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The Fascinating History of Sugar in Europe

You wouldn’t believe it if we told you that once upon a time Motril in the Costa Tropical region was considered the sugar capital of the world. Although today, if you visit Motril, you will find nothing more than a pre-industrial sugar museum that talks in pictures about the golden days of the sugarcane industry in Spain. The museum was actually opened in 2004 and is called the Museo Preindustrial de la Caña de Azucar. This museum is one of its kinds and was built on the same site where the remains of the famous La Palma sugar refinery was situated. The La Palma sugar refinery was discovered during an excavation project in progress in 1990. There are several documents showcased in the museum that speaks volumes about the history of sugar refinery in Spain and in Andalucía almost 10,000 years back.

The earliest reference to sugarcane production in Costa Tropical dates back to the 10th century, but the production boom came only in the period between the 16th and 18th centuries in Andalucía. According to historical evidences and documents, the La Palma Sugar House operated between the 1540’s till 1787. The process of sugar production in the 200 years of its existence didn’t change at all. The first mass production of sugar started around 1570 and there were 11 sugarcane industries of houses that recruited 200-300 people who handled the processing while 500 more people were employed to take care of sugarcane harvesting. The sugarcane industry grew rapidly once the sugar from Costa Tropical was shipped to destinations across the world Malaga and Almuñecar ports.

As a result, Motril became the sugar capital of the world. By 1654, approximately 822 tons of sugar was being produced at the La Palma Sugar House. Around 1657, due to the high commercial value of sugar, Motril bought the title of a city. Once it became a city, they elected their own mayor and had a town council that was independent of the Granada Council. There was a huge amount of wealth that was generated or accumulated due to the sugar trade and this attracted wealthy businessmen as well as pirates in the period between 15th and 18th century. To provide protection from pirates, the newly formed city of Motril built fortifications and watchtowers all along the coast. One such fortification that exists even today is called the Torre de la Vela. The huge amount of wealth and prosperity in the city of Motril came for a price. At that time, to manufacture sugar, the refineries used wood as a fuel for the furnaces and this caused extreme deforestation. A single sugarcane refinery was consuming around 300 cartload of wood per season.

As a result of this mass destruction of forest area, which amounted to 20 million square meters, there was a severe impact on the local environment as well. Even today, you will be able to see the some of the destroyed landscape.


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