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Architectural clues throughout Malaga display a blend of three distinct cultures
24.06.14 - 10:20 -
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A city of cultural encounters
Malaga port. :: SUR
The history of Malaga has been influenced by the fact that it is one of the oldest cities in Europe, the gateway from the Mediterranean sea to the Iberian península.
The province has been inhabited since time immemorial, as can be seen from the dolmens in Antequera and the wall paintings inside the Nerja Cave, which could be the first work of art known to Man. However, the Phoenicians were the first to settle in this region as a civilisation and they were followed by a succession of peoples who found the pleasant Malaga landscapes an ideal place to establish themselves and to trade.
This multiculturalism was at its greatest between the 7th and 9th centuries when, after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs conquered the area and founded the kingdom of Al-Andalus, which included Malaga. Three different peoples with their respective cultures and beliefs coexisted in most of the province. Muslims and Jews mainly lived in the streets of the city, in relatively differentiated districts and areas. The Christians were the minority in those days, but they became the main inhabitants of the city with the arrival of the Catholic monarchs.
When the Arabs took control, they set up an Islamic system which was based on the development of the towns and the proliferation of irrigated fields and farms in rural areas. They built a wall around the city, guarded by five huge gates of which the names Puerta Oscura and Puerta del Mar still remain. In addition, an important pottery industry grew up in the rural area, beside the districts in which the Genoese merchants and the Jewish community lived.
Muslim Malaga
A walk through the Moorish remains of the city just has to begin at the Alcazaba, the palace and fortress of the rulers. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries, it sits upon the remains of a previous Phoenician building on the side of the Gibralfaro hill, in the historic city centre. It is designed as a series of rectangular patios and passageways around its gardens and ponds. The military aspect of this palace makes it one of the most important Moorish remains in Spain, with its towers, battlements and other defensive features. Although it no longer remains today, it is known that in the same area there used to be a district with an advanced system of sewage disposal and with latrines in almost every house, unlike fuedal Europe of that time.
The Alcazaba is connected with the Gibralfaro Castle via a steep mountain passageway, but it is advisable to visit it by using the number 35 bus line. This construction must have existed before the Roman domination, but it was the Moors who strengthened the fortress and converted it into a castle. For a while it was considered the most impregnable fortress in Spain, with its two lines of walls and eight towers. Divided into two parts, the upper part is known as the principal patio and this is where the Information Centre is located, and where its history is shown through its inhabitants. The lower area, or courtyard, held the troops’ barracks and the stables.
Very close to the Alameda Principal and Calle Larios, the backbone of the city, is Calle Carretería, which, like its neighbours, still retains the layout of the wall of the Moorish Medina, of which some stretches still remain along the way. As one end is a passageway leading to the Guadalmedina river, whose name means ‘the river of the city’ in Arabic. It passes beside the Atarazanas market, which was built on a naval workshop of Nasrid origin, something which influenced its design and its name. The architecture of its main entrance is in Neo-Arabic style with Nasrid and Caliphal elements.
Jewish Malaga
The Jewish presence in Malaga is documented in 612, a century before the Moorish invasion. After this took place, they conformed to the new regulations and settled in the Jewish Quarter of the city. This district was between Calle Alcazabilla and Calle Granada, including the streets of Santiago, Zegrí and Postigo de San Agustín. The latter two, and in general the whole area, still retains a mediaeval ambience. The synagogue was built in the Alcazabilla gardens and the Jewish cemetery was on the Alcazaba hill.
When Malaga was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs, the Sephardic community were evicted from their homes and expelled. The houses and gardens were given to Christian families, who later built over them.
From this period, the layout of the streets of the district still remains, characterised by narrow cobbled passageways which offered shelter and fresh air and were organised around the religious centre. At the moment, a Mudejar tower has just been restored and it houses the Ben Gabirol Visitors Centre. This building, as well as being used for tourist information purposes, is an information centre about the Jewish Quarter of Malaga and the figure of the Jewish-Andalusí philosopher and poet Ben Gabriol, who is also known as Avicebrón. Just beside this building is the recently restored Plaza de la Judería, and there are plans to build a synagogue and Sephardic museum in the area.
Christian Malaga
After the first centuries of Muslim domination, few Christians remained in Malaga. Some moved to the mountainous region of the province, others fled to Christian lands and most of those who remained converted to Islam.
In 1487 the Catholic Monarchs reconquered the city, using the Moorish fortress of Gibralfaro as a detention centre for the population and the vanquished army.
During the process of Christianisation, numerous churches and religious centres were constructed but without a doubt the one which best represents Christian control of the city is the Cathedral, La Catedral de la Encarnación. Built over the Main Mosque of the city, its architecture is a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic, due to the 254 years it took to build. The southern tower was never finished, which is why the cathedral is known locally as ‘La Manquita’, or ‘Little one-armed lady’.
As soon as the Christians took control, they built four churches in the city: El Sagrario, which is dedicated to San Pedro, San Juan, Santiago and Santos Mártires. Later, the urban layout of the city changed and new buildings were constructed. The churches and monasteries which had been built outside the walled area were included into it, bringing the population together and creating districts such as La Trinidad and El Perchel, which are now the oldest in Malaga.

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