox unites into one village
During the time of the Moors there were three main settlements that formed the place known as Turrux, all situated near the protection of the Castle. They were almost united physically but they were organized independently, and it was some years later that the Christians joined the three farmsteads under the name of Torrox.
This old centre of Torrox has retained its original Moorish design and character with its narrow winding streets and white washed houses, seemingly piled on top of each other.
The Moorish occupation had a huge influence on Torrox, introducing a new way of agriculture, terracing of the land and irrigation still in existence today.
One of the greatest silk producers in the world!
During the time of the Moors the terraced farmland around the village would have been full of Mulberry trees, rather than the olive trees of today. The Moorish farmers of Torrox cultivated the Mullberry tree that the silk worms need to feed on to support the Pueblo’s main, and most lucrative industry.
In fact Torrox was so successful at producing silk that it developed into one of the three great silk centres in the world during the 12th to the 15th century, the others being Baghdad and Damascus. The silk products, made by the women of Torrox pueblo, were famous for their fine quality, and this period is often called Torrox’s golden age.
Unfortunately for Torrox, Mulberry trees are difficult to cultivate and the method of growing them seemed to die out when the Moors were driven from the village during the Catholic reconquest. Eventually farmers replaced the Mulberry trees with the hardier olive tree. Apart from the ancient terracing on the hills the only reminder of this past history if the name of a street in Torrox ‘Paseo de las Moreras’ (Mulberry tree).
Torrox – an important role in the history of Tobacco
Torrox also played her role in the discovery of the Americas, and in particular that of Tobacco. Luis de Torre, a citizen of Torrox was a linguist who travelled with Christopher Columbus
Historians also believe he was a Jew, who converted to Christianity, just the day before he set sale on the 2nd August 1942. (The same year that the Catholic monarchs issued a law that everyone must be Christian or face being expelled from Spain).
When they landed at Cuba, Columbus sent Luis de Torres on an expedition to locate the native leader, ‘Khan of Tartany’. On this trip Luis de Torres was the first European to see the Tabacco leaf being smoked by the natives.
Luis de Torre is also considered to be the first Jewish man to set foot on American soil.
The Axarquia region is full of stories and legends which have been passed down through time. Here are a couple of these legends which have been passed down amongst the people of Torrox.
Puente de las Animas (The bridge of Souls)
There is an old bridge in Torrox called the ‘Bridge of Souls’ that crosses the river near to the entrance of the town along the Nerja road. It is said that if you go on to this bridge on ‘All Saints Day’ (1st November) then at midnight spirits will appear carrying torches in procession on their way to the convent. All Saint’s Day is a bank holiday in Spain. It is a time when people remember their dead and take flowers to the cemetery.
Traditional legendary rite.
People in Torrox who fall in love and are uncertain of their future may follow this old tradition in the village. They fill a bowl with water into which the man throws a pin, and then the women throws another. The pins must be left all night in the water. The next morning the couple go to see if the end of the pins have joined. If they do the couple will be blessed with good luck and love. If the pins remain apart their relationship will end. However it has been known for some to cheat and magnetise the pins!