Remains of the Phoenician, Roman and Arab civilisations have been found within the area. The foothills of the mountain range behind the town are the site of the Arab castle which contains remains of an early Ibero-punic or Phoenician settlement, later occupied by the Romans, which became a town known in antiquity as SUEL.
In his "Itinerary", Roman historian Antoninus situated this town as being on the road linking Malaca (Malaga) to Gades (Cádiz), and it was also identified by subsequent Italian geographers, Anon. of Ravenna and Guido Pisa in his "Geografia".
Although no formal excavations have been made, several valuable archaeological finds have emerged in recent years, the most significant being the inscription on the pedestal of a statue found near the castle, whose text mentions Suel as being a Roman "municipium". Another find from the same area is a funeral urn, whose inscription contains the word "Suelitana".
Apart from the castle, there are several other remains proving that the coastal area was inhabited in Roman times. In 1961 the Roman baths were discovered, and close by, the remains of a Roman villa containing two sculptures, one of which is the well known "Venus of Fuengirola" exhibited in the town's museum. Remains of staircases were found in the same location.
Another significant discovery was made in Los Boliches in 1984 - a series of architectural components, probably transported from the Mijas quarry during the Roman era. These have now been mounted to form a temple entrance at the Marine Parade of Los Boliches.
According to historians, the city of Suel ceased to be mentioned at the beginning of the Middle Ages, with possible reasons for its disappearance including its destruction by a tidal wave, the reappearance of pirates in the Mediterranean, or its destruction by the hordes of invading Visigoths.
After several centuries, the name of the settlement changed from SUEL to SUHAYL, which became the name of the castle and surroundings during the Arab occupation. SUHAYL became a fairly large settlement, and included a fair amount of farmland and small villages. Most of the area was however used as pasture for the Moorish rulers' camels. The historian Temboury describes SUHAYL as a pretty and sophisticated town the home of eminent writers who added its name to theirs - the most well known being the great poet As-Sohaili, who wrote a few verses about his native land, expressing his concern at the destruction of his birthplace.
But in the early Middle Ages, the town was set on fire and its inhabitants fled to Mijas. SUHAYL became a mound of ruins, and even its name was changed to the Romanised Font-Jirola, after the spring arising at the foot of the castle, according to historian Alonso de Palencia. At the settlement's reconquest in 1485 by the Christian Monarchs, only the fortress remained. An attempt to repopulate the site with 30 people failed, due to the threat from North Africa and other factors such as the fiscal policies, or the lack of land for sale close to Fuengirola. In 1511 it was registered as uninhabited, apart from the fortress and a watchtower. So areas of land originally set aside for Fuengirola were reallocated to Mijas.
During the 17th century, a new urban settlement developed, opposite the original site, once the threat from Turkish and Moroccan pirates disappeared. At the beginning of the 18th century, an inn was opened near the beach, offering accommodation to travellers, muleteers and seafarers. A few huts were built nearby, forming a small village.
In May 1841, Fuengirola was detached from Mijas; at the time its inhabitants were mainly engaged in fishing, agriculture and trading with ships that dropped anchor in the bay. For over a century, fishing and agriculture remained the main activities.
It was only in the 1960s, that Fuengirola entered a new phase, to become a leading tourist centre.