Malaga is a compact gem of a city, offering everything from historical monuments to high-end stores. A day of sightseeing can easily be combined with a leisurely lunch and a trip through the shops.
The Cruise Terminal is about 2 km (1 ½ miles) from the Plaza de la Marina – about a 30-minute walk. Malaga’s main Tourist Office (Plaza de la Marina, 11) is located there, and is open daily from 9AM to 5PM. For those who don’t wish to walk, the Port Authority runs a shuttle bus from the Terminal to the Plaza: buses run every 15-20 minutes, and cost €5. Taxis are available in the Plaza, but be prepared to do some very hard negotiating: the last time I was there, drivers were asking for the same inflated prices that the ship charges for any of the popular tours.
Malaga was one of the last cities in al-Andalus to fall to the Christian monarch Ferdinand II of Aragon. Over time, the Reconquista had chipped away at Moorish holdings in Spain, and by the late 15th century, little was left save the Emirate of Granada, tucked between the Sierra Nevada and the sea. In April 1487, Christian forces marched against Malaga, the Emirate’s main port. A siege ensued in which the city’s inhabitants were forced from a walled suburb into the walled city. After four months, inhabitants were reduced to eating cats and dogs and chewing on palm leaves; on August 13, 1487, the defenders withdrew to the Gibralfaro so that the city could surrender. Ferdinand exacted a terrible price for their resistance, either killing or enslaving those who survived the siege. Those who sheltered inside the Alcazaba negotiated a separate peace on August 18, and were allowed to remain in the city as Mudejars (unconverted Muslims).
Today, little remains of Malaga’s Moorish past with the exception of those two strongholds, which dominate the heights of the city. The Alcazaba (Calle Alcazabilla, 2), from the Arabic “al-qasbah,” meaning citadel, was built atop a hill in the city center in the 11th century. Entrance is through the Puerta de la Boveda (Vault Gate), which was designed to delay invaders by forcing them to double back on themselves. From there, a winding pathway leads to the Puerta de las Columnas (Gate of Columns), whose recycled Roman columns support Moorish arches. Another defensive gate, the Torre de Cristo (Christ Tower) leads into the lower precincts of the Alcazaba, including the Plaza de Armas. From here, the path ascends to the palace proper, the long-ago home of kings and governors, via the Puerta de los Cuartos de Granada (Gate of the Halls of Granada). Three beautiful courtyards grace the hilltop palace: the Courtyard of the Fountains, the Courtyard of the Orange Trees, and the Courtyard of the Pool. The palace also holds a small archaeological museum. There is a second, elevator-equipped entrance to the Alcazaba at street level on Calle Guillen Sotelo, opposite Calle Francisco Bejarano Robles. (Open Apr-Oct, Tues-Sun, 9:30AM-8PM; Nov-Mar, 8:30AM-6PM; Closed Mondays – Admission: €2.20, Free on Sundays after 2PM – Combination Ticket with Gibralfaro: €3.50)
There have been fortifications on Mount Gibralfaro (CMNO Gibralfaro, 11) since Malaga’s founding, when the Phoenicians built a lighthouse there; in fact, the name itself means “Rock of the Lighthouse.” The present-day castle was built in the 10th century, during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III. It was enlarged in the 14th century, when a second defensive wall was built, linking it to the Alcazaba below. Stop at the Interpretation Centre at the entrance for an overview of the castle’s history in the 500 years since the Reconquista, then stroll along the restored ramparts to take in the view near and far – on a clear day, you can see as far as Africa! (Open Daily, 9AM-6PM – Admission to Gibralfaro and Interpretation Center: €2.20, Free on Sundays after 2PM – Combination Ticket with Alcazaba: €3.50)
During the Emirate, the Gibralfaro was connected to the Alcazaba by means of two underground passages. Today, the sites must be visited separately. There is a steep footpath that takes you up the hill, starting behind the Alcazaba at Paseo Don Juan Temboury; the climb takes about 40 minutes. Alternately, you can get there via the #35 bus, which stops opposite the Ayuntamiento on the Alameda Principal; the hop-on/hop-off City Sightseeing Bus; or by taxi.
There is one last vestige of Malaga’s Moorish past hidden away in plain sight – the imposing Moorish archway of the main entrance of the Ataranzanas Market (Calle de las Ataranzanas). This arch is the only one remaining of the seven arches of the old Moorish shipyard (“Ataranzanas” means “shipyard” in Arabic), which occupied the site back when much of present-day Malaga was under water. In the years following the Reconquista, the shipyard became a convent, a weapons magazine, a hospital and a medical school. In the 1860s, the government ordered the decrepit building torn down to make way for a new, modern market. Architect Joaquin Rucoba saved the last horseshoe arch and placed it at the center of the façade of the new glass and cast-iron building. Near the top of the arch are two tiny shields bearing the Arabic inscription “Only God is the victor, glory be to Him.” (Open Mon-Sat, 8AM-2PM – Admission: Free)
Long before the Moors and the Christians, Malaga was a Roman city. The old Roman Theatre (Calle Alcazabilla, 8) sits at the foot of the Alcazaba. Built during the reign of Augustus, it was pillaged by the Moors for building material: much of it ended up in the foundations of the Alcazaba. The remains of the Theatre – the oldest monument in Malaga – remained buried under dirt and debris for five centuries, until a construction project brought it to light in 1951. The construction was scrapped, the site excavated and restored, and Malaga’s old Roman Theatre finally reopened to the public on September 15, 2011. The modern Interpretation Center next to the Theatre provides some history on the Theatre and the excavations. Please note: The Theatre is NOT handicapped accessible. (Open May-Sept, Tues, Noon – 8PM, Wed-Sat, 9AM-8:30PM, Sun & Holidays, 10AM-6PM; Oct-Apr, Tues, 10AM-6PM, Wed-Sat, 9AM-7PM, Sun & Holidays, 10AM-4PM – Admission: Free)
Bullfighting is an ancient art: the first recorded instance of a bullfight may be the one recounted in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh of the 18th century BC. Bullfighting as we know it today, however, only dates to 1726, when Francisco Romero fought a bull on foot, rather than horseback. The bullfighting season at Malaga’s Plaza de Toros, La Malagueta (Paseo Reding, 8), runs from April through September. Also located in the Plaza de Toros is the Museo Taurino “Antonio Ordonez,” named in honour of the legendary bullfighter. The Museum covers six centuries of bullfighting history and contains photographs, posters and costumes worn by artists such as Juan Belmonte, Manolete, Curro Romero and Ordonez himself. (Bullring open Apr-Sept, 10AM-3PM and 6PM-8PM, and from 10AM-8PM during the August Feria – Tickets available at UniCaja Banks in Malaga and at La Malagueta’s Box Office – Museum Open Mon-Fri, 10AM-1PM – Admission: €1.80)
In 1487, just after the conquest of Malaga, the Catholic monarchs ordered that a cathedral be built on the site of the Aljama Mosque. Construction didn’t actually begin until 1528, and it took another 254 years before the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Calle Molina Lario, 9) was finished in 1782. Although the original plans called for two towers, only one was completed after funds were donated to the cause of American Independence – hence the Cathedral’s nickname, “La Manquita” (the One-Armed Woman). Among the Cathedral’s highlights are the Capilla Mayor and the Capilla del Sagrado Corazon, as well as wooden choir stalls carved in the 17th century. A small Cathedral Museum is housed in the original Chapter Room, and holds paintings, sculptures and religious objects. (Open Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM; Sat, 10AM-5PM; Closed to tourists on Sundays and Holidays – Admission to the Cathedral and Museum: €5)
Malaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and in 2003 the Museo Picasso Malaga (Calle San Agustin, 6) was established in his honor. The Museum holds 285 of the artist’s works, donated by members of his family. The Museum consists of the 16th century Palacio of Buena Vista and 18 adjoining buildings, and houses not just the collection but offices, a library/documentation center, an auditorium and an educational department. Remnants of the Phoenician city walls and towers, a Roman fish sauce factory, and a Nasrid palace unearthed during excavations are on view beneath glass panels in the basement. Just 200 meters down the street is the house where Picasso was born. The Museo Casa Natal (Plaza de la Merced, 15) houses some of Picasso’s prints, ceramics and illustrated books, as well as an extensive collection of contemporary art by more than 200 artists. (Museo Picasso open Tues-Thurs 10AM-8PM; Fri & Sat, 10AM-9PM; Sun & Holidays, 10AM-8PM; Closed Mondays – Admission: Collection €6, Exhibition €4.50, Combination €9 – Museo Casa Natal open Mon-Sun, 9:30AM-8PM – Admission €2, Free on Sundays)
The Nerja Caves were discovered by accident in 1959, when five boys hunting bats decided to explore a sinkhole. Today, the caves are one of the top attractions in Spain. The caves were formed about 5 million years ago, and stretch for almost 5 km; in 2012, radiocarbon dating of some of the cave paintings created an academic bombshell when it was shown that they are between 43,500 and 42,300 years old. If the pigments used in the paintings test out to the same age, it may be proof that the paintings were the handiwork of Neanderthals, and that they may have had the same capabilities for symbolism, imagination and creativity as modern man. For information on public transportation to the caves and their hours of operations, see this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187438-c133099/Malaga:Spain:Day.Trip.To.Nerja.Caves.By.Bus.html
The town of Nerja is a pretty seaside enclave perched on a hillside about 50 km from Malaga. Approximately 30% of the town’s residents are foreigners, and you will frequently hear English and German being spoken. Among the town’s attractions are the 19th century Aqueduct of El Aguila; the beautiful Hermitage of las Angustias, a Baroque chapel built in 1720; and the 17th century Church of El Salvador, located on the edge of El Balcon de Europa. Located in the center of Nerja, El Balcon may be the preeminent attraction in the town. Formerly known as “La Bateria” for a gun emplacement situated there, it earned its current sobriquet when a King Alfonso XII visited in 1885, took in the view across the sea, and declared it the “Balcony of Europe.”
Just 6 km from Nerja (and 56 km from Malaga) is Frigiliana, one of the best-preserved Moorish villages in Andalusia. The village is divided in two halves, with a 16th century mansion, now housing a molasses factory, at the dividing line. The 16th century Church of San Antonio is the village’s main church, and sits at the head of a square on the main street. Further up the hillside is El Zacatin, which is probably the most photographed street in all of Andalusia. Beautiful mosaics dot the older part of town, and tell the story of the Moorish uprising of 1569; those who survived the uprising were either enslaved or expelled. At the very top of the village are the ruins of the Moorish castle “El Fuerte,” where the last battle of the Moorish revolt took place. For more information on the ceramics and the story they tell, visit this link: http://www.turismofrigiliana.es/en/historia/la-batalla-en-12-paneles.html