The Coastal Watchtowers of Andalucía: Lookout Posts Protecting the Coast
The history of the watchtowers on the coast of Southern Spain tells of an eventful & troubled past. One tower can be found at Maro, near Nerja, on the Costa del Sol (pictured) The town and province of Almeria gets the name from these watchtowers; Al-Mari’yah in arabic.
For centuries, lookout posts have been used along the coast of Andalucia, to warn against pirates and other dangers. Signals were passed between these watchtowers, using smoke during the day and fires at night.
The Development of the Watchtower System in Andalucia
The southern coast of Andalucia has been an area fought over for centuries; when the Romans settled here they built lookout towers, and this system of relaying messages and warnings was improved by the Muslims in the 8th Century. Using their towers in North Africa, they were able to pass a message in one night from Alexandria in Egypt to Ceuta (now in Spanish Morocco). When the Muslims arrived in Southern Spain in the 8th and 9th centuries, they established a chain of lookout towers along the coast of their newly conquered lands. However, most of the existing towers to be found along the coast of Andalucia date from the 16th century and were built by the Christians.
The watchtowers offered an early warning system to the areas along the coast they protected, by sending smoke signals during the day and by lighting fires at night. The signals would be relayed along the coast from tower to tower at the first sign of danger.
Pirates and Slavery along the Mediterranean Coast
In addition to the danger of attack from foreign powers, the main local threat to the coast was from pirates who were based in ports in North Africa, like Tangier.
The pirates found the sheltered bays along this part of the Southern Spanish coast to be favourable spots to come ashore for fresh water and provisions and to capture prisoners to sell as slaves. These incursions posed not only a personal threat to local farmers and fishermen, but also played a part in destabilising an already fragile economy.
The 18th and 19th Century Enemies of Spain
By the early 18th century, the threat from pirates had diminished but new dangers to this coast came from foreign governments: the French and the British. This threat was demonstrated in July 1810 when the French landed in Nerja just 4 kilometres west of Maro, and killed 17 Spanish in a skirmish. A tower, known as Torre de los Guardas, was situated on what is now known as the Balcon de Europa. Concerned that the French could use it as a base, the British, with their Spanish allies, landed in October 1810 and dismantled the tower and its guns.
Maro Watchtower Near Nerja, Costa Del Sol
An example of a watchtower can be found near Maro, a village on the eastern edge of the Costa del Sol. This watchtower (pictured above) was also built in the 16th Century. It has been preserved by the local authorities and, as recently as 2009, work was undertaken to protect the structure.
Access to the 11 metre high stone lookout tower was by ladder through the elevated front door, situated about 6 metres from the ground. In times of danger the ladder would be retracted and the tower defended from above. There are no windows and only one tiny spy hole.
Directions To Maro Look Out Tower (Torre de Maro)
Coming from the west, leave the A7 motorway past Nerja at Junction 295, signposted Nerja – Maro and Cuevas de Nerja. Go round the roundabout, leaving the spectacular 19th century aqueduct on the left. Cross another roundabout and pass under the newly built pedestrian bridge connecting the village of Maro with the famous Nerja Caves. Go round a third roundabout and join the N340a towards La Herradura. Approximately 500 metres east of Maro there is a sign on the right for Torre de Maro; park here and walk the 600 metres up a wide track to the tower. There are spectacular views to the west of Maro and Nerja and eastwards towards Cerro Gordo.
Four More Towers in the Maro Area
Looking eastwards for approximately 8 kilometres, the remains of four more lookout towers can be seen: one at la Playa del Molino de Papel (known as Torre del Río de la Miel), one either side of la Playa de Cañuelo (Torre del Pino, which is now owned privately, and Torre Caleta) and finally Torre de Cerro Gordo. Three of these towers are relatively well preserved but the Torre del Río de la Miel has already partly fallen into the sea.