In contrast with most of the fishing and mountain villages and towns surrounding it, San Pedro Alcántara does not trace its origins to ancient salting settlements first founded by the Phoenicians, garrison towns established by Roman colonists or white mountain villages originally settled by the native Iberians but later expanded by the invading Moors of North Africa.
San Pedro, on the other hand, is a relatively new addition to the urban landscape of this region, having been founded in 1860 as the hub of an agricultural colony first established some years before. The village was then surrounded by over 3,000 hectares of sugarcane plantations that made this part of the southern Spain look more like Cuba than Andalucía.
Cereals, cotton and livestock were added to the mix to help feed the labourers who arrived to work on the farms and in the state-of-the-art milling facility that the pioneering founder of the colony – the Marques del Duero – had created. Today, streets and statues, as well as plaques and historical buildings still relate to the early village and its founder, who introduced innovative new crop types, advanced farming and irrigation methods, as well as the best machinery available in Europe at the time.
A model farming community
It all made San Pedro Alcántara – named after the patron saint, San Pedro de Alcántara – a model farming community not just on a local but on an international scale. The original inhabitants of the burgeoning village were mostly not drawn from the neighbouring villages of Marbella and Estepona, but from Murcía, Almería and especially the coastal region of Granada province, where there was greater expertise in the cultivation of tropical crops such as sugarcane.
This means that many Sanpedreños can trace their origins to other parts of Spain and Andalucía, though later their numbers were swelled with workers from the immediate coastal and mountain areas, keen to find employment in a growing agricultural community. The sugar mill Trapiche Guadaiza, now a cultural centre, the old barn, now converted in the wonderful restaurant 1870, the sugar and alcohol factory El Ingenio or also known as La Alcholera, again converted in to a cultural centre, museum and theatre and a series of other historical buildings are still dotted across the town.
The town has now grown to house over 25,000 inhabitants, few of them still engaged in agriculture as the majority work in retail, hospitality, tourism and services, but the rustic heritage of the town lives on, even if the erstwhile sugarcane fields have since been replaced with golf courses and luxury homes.