Down these mean Marbella streets a man must go. But do you know the people behind the names of some the town’s best known avenues? Giles Brown takes you by the hand and leads you through the streets of Marbella (apologies to Ralph McTell).
Street names tell the story of any town, and Marbella is no different. They reveal the important figures, both nationally and locally, that the inhabitants are proud of. Marbella’s busy streets and tree-lined avenues are named after princes, poets, playboys, scientists, singers and dandies, all alluding to a history as colourful as the town itself.
You have probably driven down Marbella’s main street, which starts at the Piruli (the copper tower at what was once the western edge of the town), hundreds of times without ever wondering who Ricardo Soriano was. Which is a shame because Ricardo Soriano was one of the driving forces in putting Marbella on the map. Ricardo Soriano y Scholtz von Hermensdorff Marques of Ivanrey was a Spanish nobleman with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for adventure. His life seems to have stepped off the pages of an action novel. Left the huge sum of 90 million pesetas as a young man at the beginning of the 20th century, he spent the following 70 years indulging his passions.
Soriano raced cars, designed the first motor scooter long before Vespa, attempted the world water speed record in his own speedboat and is credited by the Olympic Committee with inventing the bobsleigh. It goes without saying that he also wooed women on a heroic scale. Soriano also built the first hotel in Marbella, the Venta y Albergues de El Rodeo, on 220,000 square metres of land just outside San Pedro that he brought for 110,000 pesetas in the early 40s. And it was to El Rodeo that Soriana invited some wealthy relatives, the Hohenlohes. But more of that later…
Avenida Ramon y Cajal
If Ricardo Soriano represented the more “ahem” profane side of Marbella (one of his hobbies was collecting lockets of pubic hair of his many conquests) then other figures immortalised in Marbella street names are more sacred. Avenida Ramon y Cajal, where you will find the Alameda Park and the landmark Cafeteria Marbella, is named after Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the Spanish neuroscientist. Ramon y Cajal became the first Spaniard to win the Nobel Prize for Science in 1906, a moment of intense pride for the nation and reflected in the naming of the street. Go to most Spanish towns and you’ll find an Avenida Ramon y Cajal.
Calle Jacinto Benavente
Wander up to Marbella’s municipal market and you’ll discover the Calle Jacinto Benavente. Benavente was a contemporary of Lorca and a renowned Spanish dramatist. Like Ramon y Cajal, Benavente was awarded a Nobel Prize, this time for Literature in 1922. A reluctant supporter of Franco – mainly because he was highly critical of Spain’s failed Republican government – Benavente never married and was rumoured to be homosexual, so it is perhaps fitting that one of Marbella’s most eccentric and eclectic bars – La Polaca – is located on the street that bears his name.
Don Jamie de Mora y Aragon
Moving west out of Marbella, the people honoured with street names are a little more contemporary. On the right, where the road heads up to what was the bohemian hedonistic hangout of La Virginia a statue of the monocled and magnificently mustachioed aristocrat Don Jamie de Mora y Aragon. A friend of Dali and Buñuel, Don Jamie was a Marbella legend. During the 70s and 80s Don Jamie, whose sister was Queen Fabiola of Belgium, was the most elegant man in Marbella. He walked with a cane, wore the aforementioned monocle, and sported the rakish style of beard that had been in fashion in the 19th century. He famously sent a telegram to the Marbella Club’s Alfonso von Hohenlohe saying “Alfonso, you are the Prince of Marbella, I am the Count of Mora and Aragon, we were at school together and we can go into business together”.
An accomplished pianist, the two nobles set up a piano bar called El Nido del Arte at Rodeo Beach and Don Jamie also became a regular at the Marbella Club where he played piano and charmed the guests. It wasn’t only the well heeled he charmed, however. He was a keen motorcyclist and had the common touch, and was often seen at Victor’s Beach.
Avenida Conde de Rudi
Another legend, but this time living, has a road named after him a little further along the Golden Mile. Count Rudolf Graf von Schönburg, or Conde Rudi as he would become known in Marbella, was invited to Marbella by Prince Alfonso, who happened to be a distant relative. Rudi fell in love with Marbella and Marbella fell in love with the amiable German. He started as assistant manager at the Marbella Club Hotel in January 1, 1957 and since then has greeted a who’s who of the good, bad, distinguished, bejeweled and bedeviled with his effortless charm.
His marriage to Princess Marie Louis of Prussia in Marbella’s main church was one of the happiest highlights of 1970. Even now, Condi Rudi can often be found in his office in the Marbella Club, checking the business of the day.
Av. Bulevar Príncipe Alfonso de Hohenlohe
The road that leads past the Marbella Club Hotel is, of course, named after Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe. It’s entirely appropriate, as Alfonso is the man who made Marbella.
On a journey to visit his cousin Ricardo Soriano in 1946, Alfonso’s father Prince Max arrived to find Ricardo had gone fishing. The party decided to enjoy a picnic under the pines by the sea while they waited and Prince Max fell in love with the setting. He sent his son Alfonso down to Marbella to find a property the following year and the young man discovered a beachside plot with olive groves and a finca – Santa Margarita – on 180,000 square metres which he brought for 150,000 pesetas (around €750!). From these beginnings the Marbella Club Hotel was born, officially opening in 1953.
If Prince Alfonso made the modern Marbella, architect Melvin Villaroel crafted the vision. At a time when the rest of the Costa del Sol was being submerged under a tsunami of concrete and high rise blocks, crushing the charm of fishing villages such as Torremolinos and Fuengirola, the Colombian Villaroel embraced an environmental outlook that was decades ahead of its time. His use of natural woods, carefully landscaped gardens and buildings in perfect harmony with nature is typified at the Puente Romano, where a bust of the man himself looks benignly over his work.
Avenida Lola Flores
Walk down to the sea along the pedestrianised boulevard from the landmark Andalucia Plaza Hotel and, just outside the Ocean Club beach club – favoured by the champagne spray party crowd – you will find the seemingly out-of-place and slightly dilapidated statue of a flamenco dancer. No doubt the crowds that flock to the beach club have no idea who she is, but she gives her name to the street – the Avenida Lola Flores. For many in the 50s, 60s and 70s, Lola Flores was Spain.
The nation’s best known actress and dancer, Lola had a house in Marbella in the Golden Years and was a familiar sight around town. Her daughter Lolita’s marriage in the church in the Old Town in the 80s, attracted huge crowds of fans and Gitano royalty and was one of the most chaotic Marbella has ever witnessed. It is sad, and perhaps a little telling, that this symbol of old Marbella now stands somewhat forlornly by one of the brashest beach clubs. But time moves on, and the secrets and stories of Marbella’s streets are still waiting to be discovered…