Things to Do in Malaga
Picasso’s birthplace is located on the elegant Plaza de la Merced barely 200 yards (180 m) from the awesome Museo Picasso Malaga, which holds over 150 of his artworks. Standing at the end of Calle Alcazabilla, the sweeping square is dominated by an obelisk honoring General Torrijos, an aristocratic revolutionary who fought against French invasion of Spain and was publically executed here for his pains in 1831.
This bourgeois, tree-fringed piazza was once site of Málaga’s main produce market and is today lined with smart, shuttered and balconied townhouses, cafés and top-end restaurants. It lies at the very heart of the city and each night locals gather here to promenade and chat in the tapas bars. The last Sunday of the month sees Málaga’s main craft market held in the square, where local delicacies such as Serrano ham and tortilla are also on sale.
It stands to good reason that there would be a museum of the great Picasso in Andalucia’s Malaga: this is where the painter, draughtsman, and sculptor was born, after all. Located only 200 yards from the Plaza de la Merced, Picasso’s actual birthplace, the Museo Picasso Malaga holds over 150 works of the famous Picasso on permanent display and presents new rotating exhibits year-round.
Picasso was revolutionary in his time for co-founding the Cubist movement and for the wide variety of artistic styles he helped explore. And while his most well-known works are typically referred to his period paintings, Picasso worked across a variety of mediums. Sketchbooks from his early years where he focused on realism, a variety of cubist ceramic pieces, and some intricate engravings are on permanent display at the Museo Picasso Malaga, and many of these pieces were personal gifts from his living descendants.
If you’re in Malaga, chances are you’ve not missed the town’s citadel towering in the center of the city. Known as the Alcazaba de Malaga, and built around the middle of the 11th century to act as a palace to the region’s governors, today the Alcazaba receives visitors year-round and is noted for its impressive gardens and panoramic views of both the city and the sea.
La Alcazaba was built atop the vestiges of an old Roman fortress, and the proof of this is most evident in the Puerta de las Columnas gate (gate of the columns). Its name, in fact, refers and pays homage to the pre-existing roman structure used to help build the palace as it stands today. This gate and another lay before visitors on their way up to the structure which is actually two distinct architectural pieces: Alcazaba itself, and Gibralfaro Castle. Inside, you’ll see some of the noted gardens, fountains and towers in traditional Moorish design before entering the main lobby of the palace.
Málaga’s gleaming white-stone cathedral was built over many years on the former site of a mosque after Isabella and Ferdinand had expelled the Moors from Andalusia in the 1480s. All that is now left of the mosque is the pretty Patio de los Naranjos, still filled with sweet-smelling orange trees. The cathedral is affectionately known locally as La Manquita (the one-armed lady) as it only has one – granted very elaborate and Baroque – bell tower.
The original architect of the cathedral was Diego de Siloe and construction began in 1528; it continued slowly over the next two and a half centuries and this can clearly be seen in the mish-mash of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture on the façade. The architecture José Martín de Aldehuela, who built the Puente Nuevo in Ronda, also had a hand in finishing this cathedral.
Sitting underneath the Alcazaba (fortified citadel), the Roman theater is Málaga’s oldest monument and was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus. It was at the cultural heart of the city for 300 years until the Moors began to plunder the stone to build the Alcazaba between the eighth and 11th centuries; Roman columns taken from the theater can clearly be seen in the Puerta de las Columnas (gate of the columns) at the entrance to the citadel. The theater was abandoned, buried and forgotten for centuries before finally being rediscovered in 1951 during a civic construction project.
After decades of restoration work, the theater stands proud once more; it measures 102 ft (31 m) across and 52 (16 m) in height; the stage, orchestra pit, entrance gateways and crescent-shaped, tiered auditorium – which seats 220 spectators – have all been carefully resurrected. It was re-opened in 2011 and entrance is through an Interpretation Center.
The Castillo de Gibralfaro sits high above the seaside port of Malaga and can easily be seen by any traveller meandering about the city. It shares its history (and in fact, its very rudiments) with an adjoining archaeological treasure, the Malaga Alcazaba, also known for its stunning views and panoramic vistas.
Built in the early 10th century by Abd-al-Rahman III, this Malagan icon is situated on a hill which begins part of the Montes de Malaga mountain range. Another Muslim king, Yusef the First (also known as the Sultan of Granada) enlarged the castle at the beginning of the 14th century and added the double wall down to the Alcazaba that you see today. The castle is famous for its prominence in the landscape, but also for its history. Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella once levied a 3-month siege on the Castillo de Gibralfaro. This notable battle was the first time gunpowder was used on both fighting sides in all of recorded Western history.
Málaga’s beautiful and Neo-Mudejar La Malagueta bullring was built in 1874 by Spanish architect Joaquín Rucoba and is today privately owned by wealthy entrepreneur and former president of Málaga Football Club, Fernando Puche Doña. The arcaded stadium has capacity for 14,000 spectators, stables and training grounds for the horses, corrals for the bulls and even a mini-hospital.
The tiny but fascinating Museo Taurino Antonio Ordoñez – dedicated to one of Spain’s best-loved matadors, who was born in nearby Ronda – provides an insight into the history of bullfighting and displays some sparkly bullfighters’ costumes (traje de luces – literally ‘suit of lights’) and swishy red capes (muletas). A memorial to Ordoñez stands outside.
There are daily bullfights during Semana Santa (Easter Week) and the Feria Taurina (Bullfighting Festival) throughout July and August.
More Things to Do in Malaga
Picasso’s life in Spain spanned nearly all of the country’s corners, from the northwestern region of Galicia to big-city Barcelona, and, of course, Andalucia, where he was born in 1881. Indeed, it is in Malaga at the now-titled Casa Natal Picasso — Picasso’s former family home, located in the heart of Malaga’s old town — where he spent his first, and perhaps most formative years.
Today, you can visit the artist’s childhood house, which is now the headquarters for the Fundación Picasso, a foundation that studies and promotes the artist’s work. The museum features more than 4,000 pieces by some 200 artists, including Picasso, as well as other contemporary artists. It also houses a variety of objects related to Picasso’s childhood, family, and his connection to Spain and the south.
Though the majority of the Thyssen- Bornemisza family collection resides in their namesake museum in Madrid, Carmen Cervera (formally Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza), an avid art collector, decided to open her own galleries in Malaga. Situated in its galleries is perhaps the finest visual representation of Andalucian art, featuring noted artists ranging from Sorolla to Zuburán and Ezquerra, and spanning the 13th to 20th centuries.
The museum, which opened in 2011, is partially located in a 16th-century baroque palace—el Palacio de Villalón—a site worth seeing in its own right. In fact, the palace and its art aren’t even the most historic items here: when undergoing construction for the museum, Roman ruins were discovered below. It is in the building’s old chapel where you’ll find the “Old Masters” collection, a display of works by the collection’s most prized artists.</ /p>
Centuries ago, when Spain was under Muslim rule, Arab baths could be found in locations throughout the south. These hammams are said to have served as places of purification, hygiene and relaxation. Though few remain, you can still get a feel—in more ways than one—for what these tranquil getaways were like by experiencing the Hammam Al Andalus in Malaga.
Located in a historic building just off Martyers Square and next to an old Mudejar-towered church, this hammam—or Arab bath—features Moorish-inspired architecture. Think details such as horseshoe-shaped arches, colorful tiled walls, and ethereal lighting created by star-shaped skylights in the overhead dome. As is tradition, the Hammam Al Andalus has cold, warm and hot baths, as well as a steam room, and rest room, where you can relax and sip on traditional mint tea. Lasting 1.5 hours, the sessions allow guests to experience the various pools when not enjoying their massage.
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