San Roque in Spain

The traditional time for planning holidays was once the period after Christmas, when – in the northern hemisphere – the days are short, dark and cold. If one of the holiday destinations you are considering is Spain, bear in mind that there is much more to the country than ‘sea, sand and sangria’. You do not have to travel far from the coast to find small settlements steeped in history, and the delightful town of San Roque in Andalusia is a good example.

Gibraltar in exile

San Roque is situated on the main coastal highway between the surfing centre of Tarifa (Europe’s most southerly town) and Marbella and Malaga on the Costa del Sol. It is built on a hill a short distance inland from the Bay of Gibraltar, and its key historical significance lies in the relationship with the Rock of Gibraltar. After the British Admiral George Rooke took Gibraltar with an Anglo-Dutch squadron of ships in 1704, many of the existing inhabitants fled to San Roque, which King Philip V of Spain designated ‘Gibraltar in Exile’.

Picturesque San Felipe Street in San Roque

The old quarter of San Roque is an area of buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries that was designated a collection of Listed Historic Buildings in 1975. The street of San Felipe runs up from the square called Alameda Alfonso XI to the Plaza de la Iglesia at the top of the hill, which has the Governor’s Palace along one side.

The Governor’s Palace

On the east side of the sloping Plaza de la Iglesia (Church Square) is the Church of St Mary the Crowned, which was built in the 18th century on the site of the Chapel of Saint Roch and now contains statues and relics from Gibraltar. Occupying the north side of the square is the Governor’s Palace, built in the early 18th century and once the home and headquarters of the local governor.

The Governor’s Palace, San Roque – now Art Gallery and Tourist Office

During the Great Siege of 1779–83, the palace became the command centre of the besieging force camped on the land between San Roque and Gibraltar. From the roof of the tower there is a good view south-eastwards to Gibraltar. The Governor’s Palace is now occupied by an art gallery and an excellent tourist office, which is the best place to obtain information about what to see in the town and surrounding area.


San Roque is reputed to be the place where the bullfighting technique of a matador on foot with red cape and sword was invented in the first half of the 18th century. An annual bull run, said to have begun 1649, is still the event that closes the street fair every year. The bull ring at San Roque is one of the oldest in Andalusia.

A 1962 poster for a bullfight at San Roque

Carteia Museum

Not very far from San Roque is the ancient Roman town of Carteia. We mentioned this site in our newsletter 44 because it was a centre for the manufacture and export of fish sauce. Many finds from Carteia are on display in the new San Roque Museum, and a visit to this museum should be high on the list for tourists. The displays are not just of Roman finds from Carteia, but also of information about how the site was found and explored, as well as the history of the excavations, with historic photographs of the archaeological work. The video is one of the most nostalgic and evocative we have ever watched.

The Museum of San Roque, focusing on the Roman town of Carteia