Málaga is a municipality, capital of the Province of Málaga, in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. With a population of 569,130 in 2015, it is the second-most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth-largest in Spain. The southernmost large city in Europe, it lies on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) of the Mediterranean, about 100 kilometres (62.14 miles) east of the Strait of Gibraltar and about 130 km (80.78 mi) north of Africa.
Málaga’s history spans about 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. It was founded by the Phoenicians as Malaka about 770 BC, and from the 6th century BC was under the hegemony of Ancient Carthage. Then, from 218 BC, it was ruled by the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire as Malaca (Latin). After the fall of the empire and the end of Visigothic rule, it was under Islamic rule as Mālaqah (مالقة) for 800 years, but in 1487, the Crown of Castille gained control after the Reconquista. The archaeological remains and monuments from the Phoenician, Roman, Arabic and Christian eras make the historic center of the city an “open museum”, displaying its history of nearly 3,000 years.
This important cultural infrastructure and the artistic heritage have culminated in the nomination of Málaga as a candidate for the 2016 European Capital of Culture.
The internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol and the actor Antonio Banderas were born in Málaga. The magnum opus of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, “Malagueña”, is named for the music of this region of Spain.
The most important business sectors in Málaga are tourism, construction and technology services, but other sectors such as transportation and logistics are beginning to expand. The Andalusia Technology Park (PTA), located in Málaga, has enjoyed significant growth since its inauguration in 1992. Málaga is the main economic and financial centre of southern Spain, home of the region’s largest bank, Unicaja, and the fourth-ranking city in economic activity in Spain behind Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.
The Phoenicians from Tyre founded the city as Malaka about 770 BC. The name Malaḥa or mlḥ is probably derived from the Phoenician word for “salt” because fish was salted near the harbour. (Cf. “salt” in other Semitic languages, e.g. Hebrew מלח mélaḥ or Arabic ملح malaḥ).
After a period of Carthaginian rule, Malaka became part of the Roman Empire. In its Roman stage, the city (Latin name, Malaca) showed a remarkable degree of development. Transformed into a confederated city, it was under a special law, the Lex Flavia Malacitana. A Roman theatre was built at this time. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it was ruled first by the Visigoths and then by the Byzantine Empire (550–621). It was regained by the Visigoths in 621 and ruled by them until the Umayyad Muslim conquest in 711.
In the 8th century, during the Muslim Arabic rule over Spain, the city became an important trade center. Málaga was first a possession of the Caliphate of Córdoba. After the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, it became the capital of a distinct kingdom ruled by the Zirids. During this time, the city was called Mālaqah (Arabic مالقة). From 1025 it was the capital of the autonomous Taifa of Málaga, until its conquest by the Emirate of Granada in 1239.
The traveller Ibn Battuta, who passed through around 1325, characterised it as “one of the largest and most beautiful towns of Andalusia the conveniences of both sea and land, and is abundantly supplied with foodstuffs and fruits”. He praised its grapes, figs, and almonds; “its ruby-coloured Murcian pomegranates have no equal in the world.” Another exported product was its “excellent gilded pottery”. The town’s mosque was large and beautiful, with “exceptionally tall orange trees” in its courtyard.
Málaga was one of the Iberian cities where Muslim rule persisted the longest, having been part of the Emirate of Granada. While most other parts of the peninsula had already been won back during the reconquista, the Moors still occupied Málaga. Málaga was retaken by Christian forces on 18 August 1487, The Muslim inhabitants resisted assaults and artillery bombardments before hunger forced them to surrender, virtually the entire population was sold into slavery or given as “gifts” to other Christian rulers, five years before the fall of Granada.
On 24 August 1704 the indecisive Battle of Málaga, the largest naval battle in the War of the Spanish Succession, took place in the sea south of Málaga.
After the coup of July 1936 the government of the Second Spanish Republic retained control of Málaga. Its harbour was a base of the Spanish Republican Navy at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. It suffered heavy bombing by Italian warships which took part in breaking the Republican navy’s blockade of Nationalist-held Spanish Morocco and took part in naval bombardment of Republican-held Málaga. After the Battle of Málaga and the Francoist takeover in February 1937, over seven thousand people were killed. The city also suffered shelling later by Spanish Republican naval units. The well-known British journalist and writer Arthur Koestler was captured by the Nationalist forces on their entry into Málaga, which formed the material for his book Spanish Testament. The first chapters of Spanish Testament include an eye-witness account of the 1937 fall of Málaga to Francisco Franco’s armies during the Spanish Civil War.
After the war, Málaga and Koestler’s old haunts of Torremolinos and the rest of the Costa del Sol enjoyed the highest growth of the tourism sector in Spain.
The old historic centre of Málaga reaches the harbour to the south. In the north it is surrounded by mountains, the Montes de Málaga (part of the Baetic Cordillera) lying in the southern base of the Axarquía hills, and two rivers, the Guadalmedina – the historic center is located on its left bank – and the Guadalhorce, which flows west of the city into the Mediterranean, in the Churriana district.
The oldest architectural remains in the city are the walls of the Phoenician city, which are visible in the cellar of the Museo Picasso Málaga.
The Roman theatre of Málaga, which dates from the 1st century BC, was rediscovered in 1951.
The Moors left posterity the dominating presence of the Castle of Gibralfaro, which is connected to the Alcazaba, the lower fortress and royal residence. Both were built during the Taifa period (11th century) and extended during the Nasrid period (13th and 14th centuries). The Alcazaba stands on a hill within the city. Originally, it defended the city from the incursions of pirates. Later, in the 11th century, it was completely rebuilt by the Hammudid dynasty. Occupying the eastern hillside that rises from the sea and overlooks the city, the Alcazaba was surrounded by palms and pine trees.
Like many of the military fortifications that were constructed in Islamic Spain, the Alcazaba of Málaga featured a quadrangular plan. It was protected by an outer and inner wall, both supported by rectangular towers, between which a covered walkway led up the slope to the Gibralfaro (this was the only exchange between the two sites). Due to its rough and awkward hillside topography, corridors throughout the site provided a means of communications for administrative and defensive operations, also affording privacy to the palatial residential quarters.
The entrance of the complex featured a grand tower that led into a sophisticated double bent entrance. After passing through several gates, open yards with beautiful gardens of pine and eucalyptus trees, and the inner wall through the Puerta de Granada, one finds the 11th- and 14th-century Governor’s palace. It was organised around a central rectangular courtyard with a triple-arched gateway and some of the rooms have been preserved to this day. An open 11th-century mirador (belvedere) to the south of this area affords views of the gardens and sea below. Measuring 2.5 square metres (27 square feet), this small structure highlighted scalloped, five-lobed arches. To the north of this area were a waterwheel and a Cyclopean well (penetrating forty metres or 130 feet below ground), a hammam, workshops and the monumental Puerta de la Torre del Homenaje, the northernmost point of the inner walls. Directly beyond was the passage to the Gibralfaro above.
The Church of Santiago (Saint James) is an example of Gothic vernacular Mudéjar, the hybrid style that evolved after the Reconquista incorporating elements from both Christian and Islamic tradition. Also from the period is the Iglesia del Sagrario, which was built on the site of the old mosque immediately after the city fell to Christian troops. It boasts a richly ornamented portal in the Isabeline-Gothic style, unique in the city.
The Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace were planned with Renaissance architectural ideals but there was a shortfall of building funds and they were finished in Baroque style.
The Basílica y Real Santuario de Santa María de la Victoria, built in the late 17th century, has a chapel in which the vertical volume is filled with elaborate Baroque plasterwork.
Other sights include:
Walls. Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Spanish remains of the defensive compounds of the city.
Church of the Sacred Heart.
San Felipe Neri Church.
Church of the Holy Martyrs.
La Concepción, botanical and historical garden.
Anglican Cemetery of St. George.
Palm grove and Muelle Uno. Port of Málaga.
San Miguel Cemetery.
La Malagueta bullring.
Pedregalejo, old fishing district.
In the early part of the 21st century, the city of Málaga invested heavily (more than 100 million euros in 10 years) in the arts to draw tourists and establish itself as a cultural Andalucia destination with 28 museums. Some notable and recently opened museums are:
Museo de Málaga (Fine Arts and Archeology museum) at the Palacio de la Aduana.
Museo Carmen Thyssen, opened in 2011, sister museum to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid, located at Palacio de Villalón.
Museo Picasso Málaga, opened in 2003, at the Palacio de los Condes de Buenavista, near the Cathedral.
Centre Pompidou Málaga, opened in 2015, a branch of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, located in El Cubo, a cuboid glass structure in Málaga port.
Fundación Picasso and Picasso Birthplace Museum.
Colección del Museo Ruso (Collection of the Russian Museum) Saint Petersburg/Málaga, opened in 2015, located in the Tabacalera building one km west of the city center..
Museum Jorge Rando, opened in 2015.
Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares (Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions).
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga (CAC Málaga), opened 2003, free admission, right behind the Alameda train station in an area known as Soho de Málaga. The most visited museum in Andalusia.
Annual cultural events
The Holy Week celebration, the August Málaga Fair (Feria de Málaga) and the Málaga Film Festival are the three major events held in the city.
Holy Week has been observed for five centuries in Málaga. Processions start on Palm Sunday and continue until Easter Sunday. Images depicting scenes from the Passion are displayed on huge ornate tronos (floats or thrones), some weighing more than 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds). Famous is the royal archbrotherhood of Our-Lady of Hope Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza. They have more than 5,000 members and 600 nazarenos. These tronos highlight the processions that go through the streets led by penitents dressed in long robes, with capirote, followed by women in black carrying candles. Drums and trumpets play music and occasionally someone spontaneously sings a mournful saeta dedicated to the floats as they make their way slowly round the streets. Some Holy Week tronos are so huge that they must be housed in places outside the churches, as they are taller than the entrance doors. Famous is the military procession of “la legion” (Royal congregation of Mena) playing marches and singing their anthem (El Novio de la Muerte) during procession.
During the celebration of the Feria de Málaga in August, the streets are transformed into traditional symbols of Spanish culture and history, with sweet wine, tapas, and live flamenco shows. The day events consist of dancing, live music (like Flamenco or Verdiales, traditional music from Málaga) and bullfights at La Malagueta, while the night fair is moved to the Recinto Ferial, consisting of restaurants, clubs, and an entire fair ground with rides and games.
The Málaga Film Festival (Festival de Málaga Cine Español (FMCE)), dedicated exclusively to films produced in Spain, is one of the most important festivals in the country. It is held annually during a week in March or April.
The Fiesta Mayor de Verdiales takes place every year on 28 December during which Spain’s April Fool Day is celebrated.
The Fiestas de Carnaval, in which people dress in all types of costumes, takes place prior to the holy 40 days of Lent every February. A contest is held in the Teatro Cervantes between groups of singers, quartets and choirs who compete in the singing of ironic songs about social and political issues. The Carnival takes to the streets of Málaga on the week before Ash Wednesday, ending on Malagueta beach with the burial of the anchovy (entierro de la sardina).
The city is an important tourist destination, known as “the capital of the Costa del Sol”. An estimated 6 million tourists visit the city each year. Tourists usually visit the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and the Museo Picasso Málaga, the Carmen Thyssen Museum, the old town or the beaches. The Málaga harbour is also the second busiest cruise port of the Iberian Peninsula.
A popular walk leads up the hill to the Gibralfaro castle (a Parador), offering panoramic views over the city. The castle is next to the Alcazaba, the old Muslim palace, which in turn is next to the inner city of Málaga. Other nearby attractions are the Roman Theatre, the old Jewish quarter, the Cathedral, and the Church of Santiago in mudéjar style. A popular walk follows the Paseo del Parque (a promenade that runs alongside a grand park with many palm trees and statues) to the harbour, ending in Calle Larios, the main commercial street of the city. There is also a curious museum, the Museum of the Holy Week, which includes an impressive display of Baroque ecclesiastical items.