Malaga: Sites We Visited

Cathedral: The interior of Malaga’s cathedral is a wonderful soaring space, full of gilding and carved wood. The many side chapels offer a mini course in the history of religious art, featuring altarpieces from the 15th to 20th centuries. It’s cool and quiet and awe inspiring. What is most striking about the exterior is that one of the two bell towers is unfinished. The main facade is entirely symmetrical, except that the tower on the left is complete, whereas the one on the right stops in the middle of the columns.

Apparently, that’s where the church ran out of money in the late 1700s. As a result, the cathedral is nicknamed La Manquita (the one-armed lady). Next to the cathedral is a lovely little terrace with orange trees and fountains, a remnant of the mosque that originally stood on the site of the cathedral. Across from it on Plaza del Obispo is the former bishop’s palace, with ochre-colored walls and some interesting carved niches. (It’s closed for renovation.)

Roman Theater/Alcazaba/Castillo de Gibralfaro: 19 centuries’ worth of sights on one hillside, enough for a full day of sightseeing. At the base of the hill is a Roman theater from the 1st century AD, which was discovered in the 1950s (amusingly, under the city’s Casa de la Cultura, which was finally torn down in 1995). The theater is still being excavated, but you can sit in some of its seats and watch the archeologists at work.

Above the theater is the Moorish Alcazaba citadel, built mainly in the 11th century, expanded in the 13th and 14th centuries, and restored early in the 20th century. Its walls and gates were built from whatever rubble lay to hand, so the gatehouses in particular incorporate white marble Roman columns set amid crumbly limestone and brick.

Enough courtyards and fountains and rooms remain to let you imagine what the palace/fortress might have looked like in its prime. Old pieces of carved plaster wall tiles or colorfully glazed floor tiles have been tacked here and there to let you imagine the whole. Strong breezes from the sea rustle the palms and cypress trees; there are good views down to the city. This would be a lovely cool, airy place to escape in the heat and dust of summer.

If the Alcazaba is your first taste of Moorish architecture, you’ll probably find it interesting. If you see it after Granada or Cordoba, it might be disappointing, though the views would still be nice.

For even better views, hike farther up the hill (or take a bus from the center of the city) to the Castillo de Gibralfero. This fortress dates to the time when Malaga was the main port for the Emirate of Granada; it served as a lighthouse as well as a fortification. Little remains except the walls, but they offer 360-degree views over the city, the hills and mountains behind it, and the sea in front.

There’s also a military museum with uniforms and accoutrements (mainly reproductions) of the sort used by Spanish soldiers through the centuries. The museum does have a nice collection of old paintings and maps of Malaga, which let you chart how the shape and structure of the city has changed over the years. This is also the only military museum I’ve seen that displays painted collections of 15mm figures, which my wargamer friends would find highly interesting or amusing. (The painting isn’t up to your standards, Peter.)

Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares: This little-visited museum on Pasillo de Santa Isabel (near the old and new produce markets) is the sort of place we always seek out. It’s a typical 17th-century house turned into a museum of local culture. Displays include a wide variety of household objects, old clothing, and tools of different trades, such as agriculture, blacksmithing, basket making, weaving, pottery, and oil- and wine-pressing. It’s well worth a few euros to get a sense of how people in this area lived in the past few centuries. None of the signage is in English, so if you have a pocket dictionary, be sure to bring it along.

Picasso Museum: Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, and this fairly new museum is the city’s pride and joy. The small collection, which covers the artist’s many different styles and media, was donated by Picasso’s daughter-in-law and grandson. We’re neither of us great Picasso fans. In these days when Cubism and Surrealism are too familiar to look new or shocking, it’s hard to understand why his art was so popular and famous. But the collection was still interesting.

Even better is the 16th-century palacio that houses the museum (don’t forget to look up at the carved wooden ceilings). In the basement are the preserved foundations of Phoenician and Roman buildings that once stood where the museum is now. The successive residents of Malaga—and many other old cities—just kept building over top of one another.

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