Torrevieja’s History and Where to Discover the Past
24th November 2022
Modern Torrevieja is a Spanish beach holiday hotspot, popular with visitors from all over the world. But throughout its rich history, it’s been through countless changes.
This land was once walked by ancient Iberian settlers, torn by conflict, plundered by pirates – and prized for its salt and fishing reserves. Over the course of millennia, the place we now call Torrevieja has changed hands numerous times. That’s part of the reason why Spanish food and culture is so varied, and so unique.
The history of Torrevieja can still be found here today; hidden in the rocks, waters, and buildings of an ancient land.
There are even clues to the past in its name: “torre vieja” means “old tower” in English. Let’s look at what made Torrevieja through the ages, starting from the beginning…
The salt lakes and teeming fishing waters around Torrevieja drew the earliest settlers here. There’s evidence of settlers from as early as 500 BCE, in arrowheads and pottery, as well as signs of agriculture and trade. It wasn’t just goods that were traded – knowledge was, too.
Traders taught the settlers how to cure meat and salt fish, with the area’s natural resources to hand – and new technologies prevailed through the area quickly, due to its close proximity to the sea.
The region was relatively stable until the dawn of the Roman Empire, which took hold sometime in the 3rd century BCE.
From Roman times to African influence
Torrevieja, as a part of the wider Spanish coast, became a refuge point for the people of Carthage. The ancient Romans had taken their home capital, over the water on the North African coast, forcing the population to disperse.
The Carthaginians briefly ruled the region before Rome obliterated them in response to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps – the attempt to attack Rome itself. The lands now known as Torrevieja (and indeed all of Spain) succumbed to Roman rule for longer than any other part of the Western Empire.
Roman control was total, and natural resources were consumed at a rapid rate, to satisfy the now oblate and lumbering Roman Empire. But during this period, infrastructure was widely established, and the area became somewhat modern. Still, no major Roman settlement actually existed on what is now Torrevieja, and wouldn’t do so for centuries to come…
The Middle Ages
The past is murky and mostly undocumented – but we do know that this was when Torrevieja came into existence, and where the name comes from. Evidence of this portion of history can still be seen in Torrevieja today.
During this period, the south of the Costa Blanca was routinely raided by the Berber people of northern Africa, and attempts were made to counter the tail end of the Crusades in Islamic Spain – but eventually, the Moorish people (who had been settled in the area for centuries) were forced out of Spain by the 15th century.
The area became dangerous, and people fled. Pirates took advantage of the instability – and plundered the region mercilessly. The Christian forces responded by building watchtowers; the “torres vigia”.
Torre del Moro was one such tower (pictured in this article), which still stands today – and is a historical highlight.
Despite improved stability, little existed in Torrevieja until the 1800s. During the reign of Carlos IV, the administration and clerical offices of the salt industry were moved to what is now modern day Torrevieja, sparking a population growth in the area.
Then, in 1829, a powerful earthquake levelled the region. This sadly wiped out much of early Torrevieja’s history, including the ancient influences – but some monuments still stand or were repaired following the disaster.
Salt production and fishing
Into the 19th and 20th centuries, Torrevieja grew in global prominence as a salt producer and fishing village.
The population was exploding – and King Alfonso XIII gave Torrevieja city status by special grant. The export market was huge; just a quarter of the salt harvested from Laguna Rosa (the pink lake of Torrevieja) was sold in Spain itself, and the rest was exported around the world – and the salt industry still thrives here.
But WWI would soon stifle confidence and investment in the area, and as fish stocks became depleted, fisheries looked beyond the now barren waters.
This inactivity thankfully led to fish stocks becoming replenished after WWII – however, by that time, focus had shifted. Post WWII, Torrevieja would grow into a beach holiday hotspot, and later a golfing holiday destination, once air travel became accessible to more people.
Want to learn more about the salt trade and maritime history of Torrevieja? Visit the Museo del Mar y de la Sal on your trip. Entry is free.
Does Torrevieja have an Old Town?
No, Torrevieja doesn’t have a typical Old Town area. Torrevieja is tastefully contemporary, flanked by beautiful waters and great things to do. But that doesn’t mean history is invisible – you’ve just got to explore to find it!
The vestiges of history can be found in the old stone structures of La Torre del Moro and Torre La Mata – and at Eras de la Sal, which was a salt store used from 1777 until 1958. Today, Eras de la Sal is a cultural centre in Torrevieja, hosting concerts and events.
And just a little further afield, there are more hidden historical secrets awaiting discovery…
Historical sites around Torrevieja
Read our posts detailing historical sights and places of interest – around the town and on short day trips out:
Stay at our apartments at Los Locos Beach
Book a stay at Los Locos Beach, in one of our Torrevieja holiday apartments. You’ll get everything you need for a relaxing beachside stay. Make it your base for exploring the region’s history.