By James Bryce
OUTSIDERS – or ‘guiris’, as we are sometimes collectively known – have had a major impact on Andalucia, since the early Phoenician traders landed in Cadiz and Malaga over 1000 years before Christ.
From the Romans – who built many of the earliest roads and cities – to the Moors, who turned Sevilla and Cordoba into the world’s most important cities, the region has been vastly shaped by foreigners.
While these days the main invaders are mostly coming for their annual holidays, there is still a huge wealth of expatriates from northern Europe and further afield, who continue to have a positive cultural and economic influence.
And few have had such an impact as the northern Europeans, who arrived here in the 19th and 20th centuries, spreading the word on what a wonderful region it is.
Arguably, the first Briton to have had a major impact on Andalucia was the Duke of Wellington, who led British and Portuguese troops as they helped Spanish forces drive the French out during the Spanish War of Independence between 1808 and 1814.
So grateful were the Spanish that they awarded the Duke an estate in Illora, near Granada, which remains in the family to this day and is visited regularly by the current Duke of Wellington as well as members of the British Royal family.
Other Britons, who helped to shape the region, include Sir Alexander Henderson, the engineer responsible for constructing the key railway line from Algeciras to Ronda, as well as footballer Glenn Hoddle, who launched a football academy in Jerez five years ago.
But non-British expats have been equally prominent.
Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe, for example, was the Bavarian who put Marbella on the map by attracting the international jet set following the establishment of the Marbella Club Hotel.
Before his arrival the town was a sleepy fishing village, with Hohenlohe purported to have said that the Spanish landowners were actually embarrassed to sell him the land on which the hotel was built.
This was, of course, at a time when sun and sand were distinctly avoided by the Spanish middle and upper classes, with only peasants having suntans and most Spaniards never going anywhere near the beach, except to fish.
It is certainly a sharp contrast to the sea of fake tans on display around nearby Puerto Banus these days.
It was a time when sun and sand were avoided and only peasants had a suntan
Whether it is Finns, Russians or the Irish, immigration from around the world to Andalucia continues to rise at quite a pace… and that is despite the recession.
Indeed, by 2010, Andalucia had a record 704,056 foreign residents according to official figures, in comparison with just 675,000 in 2009.
If compared with the figures for a decade ago (1996, for example, there were just 90,000 foreign residents registered) the growth is little short of amazing.
And even more important is to realise how many people are still not registered with the figure likely to be between 50 and 100 per cent higher, depending on estimates.
So what is it about Andalucia that makes the area so attractive to foreign residents?
Ronda-based walking guide Guy Hunter-Watts thinks he knows.
“In many parts of the world expats would be seen as much more of a threat, but the communities of Andalucia are extremely welcoming,” he reasons.
“It’s important to put Andalucia in its historical context.
The region has a very rich history of multiculturalism which began in the golden age of Cordoba where you had three religions cohabiting.
“The later arrival of expats is simply a continuation of that process.”
But while it is one thing to simply be an expat drawn to Andalucia by the promise of a better life, it is quite another to influence your new surroundings.
There are thousands of expats who move to the region each year either in search of work or to enjoy a quiet retirement, but what is it that marks out an expat as ‘influential’?
“The most influential expats are those that make other foreigners want to discover more about the region, so for me, many of them are from a literary background,” explains author Michael Jacobs, who has written various books on Andalucia.
“Reading about a region is the best way to inform your opinion and people have become much more interested in pursuits like cultural tourism after reading about Andalucia’s past.”
Northern Europeans still want to live in Andalucia and always will
Northern Europeans still want to live in Andalucia and always will.
The Factory of Light writer, who lives in Jaen, continues: “Places like France and Italy have always been the traditional cultural destinations, while those visiting Andalucia came for the sun and cheap properties, but that’s not necessarily the case these days.”
As for his top picks, Jacobs – who himself has been nominated in the poll – says: “I think one of the most significant is Gerald Brenan.
“Until he arrived there was a very cliched view of Andalucia as being all about the Alhambra and flamenco. He got away from all that.
“Expats who reach a wide audience are the most influential, for example Richard Ford was a big seller in the 50s and 60s when I was growing up and his interest was specifically focused on Andalucia.”
Of course, when considering a list of the 100 most influential expats, it’s easy to gravitate towards the more high profile names and to overlook the more off-beat, leftfield characters who often add colour to their local communities.
“There was a character I read about in Sevilla who was known as Pepe el Escoces (Pepe the Scot),” adds Jacobs.
“Each year in Sevilla they would put notices up around the town exclaiming that the Sevilla Feria would not officially start until Pepe el Escoces arrived.
“Nobody knew his real name or what he did but he was certainly an influential character.
“The vital thing for me is to integrate with the local community. That is the most essential ingredient of all.”
But what does the future hold for expats in Andalucia, and how will they influence the region in the future?
Marbella-based investigative journalist Gwilym Rees-Jones believes that expats will continue to play an important role in Andalucia’s development.
“The foreigners have had a major hand in property development in Andalucia and still do…. after all their money bankrolled it,” he said.
“Expats have had a positive influence on the whole infrastructure whether it came from EU money or taxes on foreign property developments.
“I think we’ll see more of the same in the future, Northern Europeans still want to live here and always will.”