Mazarrón is a relatively small town comprising several distinct areas. There is the Port of Mazarrón, in past times concentrating on fishing, but more recently, a favoured seaside location for local people and visitors alike.
Then, a few kilometres inland, is the nucleus of Mazarrón itself, with the obvious remains of a mining legacy overlooking it from the northern fringes. Then, there are other settlements scattered throughout the administrative area, perhaps the most notable of which is the new urbanization of Camposol, the home to many expatriates especially from Britain and other countries in North West Europe. The latest population statistics suggest the administrative area as a whole has a population of just over 30,000, though this reveals a modest decline over recent years after previous increases.
So, Mazarrón is quite a diverse 'place' and, although history can be a very dry subject, the town's heritage is truly fascinating. When you know a little about it, you begin to look with surprise and a much greater understanding at features and buildings that, otherwise, you would probably simply pass by.
First; what is the derivation of the name 'Mazarrón'?
In fact, there seems to be no unanimity on this. Among the suggestions in guide books are that the name comes from Moorish times, but was a corruption of the Latin for a small Roman port. A Town Hall guide to the area, however, notes that the Real Academia de la Lengua Dictionary has it that 'Almazarrón' comes from the Arabic 'al-mezer' (ochre or red). It seems very hard to argue with that!
Whatever the origin may be of its name, human activity in the area has a very long history. Mazarrón has numerous prehistoric archaeological sites, showing a lengthy history of occupation. In fact, the first evidence of human occupation in Mazarrón is said to be from the Middle Palaeolithic (in Europe, generally regarded as ending around 40,000 BC), with remains found near the lighthouse. We have also seen it reported that, in 1980, in dredging undertaken in the Port area, worked flints were found dating from the Lower/Middle Palaeolithic (between 95,000 and 32,000 years ago) with evidence of a 'quarry' from which the flint material had come nearby, close to La Peñica. Others have listed a wide range of Palaeolithic remains found in the Mazarrón area, among them remains from the Cueva Perneras some three kilometers from the coast, where a small Neanderthal community appears to have existed in an arid climate fairly similar to that of today, some 35,000 to 30,000 years ago; finds from the Cuevas de las Palomas and Morote and the Cuevas de los Toyos and de Hernández; remains from around 10 or 11,000 years ago in the Cueva del Caballo and the Cueva del Algarrobo.
It is much later – in the 4th millennium BC that things really start to become interesting with the very important remains of late Neolithic/Chalcolithic settlement and burial in the Cabezo del Plomo south of Mazarrón, which are well worth visiting. Other evidence of habitation from this era has been found elsewhere in the Mazarrón area. Remains from the Bronze Age/Argaric times have been found in the Mazarrón area at Ifre and, of course, the Punta de los Gavilanes, where there was long continued occupation of the site in prehistoric times.
There is also the time of Phoenician influence. After the Phoenicians had founded what is now Cadiz, some 3,100 years ago, they spread out to reach Mazarrón, possibly attracted by the mineral wealth. The most important find in Mazarrón must be the two Phoenician boats discovered in the silt near La Isla beach. They are commemorated on the roundabout just before entering the main built-up area of Puerto de Mazarrón coming from Mazarrón itself, as well as in the Interpretation Centre on the sea front near where the boats were found. In addition, however, there is the mineral working area on the promontory at the southern end of Bahia beach (Cabezo or Punta de los Gavilanes), also in part dating from this era.
We then arrive at Roman times, of which the evidence and remains are very much more abundant. Thus, the area around the Bahia Beach is regarded as an archaeological area of great importance by the regional authorities with Roman remains documented, for example, during the construction of the Hotel Bahia in 1947 and 1948 and many of them now buried under it.
It is not only construction which unearths such finds. Ploughing in the flat lands around the Rambla de las Moreras uncovered a large block of carved limestone (the male and female sex organs suggested it was some form of fertility symbol!) and lead coins dating to around the first and second centuries BC. Similarly, in 1776, near the church of San Andrés, a group sculpture was uncovered in the ground, of the Goddess of Agriculture, Ceres, and two other gods to protect the owners, dating from the 1st Century AD. It is suggested that this is clear evidence of the possibility of a settlement of some relevance in this location at a time when mining would be taking place and a few families might have the wealth to obtain works of art. These sculptures were apparently exhibited in Mazarrón Old Town Hall before making their way to the Archaeological Museum in Murcia.
Lead and silver mining was, of course, extremely active in the centuries immediately before and after the beginning of the Christian era, both in the hills immediately north of Mazarrón and in the Cota Fortuna to the west. It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of such mining in the area at that time and, indeed, its importance has long been recognized internationally. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the early excavations when mining resumed in the Mazarrón area in the mid-19th Century began with a return to the abandoned mines of Roman origin. It was reported that a miner who was loading slag from a heap in the area above Mazarrón came across a bronze statue of Hercules (of whose representation other relics have also been found in the area) some six inches high. The statue finally ended up in the Engineering and Mining School of Madrid from which it subsequently mysteriously disappeared!
There was much else besides mining at this time, especially in later Roman times when the industry perhaps suffered a relative decline. The remains of Roman houses and 'industrial' undertakings such as the fish salting and sauce producing works, now covered by the Factoría Romana de Salazones Museum in the heart of Puerto de Mazarrón, attest to the importance of the marine resources which those living in the Mazarrón area were able successfully to exploit. Fish sauce (garum) factories were to be found at Isla del Fraile (Águilas), Escombreras, Las Mateas (Los Nietos) as well as in Puerto de Mazarrón. A significant merchant fleet was used to transport the sauce in its containers as well as other local products such as esparto, cereals and, of course, lead.