Happy 2017! Made all the happier for me, by Chewa, the four-legged companion I´ve had the pleasure to dog-sit for the past couple of weeks since I got back from the UK. Having a dog to take out, inspired me to revisit some of my favourite walks around Marbella Town, as a change of scene from the fabulous beachfront promenade seascapes I witness every day from my doorstep.
Waking up to a fresh sunny Sunday, I decided to take an alternative route up through Marbella’s Old Town – with no particular sense of purpose other than to absorb the quiet that pervades before everyone starts stirring just before midday, after a long lie-in.
We set off at 10 am and crossed Marbella’s blissfully almost traffic-free main road Avenida Ricardo Soriano, accessing the Old Town district via Huerta Chica street which is currently being renewed. Veering off and up a narrow inclined street just behind the La Pesquera restaurant, I just let my feet and the dog take me wherever my eyes or her nose led us.
With only the sound of my footsteps and Chewa’s clacking paws on the paved roads, and a few residents up and about sweeping their doorsteps or going for their early morning walk, it was easy for me to let my imagination take me back to the tales that my now deceased friend, Pepin told me, when he and his wife Sylvia took me on a memorable guided tour around Marbella’s Old Town district a few years back.
Born in Marbella Town in 1923, I met Pepin around 12 years ago when he was in his early eighties being pushed along the beachfront promenade in a wheelchair by his wife, with his faithful poodle Toy sitting on his knees. Blind, nearly deaf due to his Paget’s syndrome that had distorted the shape of his skull; he nonetheless brought the village he had grown up in back to life for me.
With his wife Sylvia speaking right up to his good ear and telling him where we were, he joyously regaled me with tales and memories from his childhood; how the main road was lined with Eucalyptus trees that formed a shaded tunnel of branches and leaves; how his father ran Marbella’s Telephone Exchange at the edge of the historic central square, Plaza de los Naranjos, from 1927 and all the family lived in the rooms upstairs; how the goatherds would come down to their milking post in front of his house from the surrounding hills in the early hours to sell milk to the queuing pail-bearing villagers; how the children who lived in the Barrio Nuevo district on the other side of the stream that ran along the east-facing Arab fortress walls, would come across the bridge to pelt the privileged children who lived within with pebbles, from the vantage point of a section of the castle wall structure that still stands today overlooking Pepin’s childhood home… among many other anecdotes of the way of life back then.
Whispers of Pepin’s past fuelled my imagination as we walked through the maze of silent, narrow streets, lined with white-washed houses adorned with geraniums and plants and more grandiose homes, hailing back centuries when Marbella expanded upwards out of the confines of the original fortressed walls after Ferdinand and Isabella reclaimed the keys of Marbella Town from the Moorish rulers back in 1485.
We ended up at the top of the Barrio Alto (upper neighbourhood) as this district is called, drawn to the sound of a rather hauntingly beautiful and not your normal church song chanting, by the small congregation gathered inside one of Marbella’s oldest chapels, the Ermita del Santo Cristo.
Still totally immersed in my imaginary walk through the past as we continued on our way, it was akin to being spat out into the present, as we emerged from a narrow street to be greeted by the sight of the ultra-modern suspension bridge. This unites the town over what was once the stream known as Arroyo de la Represa that ran along the flank of the east fortress wall right down to the beach. Concreted over in the 1960’s, today it houses a large modern park with two artificial ponds, a children´s playground and the much-admired Bonsai Museum.
We walked down and through the almost empty park bar from its top end, lulled by the sound of the cascading fountain, stopping to look at the ducks waddling and quacking on their island, past the playground with just a couple of children playing there with their early-bird granddad, before walking back up through the Old Town, along the remains of the Arab castle walls.
I looked down from the vantage point I mentioned earlier that overlooks Pepin’s old family home; today an Oriental clothes shop – the goatherd post he mentioned; now a restaurant.
Small streams of smartly-clad coated churchgoers began drifting into the streets surrounding Plaza de los Naranjos for a post-service tapa and catch up, while jumperless tourists sat in the sunshine amid still unset tables of the restaurants around the square, tucking into an early lunch, while others dipped into the narrow side street gift shops and boutiques… Modern Marbella life in its Old Town on a Sunday, in a picture postcard setting from the past.
(Text and Photos by Liz Glazer)