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Surrounded by history - Every invader left a mark on Málaga city

Surrounded by history – Every invader left a mark on Málaga city

August 22, 2018

A walk through Málaga city today is like taking a trip back through history to the times of the many settlers who have called it home.


Historic Moorish Alcazaba overlooking Malaga city and port

Málaga’s Alcazaba has been keeping watch over the city and its port since the 11th century


Málaga city has had a very long and varied history and its heritage is highly visible as you walk around its streets. The site of the Alcazaba fortress, perched on its hill overlooking Málaga and the sea, is probably the most historic in the city although the fortifications have been changed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. Although there are indications that prehistoric man once lived in the area, the first known settlers were the Phoenicians who landed in 800 BC and built a fortress on the hill where the Alcazaba now stands. The Phoenicians called their new home Malaca, possibly from the word ‘malac’, meaning salt, and established a thriving fish-salting centre. Three thousand years ago seems an immensely long time, but vestiges of the Phoenician rule such as pottery which was excavated from beneath their fortress and their burial grounds can still be found in the city, in the museum of the Gibralfaro castle.

The Greeks followed the Phoenicians, and renamed the town Mainake, but much of it was then destroyed by the Carthaginians who in turn were driven out by the Romans who arrived in the 3rd century BC and stayed for 600 years. Malaca became part of the province of Baetica, and in the 1st century BC the city was promoted to a municipality and named Flavia Malacitana. In the times of Augustus, the Romans enlarged the fortess on the hill and built a theatre below. This was discovered in 1951during works to build a garden at the entrance to the Citizens‘ Arts Centre, and a large part of the theatre is now on view to the public. Other reminders of Roman rule in their Flavia Malacitana can also be seen in the Moorish Alcazaba, where some column shafts remain.

Then came the Moors

Málaga was a flourishing and important town during Roman rule, but its commercial activity boomed even more when the Arab, Berber and Syrian tribes arrived to spread their religion of Islam in 748 A.D. During the 800 years of Muslim rule, Malaga’s population increased considerably; it became an important seaport and the Alcazaba we see today, which was then a fortress and palace, was built as were the Gibralfaro castle and the city walls with their five huge gates. The walls began at the sea and continued to the Alcazaba, up the left bank of the Guadalmedina river to where Calle Alamos is situated today, and from there to Calle Granada, which was given that name because a gate was built there to give access to the road to Granada. One gate, ‘La Puerta de Atarazanas’ which was built in the 13th Century, now forms the entrance to the city’s Central Market. The Gibralfaro castle used to overlook and protect the walled precinct, and today the remains of the castle still keep watch over the city and are a major attraction for visitors.

By the 14th century, Málaga had a population of about 15,000 and was called Malaqa, and in the 15th century, in 1487, the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, re-conquered the city after a fierce battle. They refortified Malaqa because it had become of strategic importance, and the city’s first large square was built. That square is today the Plaza de la Constitucion. The convents of Victoria and Trinidad were formed and Christian churches began to be founded. Today’s religious brotherhoods date back to the establishment of religious schools after the construction of the Christian churches. Those of Santos Martires, Santiago and San Juan are still standing today and the cathedral, which was built on the site of the city’s main mosque, was begun in the 16th century. Many 16th century palaces can still be seen in Málaga today, including one which is now the Fine Arts Museum.

During the 16th and 17th centuries Málaga suffered a serious economic downturn combined with epidemics and bad harvests, and it wasn’t until the 18th century when things began to thrive again The city harbour was built  in the 17th century and extended in the 18th as trade grew, and during the 19th century industrial areas and separate residential districts of enormous villas and hotels grew up and many of the city streets which are well known today, such as Calle Marques de Larios and La Alameda, were constructed.

Málaga shows its 3,000 years of history in every street and every square, from the site of the Alcazaba to the Plaza de la Merced, the lively square where Picasso was born but which also bears a reminder of sad times, with its monument to General Torrijos and 48 of his men who were shot illegally by troops of Ferdinand VII in 1831. A wander round this lovely city is a stroll through the past, seeing the vestiges of good times and bad and is a truly fascinating experience.