Posts Tagged ‘Al Andalus


Malaga, Spain

[Not many are aware that Spain was once ruled by the Arabs. During the medieval ages, much of the Iberian peninsula – consisting of Spain and Portugal, were under Islamic rule. The Moors – Arabs from North Africa, had crossed the Mediterranean and invaded the region, which they fondly called Al-Andalus. It wasn’t until 700 years later, that they were driven out by the Catholics from the north. Today, the legacy of Spain’s Moorish past can still be felt in the southen region of Andalucia and especially in its principle city – Malaga ]

Its not always that a journey grabs a cherished place in one’s volatile memory…..and when it does, it has generally got more to do with the people one has met, than the places he/she has visited. In the case of my recent trip to Malaga, it was a bit of both 🙂

Located in the Spanish region of Andalucia along the warm mediterranean coast, Malaga is a popular tourist destination, characterised by its fascinating history and blessed with sun-kissed beaches. The region, otherwise known as the ‘Costa del Sol’ [‘Coast of the sun’] is Spain’s answer to France’s ‘Cote d’Azur’ [‘The blue coast’ or the French Riviera]. Though the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, the glitz and the glamour that make the French counterpart a playground of the rich and the famous are conspicuously missing here, the gap is more than made up by Malaga’s rich cultural heritage, which is only accentuated by the down-to-earth and friendly nature of its people.

A plane approaching Malaga airport

From Malaga, Spain

It was my second visit to Spain and the moment I landed at Malaga’s massive airport, it was evident that the Spaniards like to build their transport hubs a lot larger than what might be required by the volumes of traffic invovled. The terminal was massive and was lavished with vast empty spaces. Madrid’s Barajas Airport had been similar too, and so were the underground stations of the capital’s metro network.


The Moors from North Africa, had invaded much of Spain and Portugal in the early 700s. So powerful and glorious were their reign that for over 700 years, they remained undefeated and the region flourished in trade, wealth, art and culture. It was only in the late 1400s that the Catholics from the north of Spain led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella succeeded in reconquering Al-Andalus and re-establishing Christian rule. [Incidentally, Ferdinand and Isabella were the maternal grand-parents of England’s Queen Mary I, better known to us by her namesake cocktail – Bloody Mary]

Today we see Spain as a staunchly Catholic country, with hardly any traces of its Islamic past. Much of this was the result of the Spanish Inquisition, carefully laid out after the Moors were defeated. Mosques were converted into churches and most muslims and jews were expelled from the country, whilst many others were forcefully converted into Christianity.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the Arabs has still managed to percolate into the art, culture, language [the Spanish language has over 4000 words of Arabic origin] and architecture of modern Spain,and nowhere is this legacy more evident than in the region of Andalucia. Andalucia, located just across the Mediterranean from North Africa, was understandably, among the first places to be invaded by the Arabs and Malaga, thanks to its strategic location and ancient harbour, was one of its main cities.

As I took the bus (Line 19) from the airport to Malaga city-centre, I couldn’t help notice the similarities that the place seemed to share with Arabia…… and as someone who was born and brought-up in the middle-east, the resemblances were too striking. Not only was the terrain and vegetation too dry for European standards, but the weather was scorchingly hot and the people seemed to look a lot like Arabs too, albeit in skimpier clothes 🙂

Streets of Malaga

From Malaga, Spain

The vast stretches of apartment blocks lining the streets could easily be mistaken for older parts of Dubai and the architecture of the ancient Arab fortresses and the cathedrals (that were converted from old Moorish mosques), could very well have blended into the skyline of Islamic Cairo ! The imposing twin fortresses of Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, that were once strongholds of the Arab rulers of the region, stand perched on a hill overlooking Malaga and thus ensures that this significant element of Spain’s past cannot be missed from any nook or corner of the city. Add to that the plethora of Shawarma stalls and restaurants specialising in Moorish food, and you may be forgiven for thinking you are in the middle-east !

The Malaga by Bike tour:

Cycling through the narrow alleys

From Malaga, Spain

Over the past few years, I have realised that the best way to explore a city is by doing a bike-tour. Not only is it faster and more fun than other means, but it also allows access into narrow alleys and streets, that may be hidden otherwise. Which is why the first thing I did on arriving in Malaga was to take the ‘Malaga by bike’ tour. The tour cost me 23 Euros and on that day, consisted of just 5 of us – an American couple […who I later came to learn, were serving in the US Army based in Germany !], a pair of Canadian-French girls and me.

Our guide explaining about the Malaga Cathedral

From Malaga, Spain

Our guide – a loquacious New Zealander filled us in on all the history, trivia and anecdotes about Malaga and led us as we pedalled through narrow cobblestoned lanes and old historic squares, dodging through pedestrians and occassionally stopping for photographs. We passed by the house where Malaga’s most famous son – Pablo Picasso was born, rode along ancient cathedrals, the botanical gardens and the harbour, skirted around the massive Plaze de Torros (Bull ring) – where bull fights still take place, and finally stopped at a beach shack on the Malaguetta beach for some chilled beers. The tour lasted around 4 hours and was brilliant fun !

Riding through the Malaguetta beach

From Malaga, Spain

Malaga Cathedral:

The Malaga Cathedral

From Malaga, Spain

Like most other churches in the city, the Malaga Cathedral was built over a former Moorish mosque and thus,  incorporated some of its distinctive styles. The Cathedral is one of the largest structures in Malaga and its imposing spires can be seen from most parts of the city centre. The vicinity of the cathedral was quite crowded – teeming with tourists and locals. But when I took a 4 Euro ticket and stepped inside, it was a completely different picture. The interiors were grand and elaborately decorated ….yet, maintained a remarkably serene ambience.

Entrance to the cathedral

From Malaga, Spain

Close by, was the Picasso museum. But not being a fan of modern art, I gave it a miss.

Picasso's statue outside the house where he was born

From Malaga, Spain

The Melting Pot hostel:

A log on Malaga wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the Melting Pot hostel. What was special about the hostel was its friendly ambience and its amazing location, being right at the beach. The open terrace offered a fantastic location to relax and socialise….not to mention the barbecue and bar in the evening 🙂

I was suprised to see my name on the board as I arrived at the hostel

From Malaga, Spain

I got to meet and hang-out with some interesting people at the hostel, and all of them seemed to be doing quite exciting things in life. Most were backpackers who had travelled around the world, and many had even visited India. One of the persons I met was here to practise kite-boarding, another to work in a horse-farm….some were here on weekend breaks, and another had just completed a 10-month course in art. They all came from various parts of the world – Britain, USA, Canada, Spain, Germany etc. and the advantage for them was that with their passports, they could travel to most parts of the world without visas and stay as long as they want …and do any job that they like….Even the New Zealander guide from the from bike tour was telling me that he had completed a univerisity degree in Computer Engineering, but decided to travel around the world, ending up in Spain and is now working as a tour guide for a living ! Ah, how I wish I could do something as exciting as that !

In the evening, after having a barbecue dinner and enjoying a few chilled beers at the open-terrace, some of us headed out to into the city to check out the party scene. Must admit, the city centre had completely transformed from what it was during the day, and the whole place seemed to be revelling in one huge party. Clearly, the hours of siesta does seem to help the Spanish, as the streets are absolutely alive even at 2 in the morning !

Alcazaba and Gibralfaro:

Overlooking the city from a pair of twin hills, are the Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro – the two most prominent reminders of Malaga’s Moorish past.

The Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

The best times to visit these two monuments are Sunday afternoons, as after 2pm, entrance is free 🙂 I visited them late on Sunday evening as I figured that the arduous climb up would be a lot easier without the scorching Mediterranean sun frying over my head. Also, the castle offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the sea, which could only be embellished by the image of the sun going down over the horizon.

Inside the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

The 11th Century Alcazaba is the lower one among the two monuments and hence, is easier to access. It also happens to be more ornate and decorated than the Gibralfaro, which is mainly because it was a fortified palace, where as the latter was purely a castle. Like most castles and fortresses I have seen in Europe, the Alcazaba too had been built on the site of former Roman fort…and right next to the entrance were the ruins of a 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre.

The Roman amphitheatre outside the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

Incidentally, the Arabs had conveniently used stones and materials from the amphitheatre to construct the Alcazaba.

Inside the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

The Alcazaba was an epitome of Moorish architecture and I spent about half an hour exploring its winding courtyards and arched corridors. On the south side, the Alcazaba presented wonderful views of the Malaga Port and the blue waters of the mediterranean beyond it….but I moved on knowing that the much higher Gibralfaro would offer something even more spectacular.

View from the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

Though an internal passageway connects the Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro, the common public is forced to take the much longer set of stairs going up along the hill. The path can be very steep at times and the climb is without doubt – quite demanding. But if you are perseverant and get yourself up there, the unbeatable views will ensure that the effort is not regretted.

The viewing platform

From Malaga, Spain

Shortly before arriving at the summit, is a viewing platform, facing towards the Mediterranean.

The viewing platform

From Malaga, Spain

It is said that on a clear day, the coast of Africa can be seen from up here….which doesn’t seem implausible, considering that Morocco is not too far across.

The Plaza de Torros (Bull-ring)

From Malaga, Spain

Further up, the castle itself offers splendid 360 degree views of the city. Incidentally, during the siege of Malaga in 1487 by Ferdinand and Isabella, the Moors had holed themselves up in this castle, but were ultimately forced to surrender when they ran out of food and supplies.

Gibralfaro castle

From Malaga, Spain


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