In Parallel Lives, Plutarch named this site as the place where Marcus Licinius Crassus took refuge for eight months after fleeing from Cinna and Gaius Marius. However, the Roman general was not the first inhabitant of La Cueva del Tesoro (“The Treasure Cave”), in Rincón de la Victoria, around 15 km from Malaga: the cave paintings in one of its chambers bear witness to much earlier human presence.

This cave, formerly known as Higuerón Cave, did not receive its modern name until last century. The reason why deserves an explanation, one that takes us back to the time when the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim rule. According to legend, the last Almoravid king, Ishaq ibn Ali, hid a hoard of his dynasty’s treasure there not long before his death at the hands of the Almohads in Oran, in what is now Algeria, in 1145. His ship, it is said, reached the cave, one of Europe’s most impressive sea caves, and there an emissary of ibn Ali was told to hide the treasure.

Nothing more was heard of the emir’s jewels and gold until the 17th century. At that time, the friar Antonio Agustín de Milla y Suazo, a native of Oran, wrote the story of ibn Ali and named that cave as the place where his fortune lay. Almost a hundred years later, the Conversaciones malagueñas, written by Cristóbal Medina Conde (using the pseudonym of Cecilio García de la Leña), ratified the cleric’s theory. The result was predictable: treasure hunters started to seek out the cave, looking to fill their sacks with loot. Stories from the period tell of the incursions of some of these, like the group of seventeen marauders who fled, terrified, after seeing the shadow of what they believed to be a gigantic alligator. In the 19th century, the Swiss treasure hunter, Antonio de la Nari, spent 30 years searching for the treasure. He might have been looking even longer had it not been for the dynamite that blew the unfortunate man to pieces as he tried to open up a new entrance into part of the cave.

Manuel Laza, who owned the cave for decades, was the last to try his hand. After 38 years seeking the Almoravid legacy without finding the prize, he quit and handed the cave over to public ownership. He abandoned his efforts, but not his belief that the treasure lies hidden in one of the cave’s many grottos and chambers and that after almost a thousand years safeguarding it, the Treasure Cave refuses to release its hoard.