Did you hear about the snorkelers who found gold coins off the coast of Javea in 2021?
It was one of the biggest hauls of Roman gold ever found in the Mediterranean. And it got a lot of people talking about the history of Javea again.
For a small beach town Javea history really is breathtaking.
Whether you’re visiting for a holiday or you’re making a permanent move then knowing the history of Javea will help you understand it on a different level. Some of its names and places will make more sense. Some of it will shock you. Most of it will amaze you.
P.S. We’ve condensed some key events from Javea’s history down into the bullet points below – there’s still a lot more out there!
Javea Prehistory – 30,000BC-200AD
Archeological evidence from caves and flanks of the Montgó mountain show that modern humans first arrived in Javea around 30,000 years ago. Find out what they left behind for us below.
- The first humans in Javea. The oldest signs of human inhabitants in Javea come from a spectacular place – the Cova del Montgó or Cova AMplia which some people call the ‘eye of the Montgó’. Evidence of hunter-gatherer tools for hunting and fishing which date back 30,000 have been found here as well as cave paintings. Hiking up to the Montgó Cave also gives spectacular views over Javea and is one of the most popular routes.
- The ‘magic cave’ of Javea. In 2013 Alicante’s main archeological museum (MARQ) created an exhibition about the cave paintings and human remains in the ‘Cave of the Midday Gorge’ in Javea. The cave is hidden in the southern flank of the Montgó and dramatically fills with sunlight for a short period around midday. It’s also one of the only untouched funerary sites from the Copper Age – around 5,000 years old.
- Western Europe’s oldest winepress. The remains of Western Europe’s oldest known winepress lie just outside the municipal boundary of Javea. The site known as L’Alt de Benimaquia is found on the western-most elevation of the Montgó mountain and, in 1960, revealed wine grape seeds and basins for pressing wine that date back to at least the 7th century BC when the Iberian culture was just developing in Spain. You can visit the Les Freses winery below Benimaquia which makes one of its wines in clay amphorae just like the Iberians did.
- The ‘Treasure of Javea’. For over 100 years Javea’s most prized archeological find has been exhibited at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (MAN) in Madrid. It’s an Iberian trousseau (collection of wedding jewellery) dating to the 4th century BC and including gold necklaces, bracelets and a diadem. You can see a replicate in Javea’s Soler Blasco museum. A labourer found the set in a jar buried over 1.5m beneath the surface. Experts have suggested the Treasure of Javea was buried for safekeeping during a pirate attack (see below!).
Roman-era Javea – 200-400AD
The Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula began in 206BC following victory over the Cathaginians in the Second Punic War. The Romans called the area Dianium in honour of the goddess Diana – and hence the name of Denia. Javea had a Roman settlement for 600 years until the end of Roman rule in 472.
- The Queen’s Baths. Javea’s most famous (and controversial) Roman ruin is called the Banys de la Reina or Baños de la Reina. It’s a rectangular deposit carved into the rock and with two channels connecting it to the sea. The name comes from a false attribution to a mythical Moorish Queen. In fact, the deposit was used to keep fish. The entire Muntanyar coastline shows signs of Roman excavations as well as deposits where fish entrails were fermented to produce a paste called ‘garum’ that was exported across the empire. The site is controversial after dictator Francisco Franco’s minister for the treasury Mariano Navarro Rubio bought the land and built a villa that landscaped over the Roman ruins. The construction destroyed evidence of Javea’s most important Roman settlement – though there are rumours artefacts exist in a hidden museum in the property’s cellar. The villa itself is in ruins as are the walls Navarro built to make a private saltwater pool. This is also why the stretch of coastline containing the Queen’s Baths is called the Cala del Ministre – the Minister’s Cove. Much of the walls and a former bridge were destroyed in a recent storm and the house is in disrepair.
- La Sèquia de la Noria. Further south along the coastline from the Cala del Ministre is another large canal excavated from the rock: La Sèquia de la Noria or the Watermill Canal. This was used for making salt in the area of Javea today known as El Saladar or the Salt Marsh.
- The necropolis of El Muntanyar. The entire Primer Muntanyar region stretching from the Cala del Ministre (in front of the Parador Hotel) to the port area of Javea shows signs of Roman excavations. The region was also an extensive necropolis believed to contain more than 900 grave sites carved into the honey-coloured tosca stone. The majority of the sites have disappeared as locals used the stone to build houses and walls in Javea, but you can see three specimens: one in the port area beneath the church, one outside the cemetery in the old town, and one in the Museo Blasco Soler in the old town. The museum also has ceramics and amphorae used to transport wines made in Javea across the Roman empire.
- The little port. The island and bay of Portitxol is derived from the Latin Porticuelo, meaning ‘little port’. In 2022 excavations on the island itself revealed signs of Roman ruins and indicated it was used as a commercial centre. The bay of Portitxol itself was found to contain a huge number of ancient and Roman-era anchors – and is now known as the site with the most historically-significant anchors in the entire Mediterranean.
Visigothic Javea – 400AD-700AD
There is no evidence that the Germanic Visigoths (who occupied the Iberian Pensinsula after the fall of the Roman Empire) actually settled in Javea. But there is a legend that Javea featured in a major historic event.
- The Monastery of Saint Martin. In the 6th century AD the Visigothic King Liuvigild chased his son Hermenegild throughout Spain to kill him after his conversion to Catholicism. At one point during the chase, the pagan king destroyed a monastery to Saint Martin while its monks fled to a nearby island. Legend has it the island was the Illa de Portitxol. Whether true or not, it’s true that the headland is called Cap Martí (Cape Martin) and there’s a hidden chapel on private land there dedicated to both Saint Martin and Saint Hermenegild.
Islamic Javea – 900AD-1244AD
On 30th April 711, the Muslim general Tariq ibn-Zayid landed in Gibraltar. It’s in the name: Gebr-al-Tariq or the ‘rock of Tariq’. Islamic kingdoms conquered nearly all the Iberian Peninsula and parts of southern France until the fall of Granada in 1492. Signs of Islamic settlements don’t appear until the 10th century in Javea.
- The name ‘Javea’. Islamic Spain is still very present in the Spanish and Valencian languages, with Arabic used for many everyday items and the fruits and vegetables that Christianised Spain continued to grow. Most of the names of towns and villages near Javea are Arabic in origin – the prefix ‘beni’ means ‘son of’ in Arabic. Javea itself comes from the Arabic xabiga meaning well or cistern due to the abundance of underground water supplies in Javea. Islamic historians like Edrisi and Yaqut wrote of the Montgó (then called Qa un) saying it was a region with fertile lands where grew ‘grape vines, fig trees and almond trees’.
- The tower of Capsades. Most of the regions within Javea are also Arabic in origin: l’Atzúvia, el Rafal, els Benimadrocs, Capsades, etc. In Capsades in particular there are remains of Muslim settlements and you can see ceramic shards, iron keys, needles, bronze awls and coins from this period in the Museo Soler Blasco.
- La Cova Tallada. The ‘carved cave’ is one of the wonders of Javea. It’s a quarry site built at sea level beneath the imposing San Antonio headland. Honey-coloured tosca stones from La Cova Tallada were used to build the Iglesia-Fortaleza de San Bartolomé in the old town of Javea. While quarrying work was mostly done between the 14th century until 1972 (when it was prohibited) archeologists have found Islamic remains from the 11th-12 centuries suggesting a Moorish origin.
- The 1,000-year-old olive tree. One of the lesser-known sites in Javea is a twisted olive tree believed to be 1,000 years old and planted during the Moorish occupation. The tree can be found close to the La Ermita region of Javea towards Jesus Pobre, in a fertile plain close to the river.
Reconquista and Pirate Attacks in Javea – 13th-17th century
Denia fell to the Christian armies of Jaime I of Aragón in 1244 – but Javea was not settled by Christians until the end of the 13th century due to Moorish revolts led by Al-Azraq. The famous battles are commemorated today by the annual Moros y Cristianos festival in Javea. In 1397 Javea finally gained recognition as a ‘villa’ and its growth became shaped by pirate attacks and plagues.
- ‘Fort’ Javea. The earliest part of the church in the centre of Javea’s old town dates to 1304. But in 1513 the church was expanded into an ‘Iglesia-Fortaleza’ (fort-chuch) to help defend Javea from frequent pirate attacks. Other efforts to defend Javea included building the (now destroyed) castle of San Martín in 1424, the castle of Granadella in 1492, the castle of Portitxol in 1553, the castle of Ambolo in 1576 and the (now destroyed) castle of San Jorge in 1578.
- The walls of Javea. Javea old town was initially surrounded by walls. The three main entrances dated back to Moorish times, but the walls were reinforced at the same time as the church was converted into a fortress in 1513. The walls stood until 1873 when they were destroyed as the risk of pirate attacks was gone and the town started to grow. You can still see the base of the walls on the Carrer Princep d’Asturias.
- The Sacred Caves of Javea. Javea’s most famous religious figure was a woman called Sor Catalina Bas, born in the 14th century. Sor Catalina and a number of Hieronymite monks moved to large caves just under where the San Antonio lighthouse is today – these are known as Les Coves Santes, or the Sacred Caves. In 1374 Don Alonso de Aragón, the Duke of Gandia, granted Sor Catarina permission to build a chapel and Hieronymite monastery. She built both in honour of San Antonio, from where the headland gets its name.
- The miracle of Las Planas. The first pirate attacks from North African ships began to attack Javea from 1388 until the 17th century. The first raid saw pirates burn and destroy the monastery built by Sor Catalina Bas. Only a few floor tiles remain close to the lighthouse. But the story doesn’t end there. In 1760 a hunter discovered a rolled-up canvas of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk. Two religious devotees believed that monks must have hidden it there during the pirate attack 400 years previously. They built a new chapel. In 1964 the structure was renovated and the present-day Santuari de la Mare de Deu dels Angels active convent came into being. Every year the miraculous canvas is paraded around the streets of Las Planas.
- Las Ermitas de la Reconquista. Javea once had four chapels called the Ermitas de la Reconquista as they were built between the 14th-15th centuries following the Christianisation of Javea. The first one dedicated to San Antonio was destroyed by pirates. But you can still visit the Ermita del Pópul on the road to Jesus Pobre, the Ermita de San Juan in the old town cemetery, and the Ermita de Santa Lucía located on the top of a tall hill just north of the old town of Javea.
- The Patron Saint of Javea. Not even many locals know that the patron saint of Javea is San Sebsatian. Fewer know why. It was due to the plagues that wiped out a quarter of nearby cities like Elche and hit neighbouring Denia hard. San Sebastian is worshipped in Catholicism as the ‘dispeller of the pestilence’ and curiously Javea’s population doubled from 930 people to 1,800 over the course of the 16th century. Local devotees in Javea put it down to the worship of San Sebastian, who is commemorated every 20th January with offerings of flowers and bull running outside the church.
The making of modern Javea – 18th-19th centuries
Javea supported the House of Bourbon during the War of Spanish Succession (1705-1714) and when Philip V became ruler of Spain the town received several privileges. These included concessions to export fruits, wheat, almonds, carob, olives and raisins from its port and made a number of families rich and prosperous.
- The windmills above Javea. It’s hard not to notice the 11 defunct windmill towers that sit above the old town of Javea. They were built to make use of a southeastern wind called the llebeig which nearly always blows in this area and they’re the largest concentration of wheat-producing windmills in the Valencian Community. One was built in the 14th century and the rest were all built in the 18th century.
- The fruit that made Javea famous. Javea’s most famous crop is undoubtedly raisins from the Moscatel grape vine. Images of workers drying grapes into raisins are immortalised in the paintings of the Valencian master Joaquin Sorolla at the end of the 19th century. Javea, Denia and surrounding towns loaded raisins for export predominantly to the UK but even as far as the United States. Outbreaks of phylloxera decimated the industry in the early 20th century and consumers began to prefer seedless alternatives like the Sultana raisin. Javea’s industries helped build mansions like the Casa dels Bolufer, the Casa de les Primícies, Casa Arnauda, Casa Abadía and Casa de Tena
- The legend of the Palau de Antoni Banyuls. The present-day building that houses the Museo Soler Blasco is one of Javea’s most famous structures. It was built for Antoni Banyuls (1582-1662) who had become a butler to the kings Philip III and Philip IV. Legend has it that Antoni Banyuls told the King he had made an error during a match of Valencian handball, or pilota. The King ordered the construction of a house for Antoni Banyuls that would be ‘as big as the mistake I made’.
- Joaquin Sorolla. Considered Spain’s finest painter to have enjoyed success while still alive, Joaquin Sorolla put Javea definitively on the map. Sorolla visited from his native Valencia to paint the San Antonio headland and scenes of daily life from 1896, in successive trips. Some of his paintings he exhibited in London in 1908. While most of his paintings are housed at Sorolla’s former home in Madrid the town hall regularly puts on Sorolla exhibitions, and he’s honoured with a sculpture in the port area of Javea.
Javea during the Civil War – 1936-1939
Valencia became the capital of the Second Spanish Republic, but the region never saw the trench warfare and street fighting of other cities during the Civil War. Javea nevertheless had its share of wartime events and tragedies, and the risk of bombardment from the air left at least six air-raid shelters in the municipality.
- The night of the abyss. A cross is all that marks the spot of Javea’s most tragic episode of the Civil War years – the story is known as the Night of the Abyss. The Marina Alta was Republican territory and extremists rounded up as many as 21 land-owners, lawyers, businessmen, farmers and students on 2nd November 1936 before shooting them on Las Planas. Their bodies were thrown into a chasm 70m deep which is now covered with reinforced concrete, a cross and a plaque.
- The municipal market. Javea’s municipal market next to the old town church is one of the most popular areas in the centre. While it looks old, it was actually built in 1943 after a former 400-year-old convent was destroyed during the civil war.
Birth of tourism in Javea – 1950s-today
- Hotel Venturo. The turning point for Javea as a tourist destination came in 1947 with the construction of Hotel Venturo. José Berenguer Sivera was a visionary businessman who began advertising Javea at cinemas in Valencia. He even built and operated one of the region’s only bus services to bring tourists to and from Valencia. Venturo had hot running water in its bathrooms, a telephone in each room, and attracted many painters and well-to-do Valencian visitors. Berenguer built an outdoor cinema too, Cine Monterrey, and his era is considered the beginning of tourism.
- Hotel Parador. The Parador was built in 1969 and added a stamp of approval on Javea’s status as a luxury tourism destination. Parador is a state-owned hotel chain and they’re usually found in historic buildings or with panoramic views.
- Ángel Doménech. Javea’s mayor from 1971-1974 has left an impact on Javea you’ll notice instantly. When he received plans to build 10 high-rise blocks right on the beachfront of the Arenal, he decided to stop Javea becoming another Benidorm by limiting the height of any building to nothing more than a palm tree. Any tall buildings you see in Javea are pre-1970. Apparently the foundations for the 10 high-rise blocks were already filled in.
- Casa Sardinera. Among so many stories of Javea’s growth in the past 50 years, Casa Sardinera stands out. Renowned Valencian architect Ramon Esteve built the multi-million luxury property in 2014 with an infinity pool overlooking Illa de Portitxol, Cap Prim and the Bahía de Javea. It’s been used in advertising campaigns by Mercedes-Benz, Dior, Zara and more. The property is an emblem of Javea’s rise from a fishing village with dirt roads to the fifth most expensive town in Spain.