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Marbella and the Saudis
29 March 2020 @ 18:30

Marbella is well known as the classy part of the costas, but do you know the story of how it got that reputation? How did the Saudi royal family become involved ? What's Donald Trump's luxury yacht doing there? Follow me gentle reader and see how the other half live!

The little fishing village of Marbella had never been important during Spain’s turbulent history. It was just one of a dozen or so fishing villages scattered along the south coast. It was always a poor sister to Málaga, which had been used by the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors over the centuries and still is a busy international port for Mediterranean trade. Marbella had an old Moorish castle dating back to the 9th Century and there are Roman ruins throughout the municipality. La Concha Mountain towers in the background, diverting winds and giving Marbella the best weather of any village on the coast.

Ricardo Soriano (Marquis of Ivanrey) first visited Marbella in 1943 and saw its potential for vacations. His mother was a native of Málaga, and Ricardo had lived in his aunt’s home, the Palacio del Rey Moro in Ronda. He had been invited to stay in Marbella by one of his landowner friends, and was impressed enough to buy a nearby estate in San Pedro de Alcántara, comprising of Rodeo Alto and Rodeo Bajo for 110,000 Pesatas (160 Euros, unadjusted for 1943 values.)  Ricardo was an eccentric aristocrat, but also a businessman, politician, great inventor, sportsman, and adventurer. His plan was to build accommodation next to his house, so that rich French travellers on their way to Algeciras and the French protectorate of Morocco could stay overnight. For their entertainment, Ricardo even built the first cinema in the province to be equipped sound. 

It was Ricardo who in 1946 invited his nephew, Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, and Alfonso’s father, Prince Maximilian Egon von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, to see and experience the south coast and Marbella first hand. Prince Maximilian drove from Gibraltar to Málaga in his Rolls-Royce with Prince Alfonso. They passed through Marbella, and stopped for a picnic in the shade beneath the umbrella pines. A crumbling farmhouse was for sale close to where they had stopped, and Soriano decided to buy it. The old house came with 24 acres of land and, charmed by its beauty, he bought it for 150,000 pesetas. (900 Euros) 

You could say that Prince Alfonso was well connected.

Prince Alfonso Maximiliano Victorio Eugenio Alexandro Maria Pablo de la Santisima Trinidad y todo los Santos, was born in Madrid. He was baptised at the royal palace, with King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia standing as godparents. His father was Prince Max Egon Maria Erwin Paul von Hohenlohe-Langenburg. His mother was Dona Maria de la Piedad Iturbe y Scholtz, and was the Marquesa de Belvis de las Navas in her own right, a title which came from her Basque grandfather, who had made a fortune in Mexico. His uncle married Margarita, the sister of our Queen’s husband, Prince Philip. The Marquesa had been invited to the coronation of the last Russian Tsar, and her property at the time of her marriage to Alfonso's father included a castle in Madrid, a hotel in Malaga, and vast estates in Portugal and Mexico. 

Unfortunately, the Second World War had been unkind to the Hohenlohe family. With the post-war partition of Germany, their estates in the east were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Worse, the Mexican revolution took away all their assets in that country. They were on the lookout for opportunities to build up their finances again. Alfonso saw the potential of the bay and its beaches.

Hohenlohe persuaded his father to sell off his wine cellars in Malaga whilst he returned to the village to build the first new houses in Marbella. Prince Alfonso spread the word amongst his rich friends and family that quiet sleepy Marbella would be a better place to spend the summer than rainy San Sebastian or Biarritz. Guests were culled from the Alamanach de Gotha, the royal houses of the Middle East and Hollywood’s new “jet set”. He still had land to spare, and sold plots to his Rothschild and Thyssen friends. His own residence, Finca Santa Margarita, became so popular with visitors that he turned it into the Marbella Club in 1954, making it the Costa del Sol's first luxury hotel.

Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier used to stay at the club on what's now called the Golden Mile. The club boasted a piano player by the name of Don Jaime de Mora y Aragon, who was directly descended from 56 kings, and also happened to be the brother of the Queen of the Belgians. The reputation of the club grew amongst the Prince’s Spanish nobleman friends.

Soon there was a disco, with rave-ups on Tuesday and Friday; the Horcher family, the great restaurateurs of the Third Reich, came out of exile to open La Fonda. Photographs from the time showed everyone from Sophia Loren to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor having the time of their lives; there was James Hunt in his bell-bottomed trousers playing golf, and Patrick Lichfield cradling his camera.

Prince Alfonso outside his luxury club.

Prince Hohenlohe took a close interest in every aspect of his creation from the architecture and the layout of gardens, to the decor of the bedrooms and the food on the menu. Marbella’s hillsides became studded with new pueblos, hotels, restaurants and sports clubs and  the Prince’s rich and famous connections, ensured that his projects were immune from planning permission or labour laws.

 In 1966 a businessman by the name of José Banus, who had bought farmland to the west of Marbella to breed bulls for the bullring came to speak with Prince Alfonso. Hohenlohe introduced him to two architects, Noldi Schreck, who had helped design and build Beverley Hills, and Marcos Sainz,. They were both there to design the Hotel Marbella Club. Banus wanted to build tower blocks for holidaymakers on his land, but the two architects steered him away from his original designs in favour of more traditional Mediterranean architectural style. What they eventually came up with was a glamorous marina that still had the quaint feel of an Andalucian fishing village.

Banus approved, and the port facilities and part of the apartments and service areas were officially opened in May 1970 in a lavish ceremony attended by a host of stars including film director Roman Polanski, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. A young Julio Iglesias was also hired to sing for the 1700 guests. Puerto Banus quickly became a favourite with the jet-set, and businesses were soon vying to set up here. Banus became the largest developer of residential tourism complexes on the Costa del Sol. Film stars came here to buy properties and just walking along the streets you could bump into the likes of Deborah Kerr, Jimmy Stewart, Teddy Kennedy, Jean Negelesco, Prince Rainer of Monaco with Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, Sean Connery or Guy de Rothschild. Many brought their private yachts which were arrayed at their moorings like floating palaces. 

As head of the Costa del Sol Promoters’ Co-operative, Hohenlohe lobbied successfully for improvements in roads, airports and water supply. His conference and exhibition centre spurred the growth of Torremolinos as a mass market holiday destination.

Ira and Egon von Fustenberg in 1955

Possessed of considerable charm and once described as having "the moustachioed good looks of a South American taxi driver," Hohenlohe early established a reputation as a ladies' man. In 1955 he scandalised European high society by marrying Princess Ira Furstenberg (the Fiat heiress and niece of Gianni Agnelli) when she was just 15.  Four hundred people attended the 16-day wedding party and the Pope had granted devoutly Catholic Alfonso a papal dispensation for the marriage. Five years later, he asked the Pope for a further dispensation for divorce; Ira left him for another notorious 1950's playboy, "Baby" Pignatari.

One of the jet-set personalities that spent time in the growing Marbella was a young Saudi-born dilettante called Adnan Kashoggi. Adnan had a lavish lifestyle and his party-going appetite was to become the stuff of legend over the years. He made his money from arms deals and by 1980, he could afford Nabila, named after his daughter. At 281ft (86.6 metres) long, it was the largest private yacht in the world at the time.  It had a sundeck with bullet-proof glass, solid gold sink in the master suite, with hand carved onyx, sculpted by “the finest craftsman from the hills of Italy,” as described by the next owner, Donald Trump, who bought her in 1987 for nearly $30m.

Kashoggi was the ultimate showman and he allowed the Nabila be used for the 1983 Bond film Never Say Never Again.  It appeared as the floating HQ of international super-villain, SPECTRE agent Maximillian Largo. He was never far away from the probing eyes of various security and international lawyers, to say nothing of the world’s paparazzi. Some of his offshore parties were nothing more than orgies meant to smooth the way for lucrative deals. In 1989 Vanity Fair magazine bluntly described Khashoggi as “One of the greatest whoremongers in the world.”  Very few of his business associates ever complained.

Romantically, Khashoggi did not always have everything his own way. In 1961 he married Sandra Daly, half his age, double his height, who grew up on a Leicester council estate and who met him while visiting Paris with her mother. The new Mrs Khashoggi, now converted to Islam and renamed Soraya, divorced him in 1974, receiving a divorce settlement of $875 million, which at the time was the largest ever.

Worse was to follow, during another investigation in 1999, it was revealed that Kashoggi was not the biological father of Soraya’s daughter Petrina.  The real father was Jonathan Aitken, ex-Conservative minister for Defence Procurement, who was at the time awaiting court proceedings that would lead to him being jailed for perjury.    

However, Kashoggi’s biggest Marbella coup was when he persuaded Prince Fahd to cancel a planned visit to Monte Carlo and visit Marbella instead. The problem was that Hohenlohe’s Marbella Club didn’t have the 32 rooms required by Fahd and his retinue.

A phone call to Prince Alfonso solved the problem. Alfonso knew that the Incosol clinic had just finished work on a second story, and asked Ignacio Coca if he could spare 32 rooms. The reply was yes. Fahd landed in Marbella, and moved into the clinic, which had now become an extension of the Marbella Club. The following day, Alfonso’s son appeared at lunch weeping because he had lost his beloved falcon. Prince Fahd, touched by the boy’s tears sent his private plane back to Saudi Arabia to bring the boy not one, but two of his own falcons. 

Prince Salman

Fahd must have enjoyed his stay, because shortly after the Saudi consul requested permission to build a home for the Prince. He built a palace and several other properties on a 48,000-hectare chunk of prime real estate called Las Lomas, a hillside overlooking the Golden Mile.  

Meanwhile, others of the royal family bought several large properties in Marbella and the Prince had a mosque built in 1981, followed by another, for his family’s use, a few years later. He also funded a number of low-cost housing units, as well as a hemodynamic plant at the local hospital. And, of course, he converted Marbella into the summer residence of his extensive family, many of whom have since built their own palaces.

In 1995 Fahd constructed a mosque 60 kilometres down the coast at Europa point in Gibralter. It was a present for the Muslims of the town, who make up 4% of the largely British population and cost £5 million to build.

King Fahd ruled Saudi Arabia between 1982 and 2005 had his annual vacations in Marbella, later building a number of luxury properties. Now the Mediterranean resort is celebrating the ascent to the throne of Salman bin Abdulaziz, known locally as amigo Salman, and no stranger to Marbella. Salman funds the Marbella mosque, which has a Moroccan imam named Allal Bachar El Hosri, an affable and calm man who has lived in Spain for almost 40 years, and now has Spanish citizenship. Bachar says Salman made sure that he held on to his job, despite pressure to appoint an imam with more radical views. When asked about his post he says, “I am a Maliki [the predominant Sunni school of Islam in North Africa] and am here thanks to Salman.”

Despite the legends about its excesses, the life of the Saudi royal family in Marbella has been characterized by discretion. Its members have largely kept themselves to themselves, preferring to hire the same suppliers over the years. For example, the first gardeners they hired have in turn recommended other gardeners, and the same goes for their trusted butchers, florists and drivers. They rarely use service companies, instead preferring a personal network. The Saudi Arabian consul in Málaga takes care of any other details, with the usual discretion. The life of the Saudi royal family in Marbella is largely nocturnal, consisting of all-night private parties in their palaces or yachts. They spend the mornings sleeping, and the afternoons shopping. The Saudi king’s yacht, Shaf London, is moored permanently in Puerto Banus. He has also had a palace built in Tangiers, and spent more time there last summer than in Marbella. The 79-year-old’s health is fragile, and he has early-stage Alzheimer’s.

King Fahd and that of his son Salman’s patronage is said to have boosted the local economy to the tune of 40-80 million euros per year With those kind of numbers, it is no exaggeration to say that he single-handedly transformed the economic fortunes of Marbella and the surrounding Costa del Sol. His son, King Salman bin Abdulaziz , visits the town each summer, as he has every year for the last three decades. But the Saudi reign in Marbellla might be over now.

In August 2017, armed police officers stormed two luxury restaurants where Prince Abdullah, was eating with his wife and family. They then swooped on a second eatery where his daughter, Princess Susu, was celebrating her 17th birthday.

Prince Abdullah has complained to the Spanish Interior Ministry, describing “the humiliating treatment by police to my family.” A Saudi Royal House member since the 1980’s he said he had never seen police behaviour like it.

“They treated us as if we were terrorists, pointing weapons at us, and Princess Susu, the king’s granddaughter, cried in terror. King Salman no longer wants to come to Spain and will make sure that his children don’t want to visit Marbella either. These people spend an average of €15- 20,000 per day when they are in Marbella. This is the type of tourism that they should be taking care of.” A council spokesman said.

The police action came after a probe revealed four royal family security team members did not have professional qualifications. The National Police press department said both operations were carried out “without violence or intimidation… the Territorial Security Unit was pursuing an irregularity in terms of false security guards.” But this was denied by the entourage member who said the police acted unreasonably.

“They asked for our passports and documentation without letting us explain while pointing machine guns at us.” The prince was dining under the watch of the security they have used for years, which include an ex-soldier and two police officers. If the Prince carries out his threat, it would be a sad ending to a lucrative royal patronage.

Like 0


Asif Rana said:
04 April 2020 @ 03:34

Enjoyed the history there, both old and new.

I visited Puerto Banus last year, but had absolutely no idea of the above. Thanks for a very interesting read.

animate said:
04 April 2020 @ 10:42

Thank you, Asif. I enjoy writing the blog and there is much more about the history of spain on my webpage at I can't avoid the cookies, they are not mine but belong to the website. But once you are in there is a lot of interesting art and writing. I hope that you enjoy it.

Roy Leon said:
04 April 2020 @ 11:32

Very enjoyable read. I always wondered who the owner of the yacht Shaf was.
There is lots of urban myths about Marbella and its environs. I often heard that there was a number of identical yachts called Shaf in various ports in the world. The reason being is that the owner could holiday on his yacht in many world ports without sailing it anywhere. I also recall seeing a wonderful wooden yacht of oriental build with a large bamboo cage on the open deck with a live tiger in it. I'm sure there are many more stories of the port of Banus.

animate said:
04 April 2020 @ 12:47

Puerto Banus was developed by José Banus and others, but José Banus is also notorious for building a part of the Valle de los Caidos, Franco's tomb. Franco used prisoners of war as slave labour, and thousands died and were interred there. Take a look at the above website where there is much more.

rob_j1 said:
04 April 2020 @ 14:04

Really enjoyed the read, thank you very much.

Also interesting to hear about what various celebrity names got up to in the past. I had head that at one stage, Adnan was the richest man in the world, having made some money and then spending it all on promotional parties, to drum up yet more business. I think this was a "60 minutes" (tv news program) piece quite some time ago.

I'm fascinated by the area, and keen to know what the future may hold. Any plans by big developers would be of interest.

animate said:
04 April 2020 @ 20:01

Hi, Rob.
When the big developers start to confide in me I will pass it on.
Kashoggi was a front man for Lockheed before their bribery scandle was uncovered, but Lockheed were not the only ones he fronted for.

marelison said:
05 April 2020 @ 17:30

Excellent article with a many information for me that I didn´t knew before.

Thanks for this.

Mar Elison

animate said:
06 April 2020 @ 20:39

Thank you, Mar. I am glad that you enjoyed it.

knowledgeseeker said:
16 May 2020 @ 08:46

Very interesting. Happy to have come across your articles, thanks.

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