Out and About in Malaga with The Directory magazine ©
A brief history of Malaga Like other towns and villages in the province, Malaga city’s origins go back to Phoenician times and evidence of human settlements can be dated back to then, when the city was known as ‘Malaca’ and was already an important trading port.
Later evidence of the Romans in Malaga can be seen through the Roman amphitheatre, which sits just below the Alcazaba. The theatre was discovered in 1951, when refurbishments to the old cultural centre took place. As work progressed, workers unearthed what was originally believed to be an old city gate. As excavations continued, they realised they were on the site of a Roman outdoor theatre. The cultural centre was demolished and the theatre was left open as a historical artefact for all to see.
The origins of the Moorish Alcazaba, which stands proudly over the east of the city, are also, in fact Phoenician, but more of the castle’s history is known from the long Arabic reign of Al-Andalus, from 711 until the Catholic Kings captured the city in 1487. The Gibalfaro, Malaga’s other, more hidden, Moorish castle was built to defend the city against Isabel and Fernando, but it proved not to be strong enough and Malaga was one of the last cities to fall to the Catholics.
Malaga’s cathedral, known as ‘La Manquita,’ as it only has one tower, was converted from a Mosque into the Christian place of worship as it is seen today. Guided tours are available.
During the Civil War, Malaga was largely Republican and many religious places and iconography were destroyed. Yet, perhaps the most well-documented event during the war was the Desbandá, when the eventual arrival of Italian and German forces supporting Franco led to 100s of 1000s of Malagueños fleeing the city along the Almeria road (now known as the N340) in an attempt to escape the aerial bombardments signalling the capture of the city by Franco’s fascists. Many were killed in their attempt, resulting in perhaps the largest massacre during the war. In modern times, the city has always retained a very Spanish feel, compared with the impact of foreign influence in the province’s coastal towns. Apart from the occasional ‘Irish pub’ you would be hard pushed to find bars selling fish and chips and full English breakfasts in the centre.
Malaga had been overlooked by holidaymakers to the Costa del Sol for years, but huge investment from local, regional and national government has led to international newspapers such as the UK’s Times, Guardian and Telegraph as well as the New York Times, rating the capital of the Costa del Sol as the number one city to visit, citing its excellent museums, shopping, gastronomy and of course climate.
Wine and coffee
With the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of this grand European city, however, Malaga does lay claim to a couple of multinational coffee chains, which have been met with mixed reactions as Malagueños are fiercely proud of their unique coffee tradition. In bars like Café Madrid, near Plaza de la Constitución, old posters help you to order just the right amount of caffeine in your cup in the traditional Malagueño way; from a ’manchada,’ to ‘solo’.
While on the subject of Malaga drinking institutions, Bodega Bar el Pimpi on Calle Granada has been serving Malaga’s famous sweet wines and jamón serrano, since 1971 and has seen the likes of Barak Obama, Tony Blair and Sean Connery pass through its doors. As well as photos of its famous visitors, old Feria posters, from as early as the late 1800’s also provide a glimpse of the fascinating history one of Spain’s biggest traditions.
Along the Alameda Principal another traditional sweet wine ‘drinkery’ is La Antigua Casa de La Guardia, where waiters serve a variety of different local wines straight from the barrel and keep tabs by writing in chalk on the wooden bar. Still hugely popular with locals, on Saturdays the long narrow bar is packed with shoppers sharing a drink of the local beverage, along with a tapa.
Fairs and festivals
Christmas is the perfect time to visit Malaga; the City Hall famously spends millions of euros on its Christmas decorations, often second only to Barcelona in terms of investment. The city is always lit up by a stunning light display running the length of both Calle Larios and the Paseo del Parque, which turns into the Alameda Principal at the bottom of Larios. At the top of Larios is Plaza de la Constitución, where a modern take on the traditional Christmas tree can be found.
The Spanish traditionally exchange presents on 6 January, which celebrates the arrival of the three Wise Men to the baby Jesus’s stable with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On 5 January towns and cities throughout Spain organise ‘cabalgatas,’ or parades, of the Wise Men and Malaga is no exception. Turn your brolly inside out, like the Spanish, to catch sweets as they are thrown from the floats as they pass by. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week leading up to and including Easter weekend, is possibly Malaga’s biggest, most symbolic and impressive festival. ‘Tronos,’ or enormous floats, bearing larger-than-life figures of the Virgin Mary and Christ are paraded around the streets of Malaga, day and night, to the sound of trumpets and drums. Malaga’s annual Feria takes place around 15-19 August when during the day the city centre is packed, while in the evening at late into the night, the party continues in the Feria ground, to the north west of the city. A sweet white wine called Cartojal is commonly drunk during Feria.
Famous people and museums
Malaga’s most famous sons are, without doubt, the painter Pablo Picasso, who was born in 1881 in a house on the recently refurbished Plaza de la Merced. The other is actor Antonio Banderas, who retains close links to the city and comes back to join in Semana Santa.
Although Picasso only spent his first 10 years in Malaga, the city has cashed in on this connection by turning the house where he was born into a small museum and foundation on the artist’s name. In nearby Calle San Agustín, the Picasso museum houses a number of his works.
The Thyssen Museum opened in 2011 thanks to a donation from the private collection of Baroness Thyssen, a member of the Spanish royal family. This, it could be argued, acted as a catalyst, not only to the opening up of a number of arty boutiques in the streets around the museum, but also the opening up of number of other museums and art galleries, including the Pompidou Centre, or the colourful cube, on the new and trendy Muelle Uno.
Other museums include the Centro de Artes Contemporaneos (CAC), which has driven the growth of a new area in Malaga, known as SOHO, just to the west of Plaza Marina and a great place to look for bike and segway tours of the city. The tourist information centre should be able to provide you with a map of the street art in the area. SOHO has led to the opening of a new hotel, Room Mate Valeria, one of Malaga’s trendiest spots, offering a spectacular roof terrace bar with panoramic views of the city and Mediterranean.
A number of other hotels in the city offer roof terraces, as does the gourmet shop and bar at the top of department store, El Corte Inglés. Transport connections Malaga has excellent transport connections, as well as having one of Spain’s biggest and busiest airports, it also has the modern María Zambrana train station, connecting the south of Spain with cities including Madrid, Seville, Barcelona and other destinations in Andalucía by the high-speed AVE train. There are plans to extend the line to Granada. Check www.renfe.com for timetables and prices as well as other routes. The well-served bus station, located next to the train station, also connects Malaga to other Spanish towns and cities and even other countries. This is one of the drop-off points for buses to and from towns in the Axarquía. The other is the bus stop opposite the port. For further information on tickets and times visit www.alsa.es.
There are plenty of car parks in Malaga city centre. Street parking is not widely available and most comes under the SARE or ‘blue zone’ pay and display areas.
For more information about Malaga, other museums, information on those mentioned in this article and the many things to see and do there, visit: www.malagaturismo.com. The tourist Information office can be found on Plaza de la Marina, near the port.
Written by Jennie Rhodes ©