Nerja is a town on the Costa del Sol in the province of Málaga, which lies in one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions, Andalusia, on the country's southern, Mediterranean coast. It lies about 50 km east of the city of Málaga, and is within 1 hour 15 minutes drive of the Alhambra in the city of Granada, and 30 minutes more to skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Nerja has a long history, evidenced by the primitive paintings found in its famous Nerja caves, discovered in 1959. These caves are now believed to be just one entrance to a linked series of potholes stretching many miles into the mountains between Nerja and Granada, and which may yet prove to be one of the most extensive unexplored systems in Europe. Visitors to the caves will be able to view the remains of one of the ancient inhabitants of Nerja.
The Romans gave the settlement the name "Detunda", and it was later taken over by the Arabs. Under the Muslims, it became "Narixa", which means "abundant spring", and is the origin of its present name.
Its agricultural and silk products are said to have been famed throughout the Muslim world and in the markets of Damascus as early as the tenth century. The aqueduct in the illustration is not as old as it might appear, but was built to supply water to the sugar plantations in the 19th century.
The Balcón de Europa, a mirador or viewpoint which gives stunning views across the sea, is in the centre of the old town. Its name is popularly believed to have been coined by King Alfonso XII, who visited the area in 1885 following a disastrous earthquake and was captivated by the scene. Local folklore says that he stood upon the site where the Balcón now stands, and said "This is the balcony of Europe." Local archive documents are said to show that its name predated this visit, but this has not prevented the authorities from placing a life-sized (and much photographed) statue of the king standing by the railing.
The Balcón area was originally known as La Bateria, a reference to the gun battery which existed there in a fortified tower. This emplacement and a similar tower nearby were destroyed by British led forces under Major General Blayney in 1810 to deny their use to French occupying forces during the Peninsular War.
In more modern times, sugar cane production has given way to more valuable cash crops, particularly semi-tropical fruits such as mango and papaya and widespread avocado plantations in what is one of the major avocado growing regions in Europe.
It is the eastern-most town in the area known as the Axarquía and has an official population of around 22,000 (in 2008) — nearly 30% of which are foreign residents, In the summer months, tourism swells the population several times more.