A weekend in Malaga Pure Enjoyment

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a region like Andalucía, rich with natural and cultural attractions, know that tourism is a complex topic, and a great source of wealth. It is not only the climate and nature, though these elements are without doubt the cornerstones of the industry. It is also culture, in the widest sense of the word and in its most modern usage. Culture, ranging from the heritage of its historic sites to its varied gastronomy, from its popular 'fiestas' to golf courses, and a long etcetera.

Thanks to its balanced approach to tourism and culture, over the last few years Malaga has become an ever more coveted destination. Visitors can enjoy the beaches, the beauty of the inland areas, golf, sailing, conferences, culture and ancient traditions. All this in the land of sunshine and a city described by Nobel Prize winner Vicente Aleixandre as 'Paradise City'.

The traveller, who as the classics tell us is possessed of a curious impertinence, is sure to enjoy a stroll round the city in which the genius Picasso first saw the light of day.

Hans Christian Andersen, writing of his travels through Spain, said that no other city had made him feel so happy and at home as Malaga. Not a bad compliment, coming from one who was passionate about travelling and who with that curious impertinence toured Spain and made of it a country which was more literary than real and which still wields its influence.

Meanwhile let us discover more about this city. The word in Spanish is 'divager', which means to digress, to ramble, to wander around a subject: and that is what we are going to do. Wander around, get side-tracked, take our chances down a side street, and learn at random. Nobody will be disappointed by a trip round Malaga.

Roman Theatre

This was built, following the Roman custom, making use of a hillside, and dates back to the first century AD during the rule of Augustus. At the end of the third century it fell into disuse as far as its original function was concerned and the area was used for extracting building material, as can be seen from the use of parts of the theatre building in constructing the Alcazaba fortress behind it. remains found on the ground include graves, pits for the fabrication of the highly prized fish condiment called 'garum', and pots with Christian symbols on them.

The theatre was of medium size with three stairways, and a passageway at the top to allow the public to move around. In 1994 a Culture Centre which had been built over part of the theatre was demolished, and excavations went on apace. In 1999, a project started to restore the building, and it is now used in spring and summer for performances of classical plays.

Gibralfaro castle 

The castle was of considerable importance during the Moslem period in Spain. The writer Medina Conde recounts that it was in 787 that work began on it, under the rule of Abderraman I, but it was during the Nasrid dynasty that it took on its definitive appearance. At the end of the 13th century it was rebuilt under the reign of Muhammad II; in the first half of the 14th century, Yusuf I extended it and had it joined to the Alcazaba.

In 1925, when it was held to have lost any military value, the City Hall took it over.

Access to the building is via an arch which leads to a walkway behind the battlements with beautiful views over Malaga. The route round the castle takes in eight towers and the thirty stretches of the wall.

Alcazaba

The palaces, which can be reached on foot up the side of the hill next to the Roman Theatre or using the lift located in the wall behind the City Hall, were created by King Badis in the 11th century and which were rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries. Many have commented, and rightly, that this precinct could have been a precursor of what the Alhambra.

Between the Alcazaba and the castle lies 'La Coracha', a snaking path between walls which feature on the coat of arms given by the Catholic Monarchs to the city and which formed part of the defences. This curtain wall stretched from the top of the Alcazaba, along with another which reached to the sea and which no longer exists. In 1999, where it once stood, the current Municipal Museum was built. 

Plaza de la merced

With the arrival in Malaga of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs, a market grew up just outside the city and the space was occupied by various buildings, many of them ecclesiastical and including the church and convent of the Mercedarians (members of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy); hence the name Plaza de la Merced. None of these remain: it is now, without doubt, Malaga's romantic square par excellence.

The square has been remodelled on several occasions. Its main and most symbolic feature is the monument to Torijos and his companions who were shot on the San Andres beach in 1831 after an attempted rebellion against the traitor Fernando VII. The monument and crypt represent freedom from tyranny as expressed in the bronze plaques with the names of Torijos and the 48 men who rose up against the despotic absolutist government under which Spain was suffering at the time.

Pablo Picasso's birthplace

On the north side of the Plaza de la Merced there is a series of buildings known as the Casas de Campo. Number 15, the first in the block designed by Diego Clavero, is where the greatest artist of the 20th century, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, was born in 1881: to be exact, on the second floor. It acquired monument status in 1983, and in 1988 Malaga City Hall bought it and established the Fundacion Municipal Pablo Picasso, whose headquarters it now is.

The Foundation's main work regards documentation, and it has a magnificent library and videotheque. At the same time, however, the Foundation increasingly organises exhibitions and cultural events, and has undertaken to acquire more works by Picasso and by contemporary artists. It currently hold 228 works by Picasso, plus 122 from the Jan Lohn collection. 

The Cathedral

The cathedral is the most important monument pertaining to Christian Malaga in the city, It sits on the site previously occupied by the main mosque, which in its turn had taken over other religious spaces, in a clear example of how cultures arise from different elements in the same place. Just as in other cities, the mosque was Christianised: in this case by the Catholic Monarchs when they conquered the city in 1487.

The cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of the Incarnation. In the 16th century the Cathedral Chapter determined to build a new cathedral and the decision was taken in 1525.

Work started on the choir, which the bishop would have preferred to be just a modest one, but fortunately the Chapter disagreed and appealed to the king, who insisted on a more ambitious project. Work continued on the choir and transept in the 17th century, but the construction had deteriorated and an idea spread that it might collapse, By the 18th century, we know that the Chapter was contracting Jose de Bada to continue with building work, starting with the main facade.

In 1792 funda ran out and work was halted, and has remained that way until the present day, despite attempts in the 19th and 20th century to finish the second tower. It is this writer's personal belief that building work on what is known locally as 'La Manquita' ('one armed' because of its single finished tower) should be completed, but the issue is one of considerable controversy in the city.

A stroll around the cathedral gives some idea of its great beauty. The main facade is set back from the towers. Almost like an altarpiece, it is divided into two levels; on the lower level are three arches, inside of which are portals separated by marble columns.

The choir is the most important aspect of the cathedral. It was built in the Spanish style in the main nave, and fortunately for Malaga, in 1658 Pedro de Mena arrived in the city and carried out the 42 sculptures on the stalls of what is one of the best of its type in Spain and a unique example of the Baroque style.

The Mena sculptures are of extraordinary value, displaying all the baroque ability to move the soul. The realism of the panels, expressions of the figures, the folds of the drapery, the carving, the volume, are all in consonance with the Hispanic culture of the time.

Picasso Museum

The palace which now houses the Picasso Museum dates back to the first quarter of the 16th century. In the 17th century it belonged to the Count of Mollina, and in the 19th came into the hands of the Counts of Buenavista: in the 20th century it belonged to the Countess of Luna who rented it out to the State which installed the Fine Arts Museum there. It was bought by the Andalusian government, the Junta de Andalucía, at the end of the 20th century.

It is a building on almost severe lines, with elegant Renaissance decoration on the doors and balcony. It boasts a beautiful lookout tower, which was always a sign in cities of the importance of a building's owners.

Reforms to turn the building into the Picasso Museum were equally respectful of the line the follow, although the staircase which gave access to the patio from the entrance has been changed for a passage leading to the patio via a cloakroom: the ticket office is covered with a fine piece of craftwork in which stars and hexagons alternate.

The patio is square and two storey's high, and leads to all the rooms in the buildings. The garden is noteworthy, as is the staircase leading to the upper floor is covered with tracery in the Mudejar style.

The works in the museum are representative of the artist's entire output, with about 200 works from every period displayed in an intimate setting. Mention must be made of the presence here of Picasso's family, especially of his daughter-in-law Christine Picasso who ceded works to the Foundations which run the Museum, which was inaugurated in 2003.

It is characteristic of the museum that the works on show are frequently changed. Twelve rooms display the collection, which is arranged in general in chronological or thematic order.

Contemporary art centre (CAC)

In 1939 the architect Luis Gutierrez Soto designed this building in the rationalist style and it was inaugurated as a wholesale market in 1942. It has since been designated as a listed building of Cultural Interest (BIC) and was taken over by the city Hall in 1998. Rigorously restored by Miguel Angel Diaz Romero, it then became a contemporary art centre as part of the city's cultural model, developed since 1995, under which Malaga opted for modernity as represented by Picasso, the artistic movements. 

The CAC is currently hosting an exhibition by American artist David Salle as well as an installation by the Korean Kimsooja. A retrospective by Mark Ryden opens in December.

Carmen Thyssen Museum

The palace which houses the 'Museo Carmen Thyssen' is a fine example of Renaissance architecture. The permanent collection inside offers a complete  view of the work of the 19th century Spanish costumbrists, and it regularly organises temporary exhibitions of extraordinary quality. Currently on display is Sorolla: New York Sketches, open until 8 January 2017.

Russian Museum

The 'Coleccion Museo Ruso' is the only museum devoted to Russian art in Spain and is another proof of the city's universal inclinations. The collection on display  changes regularly, and it organises exhibitions by groups and by individual artists. The collection, from the Russian State Museum in Saint Petersbury, is located in the Tabacalera building, an old cigarette factory, alongside the city's Automobile and Fashion Museum. It currently features the exhibition Chagall and his Contemporaries, among others.

Pompidou centre

The Paris Pompidou chose Malaga for this 'pop-up' because of the city's dynamism and vanguard artistic mentality. The result is this new build museum in the vibrant port area, crowned by a huge glass cube.

The discerning tourist will always want to know the history of the places visited: especially if the history is as fascinating as that of Malaga. This museum is one of the very latest additions to that history: it is modern and active like the city itself, and interesting to see there.