Málaga - Provincia y Ciudad (770 BC-1487 AD)


Málaga is a city and sea-port, in the Province of the same name. A Province that includes Marbella, Mijas, Fuengirola, Torremolinos, Antequera, Ronda and Estapona. The region is famous for its tourism, with the Costa del Sol.

In the 1840’s it was said that Málaga was best seen from the sea “standing in the centre of a wide bay, flanked by lofty mountains, and by picturesque ruins of its ancient fortifications and castle, which cover the hill rising immediately to the East”. However visitors said that the only handsome feature in the city was the Alameda (public walk) with it magnificent public buildings. The rest was a labyrinth of narrow, badly paved, dirty streets. Even in the 1840’s the only building worth notice was the Cathedral. The population was around 65,000, and smuggling was very prevalent. The port could accommodate 450 ships. The city exported wines, raisins, almonds, grapes, figs, lemons, olive oil, brandy, anchovies, cummin-seed, aniseed, as well as soap and lead. Imports were salt-fish, iron hoops, iron-bar, nails, cotton fabrics, hides, earthenware, woollen cloth, butter, cheese, and linen.

In discussing the sweet Málaga wines, it was noted that labour was cheep at 2 1/2 reales a day (that was 4 1/2 pence). The US was already emerging as the major export market. At this time the Málaga Muscatel raisin was considered the best in the world.

Málaga manufactured linen and woollen cloth, sail-cloth, ropes, paper, leather, hats, soap, cigars, all on a limited scale. One travel guide noted that the fisheries gave employment to the “lower classes”. The fruit market was the best in Spain, and a barrel of anchovies would cost only 2 reales (about 4 pence). Bread and eggs were expensive, but fish, melon, pomegranates and the local wines were so cheap that they appeared to cost nothing.

In a telling analysis it was said that the people of Málaga were more Moorish than those of Seville, and “afforded innumerable pictures of idleness”. 100’s doing nothing, sitting on the ground, lolling against walls, begging and thieving (crime went almost unpunished). One observer noted that many criminals had been released from the penal settlement in Ceuta, and most appeared to settle in Málaga.

On the other hand, reports of the time indicated that the “better classes” were friendly and the women were witty and quite showy in dress.

Today Málaga is the 6th largest city in Spain (and the 2nd largest city in Andalusia, after Sevilla), and Spain’s 4th largest economy (after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia).

The Province of Málaga is the smallest of the 8 provinces of Andalusia (in order, Sevilla, Córdoba, Jaén, Granada, Huelva, Almería, Cádiz, and Málaga). In 2013 the Province had a population of about 1.6 million, and Málaga city around 570,000. Today the economy of Málaga is based upon tourism, transportation/logistics (port and airport), and to a lesser degree manufacturing and its science park.    

The most obvious physical features of the city and the province are the Montes de Mâlaga (Málaga Mountains) which are part of the Penibastic System, one of the three mountain ranges in Southern Spain (and including the highest point in the peninsula, with 3,478 m in the Sierra Nevada). The river Guadalmedina, flows out of the Montes de Mâlaga, and divides the city into two parts. The Montes de Málaga protects the city from cold weather, making Málaga the warmest city in Europe with a population over 500,000 (e.g. 17C° to 18°C in February). Both the city and the province stretch along the coastline, and the sea winds usually make the summer heat manageable (e.g. 26°C to 35°C in August).

I have used the Wikipedia article on the History of Málaga as a backbone, on to which I have tried to graft a few personal insights.


History of the city of Málaga (770 BC - 1487 AD)

The story of the city starts in 770 BC when it was founded by the Phoenicians from the city of Tyre (see History of Málaga). This makes Málaga one of the oldest cities in the world, and the second oldest city in Spain, after Cádiz.

I have used very extensively the Wikipedia article on the history of Málaga, adding a few extra insights, and some photographs.

The Phoenicians were traders, and they built trading posts all over the southern Mediterranean, from Carthage to Gibraltar, and including Malaka on the mouth of the Guadalmedina (Malaḥa or mlḥ probably derives from the Phoenician word for "salt" because fish was salted near the harbour). It is thought that they first established a small trading harbour on an islet of the River Guadalhorce (now silted over). Gradually the trading colony moved to the mainland, establishing Malaka.

The Phoenician’s were already well established in Gadir (Cádiz), and they also founded Sexi (Almuñécar) and Abdera (which later became the important Roman town of Hispania Baetica). The Phoenician necropolis Trayamar and the remains found in the Morro de Mezquitilla (both near Algarrobo) are some of the most important Phoenician remains in western Europe (check out this for a detailed description of the Morro de Mezquitilla site). Additional remains have been found in Chorreras (also near Algarrobo), in Toscanos (near Velez-Malaga), and in the necropolis Alumunecar. Necropolii show the evolution of Phoenician burial customs from cremation to burial. The tombs themselves were dug underground, walled will stone blocks and wooden columns and a gable, and accessed through a corridor sealed with stones. Vaults were reused, and probably were specific to families. It looks as if a ritual feast was held inside the tomb, and the crockery used was left inside.

Below we have the Trayamar Medallion, an Egyptian motif, embossed gold, grave good (7th C BC). What we see are two cobras emerging from a sacred mountain Baetylus (house of God), with two perched falcons. Above them we see Horus with open wings, and a sun/star and crescent moon, symbols of Astarte-Tanit (goddess of life and death). This can be found in the Museo de Málaga.

Below we have a so-called “boca de seta” (mushroom neck) jug from Morro de Mezquitilla. This Phoenician container would have been used for wine or perfume. There is ample evidence that this site was built over an earlier Copper Age village, abandoned during the Bronze Age, and then re-occupied by the Phoenicians. This jug can also be found in the Museum of Málaga.  

During the restoration of the Palacio de Buenavista to house the Museo Picasso, the original Phoenician walls were discovered. 

After a period of Carthaginian rule (certainly by 576 BC), Malaka became part of the Roman Empire. In its Roman period, 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.

The Lex Flavia Malacitana are two large bronze sheets (89 cm by 122 cm) dating from 74 AD, and found in Málaga in 1851 (they would probably have been part of a series of five sheets). The discovery was said to have been the first time we have found originals of Roman municipal laws.

By 74 AD Málaga had become completely Romanised (or Latinised), and at that time was part of Hispania Baetica.  In 69 AD a civil war broke out in Rome (the so-called Year of the Four Emperors) terminating with the accession of Vespasian, first of the Imperial Flavian dynasty. Already there had emerged a kind of Romanised elite in Baetica that ensured stability. We should not forget that both Trajan (53-117 AD) and Hadrian (76-138 AD) came from Baetian stock. Málaga was not one of the four major centers of power in the region (Cádiz, Córdoba, Écija and Sevilla), but its port is known to have shipped olive oil to every part of the Roman Empire. Vespasian granted lus latii (Latin rights including civic status) to inhabitants of Hispania (thus ensuring support from the elite and middle classes). It was Vespasian that also granted Lex Flavia Malacitana in 74 AD (along with grants across the whole of Hispania), although they only came into effect sometime between 81 and 96 AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian (51-96 AD).

Only headings (rúbicas) 51-69 were found (parts 51 to 66 are from the lus latii), and they treat election procedures and the voting for judges by popular assemblies, the appointment of municipal employers, rules for managing public funds, and how obligations and rights are distributed according to the economic capacity of the individuals. The depth of detail was quite impressive, for example it is stated that owners of destroyed buildings should rebuild within one year or face a fine, and that the start date for rebuilding must be posted on the street. More specifically to Málaga there is also mention of the way to deal with the returning of funds taken from municipal funds, and the accountability to be applied for business events paid by public funds. Málaga could also nominate local councilors without taking into account imperial appointments.    

The Roman Theatre is the most obvious Roman vestige in the city, and is one of 7 preserved Roman theatre’s in Andalusia. It was built during the 1st C AD, and was used for at least 200 years. It then fell into disuse, until the Arabs used it as a quarry for building the adjacent fortress. The theatre was rediscovered in 1951 during some excavations, and it has now been restored.

The three clearly defined areas of a Roman theatre can easily be seen. The stage, the orchestra where the local authorities sat on white marble seats, and the 13 rows of seats set in a perfect semi-circle around the stage.

Málaga was well known for its salted fish, and so it was “easy” for everyone to make garum, a fermented fish sauce used by Romans as a condiment. It was such a delicacy that anyone who produced it or traded it would become rich, and the best garum came from Baetica. Garum factories were all over Málaga town (see the garum stone vats above).

Below we have a bust of Trajan, from 2nd C AD. In many ways these were “political” in that they projected a idealised and fixed view of Trajan, and underlined the sense of resoluteness, fortitude, decisiveness, and stability. This can be seen in the Museo de Málaga.   

We know that Málaga shipped to Rome ceramics, almonds, wine, oil and fish prepared with garum. They built a defensive wall along the coast, but this did not stop the Vandals arriving around 411 AD. A few years later, the Visigoths became the new ”owners” of Málaga. Fighting between the Visigoth kings allowed the Byzantine occupation the region for just over a century. In the early 7th C AD, the Visigoths recover their territories until the Muslim invasion. Both the Visigoths and the Byzantines had continued and consolidated Mâlaga as a trading port.

By 714 the Moorish invaders ruled over Spain, including Málaga which they called Mālaqa (Arabic مالقة). The indigenous population fled into the mountains, and the city was settled by Arabs and Berbers. It took more than 200 years for the region to regain its economic and social importance. It was in 928 that Abd-al-Rahman III imposed an Islamic system of civil organisation on the region. The urban areas developed with artisanry, and trade and farming in rural areas benefited from intensive irrigation-based agriculture. Málaga became a Moorish citadel with a walled enclosure, a port with Nasrid shipyards, and a Alcazaba (a fortified centre) on Mount Gibralfaro. There were areas settled by Genoese and Jewish merchants, and even one writer called Málaga a “Paradise City”.

In 1026 Málaga became the capital of the Taifa of Málaga (1026-1239), an independent Muslim kingdom. Its independence went through four distinct periods: it was ruled by the Hammudid dynasty as the Rayya Cora in the Caliphate of Córdoba from 1026 to 1057, by the Zirí dynasty from 1073 to 1090, by self-rule with Banu Hassun from 1145 to 1153 and the Banu Zanum from 1229 to 1239, then it was finally conquered by the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

With the trading agreement of 1279 between Muhammad ibn Nasr (1194-1273) and the Republic of Genoa, Málaga became again one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean. By 1278 Málaga was shipping barley, nuts, wine, wool, silk fabrics, lacquer, leather, skins ... to Flanders and England. With imports such as perfumes, gold, spices, cotton, ... Málaga became the door of the Kingdom of Granada and the link between the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the North Sea. It gradually evolved as a centre of shipbuilding and international trade. Mālaqa (Málaga) remained under the rule of the Nasrid dynasty till the Reconquista of the Catholic Monarchs.

Nasrid Arch of the Atarazanas

The Mālaqa shipyards, the Atarazanas, were built during the reign (1354–1391) of Mohammed V to strengthen his political and military power. Constructed as a naval workshop, the main building was one of Mālaqa's largest and most impressive, and was noted for its seven monumental horseshoe arches. During this period the coast was further inland and the Atarazanas was at the edge of the sea, so low that the water flowed in and formed a basin capacious enough to contain 20 galleys. The walls around it were around 25 m high, and the arches, for the reception of ships, were 20 m high by 10 m wide, and 4 m thick, and each of these arches had its own gate. Málaga was best known for building light ships for patrolling the coast.

The Atarazanas market is in the place where the Nasrid shipyards stood until the 14th C and which, after the Christian conquest of the city, were used for storage and as an arsenal, military hospital and barracks. In 1868 it was decided to demolish the shipyards to give work "to the poorer classes", and build a new market, the Alfonso XII Market, in its place. Fortunately it was finally decided to keep the ancient monumental door of the old shipyards and place it in the centre of the main façade of the new building. The architect Joaquin Rucoba designed it in a neo-Arab style, although using a great deal of glass and iron. The market opened its doors to the public in 1879, and after being renovated between 2008 and 2010, is certainly one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

By 1445 Málaga was an important part of a regional and international trade network, established by the Genoese as a cooperative institution known as consulados (consulates) to connect merchants.

This is a unique commemorative plaque dating from 969 AD. The text tells us that an individual took over the building of a minaret with “his own will and his own money”. This can be seen in the Museo de Málaga.

During the occupation of Al Andalus (Muslim Spain) Málaga became a centre for Islamic pottery, more specifically Hispano-Moresque ware. The Moors introduced both glazing with an opaque white tin-glaze, and lustreware, which imitated metallic finishes. Until 1450 Málaga was a major centre for Islamic-style decorated pottery. By 1492 the most important pottery factories had moved to Manises, near Valencia, from where they kept exporting their ceramics all over Europe.

Fine ceramics made in Mālaqa were frequently given as diplomatic gifts, and we know Eleanor of Castile received earthenware from Málaga in 1289 when she was queen consort of Edward I of England. Italy was passionate about Hispano-Moresque pottery, and started in the 13th C to massively import it through Majorca, a central Italy-Spain trading hub. From the 13th C Italian potters had been studying and copying the Hispano-Moresque ceramics, which they called majolicas, first strictly meaning lusterware, then tin glazed earthenware in general. Their technique was constantly improved, laying the ground for the Italian Majolicas that became so popular during the Renaissance.

The second example above is the famous “loza dorata”, a golden amber yellow lusterware, from Málaga. Moorish potters applied a tin glaze over a design usually traced in cobalt blue. After the second firing a luster glaze made with silver and copper pigments was applied by brush over the tin glaze and the piece was fired again. This splendid finish was first experimented to overcome a very practical issue. The Holy Qur’an forbade the use of precious materials on the table, but “loza dorata” looked precious but was made of ordinary materials.

The third item, a tray for washing, was made in Málaga, and can be found in the Museo de Málaga. It dates from the 13th C and was probably used for washing at the entrance to a mosque. 

By the 15th C about 15,000 people lived in Mālaqa, most of them were Muslims strictly observant of religious orthodoxy as taught by the Fuqahā', the expert jurists of Islamic law. There was a sizable minority of Jews, while the presence of Christians was reduced to those captives taken in war, enslaved, and forced to labour in the shipyards. The small colony of foreign traders was mostly Genoese. The governor of the city was typically a Moorish prince serving as a representative of the Sultan, and he resided in the Alcazaba (see below) with his retinue of personal secretaries and lawyers. The large massive city walls, with their many towers, monumental gates and moat, all surmounted by the fortress of Gibralfaro, made the defenses of the city nearly impregnable.

The mountainous terrain around Mālaqa did not favour agriculture, but the Muslim peasants organised an efficient irrigation system, and with their simple tools were able to grow crops on the slopes. Spring wheat was their staple diet. An unusual feature of Mālaqi viticulture was the interplanting of grape vines and fig trees, grown mostly in the Axarquía area east of Mālaqa. The raising of livestock played only a secondary role in the local economy. The production of olives was low, and olive oil was often imported from the Aljarafe. Other fruit and nut trees, such as figs, hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and almonds were abundant and provided important winter foodstuffs, as did the mulberry trees introduced by the Arabs, their fruit being used to make juice. Trade in hides and skins and leather working was a major industry in Mālaqa, as was metal-smithing, especially of knives and scissors. We have already mentioned that gold inlaid ceramics and porcelain were important to the economy of Mālaqa.

In 1348, while the black plague ravaged Europe, the Moorish citadel Alcazaba and the castle of Gibralfaro took their final shape. The city had several gates that allowed passage through the walls, for example the Puerta Oscura (Dark Gate) and the Puerta del Mar (Sea Gate).

The Puerta Oscura was one of the most important gates for those climbing up to castle on Gibraldaro. I’m not sure if there is much to see now, but in 1937 Los Jardines de Puerta Oscura were inaugurated as a series of hillside terraced gardens. Today the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso, at the side of the Ayuntamiento, are often (incorrectly) included in Los Jardines de Puerta Oscura. Below we can see the new terracing with the new Galeria Puerta Oscura (road tunnel), and right next door the new Museo del Patrimonio Municipal.

Here we have the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso with the Ayuntamiento.

The citadel and the castle were connected by a corridor known as La Coracha between two zig-zagging walls that followed the contours of the land (see below). Erected in the 11th C, the Alcazaba combined defensive fortifications with residential palaces and inner gardens. It was said to have had 110 large towers, and a great number of turrets.

Vimeo, the video community, has a series on Battle Castles, including an interesting 360° view of a reconstruction of Málaga.