Many places that we’ve been, after the standard nine or ten hour cruise ship stop, we think, “That was really interesting; we’re really glad we came here!” and “Been there, seen that, bought the t-shirt.” Rapa Nui (aka, Easter Island, dba, Isla de Pascua) and Komodo Island probably fell into that category. Once in a while but not very often, our reaction has been, “Well, that was different.” (Bueno, eso fue diferente.)The Maldives come to mind (unless you are a diver. And divers sometimes go there for a week, walk through the airport, and then eat on, sleep on, and dive from the dive boat.)
Málaga is in neither of these groups. It was the last port of the World Cruise and many of our UK fellow passengers were a little put off that we even stopped here. It seems to be where UK residents go in the winter if they don’t have anything else to do. It is nothing like Orlando. After the allotted ten hours, we felt we should spend more time there.
Here we are spending more time. And it becomes more interesting as we learn our way around.
For the geographically-challenged Norte Americanos, Málaga is on the Mediterranean, about as far South as you can get in Spain, or Europe. It is almost directly south of Madrid, but that’s half way up Spain. Casablanca is about the same distance, to the south, as Madrid is north, and Algiers, to the east, is closer than Barcelona.
Málaga is the largest city on the Costa del Sol, which is a marketing term not a political entity. The political organization of Spain is unique, just like everywhere else. It is almost Federal, but you can start fights in bars and op-ed pages by calling it a Federal System. Apparently, that was a topic of some “discussion” when everything was reorganized after Franco died (forty years ago.) Málaga, el ciudad, is the capitol of Málaga, la provincia, and the second largest city in the “Autonomous Community” of Andalusia. There are 17 “Autonomous Communities” plus two “Autonomous Cities”, neither of which is Madrid or Barcelona. The Communities are things like Andalusia, Basque Country (el País Vasco,) and, of course, Catalonia (Cataluña.) The intent was to preserve regional and ethnic identities, and avoid separatist movements.
[If you think that is confusing, try explaining the relationships, roles, and responsibilities of states, counties, townships, towns, unincorporated areas, school districts, precincts, wards, park boards, watershed districts, housing improvement areas, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., to the rest of the world. I mean explain Washington, D.C., only in the organizational sense, not the functional sense.]
The name Málaga came from the Phoenician, Malaha, their word for salt, which they used to preserve fish. This is very similar to the Hebrew Mélah and the Arabic malah. Depending on who was in charge, the spelling could be Malaka, Malaca, or Malaqah. Although given all the different alphabets involved, I don’t know who decided that was the way to spell it in ours.
The population of Málaga is just under six hundred thousand, about the same as Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The population of the metropolitan area is about a million six, or half that of the Twin Cities (by some definition of metro area.)
The city has been here for nearly 3,000 years; Homo sapiens were in the area 25,000 years earlier and Homo neanderthalensis perhaps another 25,000 years before them. At various times, the city has been run by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines, Visigoths again, and Moors. The Moors lasted from the Eighth Century until the end of the Fifteenth in this area. During the 800 years of Muslim control, scholars in the area preserved much of what we know about the arts and sciences of the Greeks and Romans, while the rest of Europe had descended into the Dark Ages and were occupying themselves sacking and looting each others’ castles or organizing The Crusades. Málaga (city and province) was the last piece of Europe taken by the Armies of Christ in 1487. They’re still 250 years short of the Muslims’ record.
We are staying in El Centro district, one of eleven districts in the city, in the barrio of El Centro Histório, one of about 40 barrios in the district. So far we have had very little need to venture out of our barrio. [“Barrio” is sometimes translated as neighborhood, sometimes as ward, probably depending on whether you are talking about the ‘hood or something with a more official role.]
Why would we need to venture? There is a bakery, café or tapas bar, literally, every few meters; at least three no more than 25 m. from our door. Full restaurants are a little sparser. The Central Market (el Mercado Centro,) where you can get a quarter kilo of almonds or half a goat (la cabra,) is about an eight minute walk; a little longer for Doré. Across the street from there is a full-service “super” Mercado, el Super Sol, which more closely resembles the Hydes Store that was on the northeast corner of the Indianola square than it does a Costco. Every block or two, there is a small mercado that is comparable to but couldn’t compete with a QuikTrip. But you can get a very drinkable bottle of wine for a euro or two. They also have other stuff.
There are probably 25 art museums (el museo de arte) and 10 archeological museums (el museo argueológico) or sites within walking distance. At least that many churches (la iglesia) and cathedrals, many that rival the Basilica in Minneapolis. El Museo el Vino is right across the street; El Museo Automovilisto de Málaga is outside the barrio and would probably require a taxi (el taxi.)
Then there was Carnaval the week we arrived and Holy Week (La Semana Santa) is coming. We’ve gotten just one small sample of what that will entail. There were several hundred people, all wearing black and white, and a couple choirs in this procession that aren’t in the video.
Automobiles are restricted in el Centro Historio, both by law and design (or lack thereof.) To drive at all, you must be a delivery van, taxi driver to drop someone off, or resident to get to your garage. Many of the streets are too narrow to drive. Others are too narrow to drive but they do it anyway; none appear to be one-way but traffic is so light that we have never seen a conflict. Bus service in this area is almost non-existent and only on the periphery.
It is very pedestrian and handicap friendly. All the streets are new, smooth pavers with plenty of curb cuts and marked crosswalks. If you even look like you might be crossing in a crosswalk, cars will literally slam on their brakes to wait. Between crosswalks, they won’t stop but won’t go out of their way to hit you either. The terrain is very flat, tucked in between the sea and mountains, so it is somewhat surprising that there are so few bicycles.
There is a great deal of rehab work going on in the area; they probably aren’t allowed to build totally new. Obviously they put a lot of resources into maintaining the area, based on the condition of the streets for example. Trash collection is on-going and the streets seemed to be washed almost daily.
The downside is you have to walk everywhere. To get from our house to el Mercado Centro is 650 meters (8 minutes) to walk or 2.4 km (9 minutes) to drive, because cars have to drive the perimeter of the district, I mean barrio. I am forcing Doré to walk just with the cane at least a mile every day. But the compromise was we bought a wheelchair that we use when we really want to get somewhere quickly or when we are wandering through a museum.
I love the smooth pavers! ¡Me encantan los adoquines lisos!
[The picture at the top was taken from an upper level of Alcazaba, which was built in the Eleventh Century by the Moors to protect the city from pirates. Just to the left of the 11th C. castle is the 16th C. Cathedral showing the missing tower and part of the existing tower; actually it is showing the base of the missing tower.]