Within its boundaries L'Escala contains the ruins of Empúries, the gateway of the Greco-Roman cultures and civilizations to the Iberian Peninsula from the 6th century onwards.

The territory, inhabited since prehistoric times, received the impact of a superior culture which radically transformed its foundations. A century after the disappearance of the Empúries County House in the mid 15th century, according to Pella i Porgas, a small fishing district began to expand near what was the first capital, as a result of the impetus of the maritime trade. L'Escala began to appear in written texts from the 16th century onwards as a small fishing and cabotage port dependent on the neighbouring town of Empúries. Its use as a port, however, goes much further back. Its name, from the Latin scala, which was very common throughout the whole of the Mediterranean region, designates a port or quay, the usual shelter for boats. The dependence upon Empúries was reversed during the 17th and 18th centuries to the benefit of L'Escala. In 1680 the residents of the “Port of L'Escala of the town of Empúries”, which already comprised a neighbourhood with 80 inhabitants, managed to build its own church and, in 1766, L'Escala became a town and the head of the municipality. 

The main reason was the extraordinary population growth, from 390 inhabitants in 1718 to 1,383 in 1787, supported by high regional immigration, it attracted new immigrants with jobs generated by the maritime customs - the Salt Storehouse, the fishing industry, the shipyards, the anchovy and sardine salting, the rice crops and the vines, the wine exports and the jobs which were created in the wake of the industrial activity. 

The traveller Zamora wrote in his diary in 1789 that “the residents all work in good jobs, the men earn good wages and there are no poor people”. The census in 1806 records 1,600 inhabitants; the one in 1857 records 2,574 and the one in 1877 records only 2,607 inhabitants, due to deaths from epidemics caused by the rice crops and cholera. The economy kept going well into the 20th century and was primarily devoted to fishing and vineyards, with a population which fluctuated until 1960 at around 2,500 inhabitants.

From the beginning of the century onwards there was significant political and cultural activity: it was the time of the Ateneo (College) of Art and Culture, the Víctor Català Ateneo and the Youth Centre, which gave rise to drama groups, Sardana bands and the Floral Games. 

The civil war put a stop to all this activity and L'Escala experienced one of the most tragic episodes in its history: the bombing of the town by the fascist planes at the end of the war, which caused twenty deaths among its civilians. In the nineteen sixties a new phenomenon gave impetus to the economy: tourism. 

Small local industries disappeared and the workforce began to meet the demands of building, commerce and its former industry, revived by the creation of the designation of quality of the anchovy. The population increased to the current-day figure of 10,000, although it exceeds 50,000 in the summer months.