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Report 856: The Romance of Moorish Spain

By janie and geoff from Canada, Fall 2004

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Page 2 of 13: Malaga and the Alcazaba

photo by Geoff Chambers

Entering the Alcazaba

Saturday

At around noon we finally got our butts in gear and decided to go into Malaga to see the Moorish fortress there. It was not highly rated by Michelin (who can be real snobs) but it was the closest Moorish monument and we wanted to get our bearings. The most stressful part of travel in old European cities these days involves (a) negotiating the narrow, winding, one-way streets in the ancient parts of town and (b) finding parking. The first activity is usually marriage-limiting and the second is merely stressful. Geoff navigates by his superior sense of direction, which doesn’t help with the one-way streets but which eventually lands you in the general area you want to be in.

We parked underground, just beside the Alcazaba and walked all around until we found the entrance and ticket booth. Michelin definitely are snobs, they only gave the Alcazaba one star. We thought it was a wonderful place, full of horseshoe arches, pillaged Roman pillars, views of Malaga and the Mediterranean. The Alcazaba was built starting in 1040 and the Castillo Gibralfaro on the hill above it was built in the 14th C. The two were once joined by defensive walls, forming a small self-sufficient town. The walkways zigzag up to fortified gateways, through terraced gardens that once must have been beautiful, when the pools and fountains were working. The gardens are still planted with greenery of the low-maintenance variety and some walls are covered in climbing honeysuckle and bougainvillea. We saw our first highly decorated Moorish arches there, and experienced the serenity of water enclosed by courtyards. Unfortunately the Museo Arqueoologico was under restoration, apparently it has a good collection of prehistoric and Roman objects found in the area, as well as Moorish art.

At the foot of the Alcazaba are the remains of a Roman theatre, still being excavated. Malaga was named Malaca by the Phoenicians, conquered by the Romans, named Malaka by the Moors, then conquered by the Catholic Monarchs. Every place in Andalucia seems to follow this pattern of invasion and occupation and the Moorish occupation has made for a unique architectural heritage that exceeded our expectations.

We went into the Malaga Cathedral, a 16th century effort and there saw our first double organs, facing each other across the choir, decorated with angels and trumpets. I’d never seen two organs in a cathedral before and urged Geoff to take lots of pictures. As we left the cathedral, there was a wedding in progress at El Sagrario, a smaller church inside the gardens of the main cathedral. So we couldn’t go in to have a look, but enjoyed some people watching as the wedding party milled around outside.

Finally, we strolled along the Paseo del Parque, the wide, shady avenue that runs beside the town hall and the local museums, trying to figure out which bus stop was the one for the No. 35 bus that would take us up to the Castillo. There was a walkway between the defensive walls once, but it’s under renovation and visitors could no longer climb up on foot. We squinted at route maps at the bus shelters for some time, then gave up and went for lunch at a Subway. It must have been jet lag clogging our brains, because after some food and coffee I suddenly said “why do we have to take a bus up to the Castillo? Why can’t we DRIVE up?” A quick visit to the Info kiosk beside the Alcazaba and one free tourist map later, we were no longer in thrall to the Malaga bus system. But we decided to save the trip for later.

After a nap (more jet lag), we set out for dinner in Marbella, determined to find the main tourist spot known as the Plaza de los Naranjos. This was supposed to be full of shopping and we were on the lookout for a plate to bring home. We didn’t find the Plaza but we did find a parking spot that we used every time we went into Marbella, and we also found a wonderful traditional restaurant called A Fuego Lento.

Again, very good fino sherry to start, and the waiter brought us olives and bread, and small chunks of spicy sausage speared onto rounds of bread as complimentary tapas. Then I ordered the manchego cheese, which turned out to be a cross between asiago and a young parmesan. Geoff had the broad beans sauteed in (lots of) olive oil with hard pieces of hard, air-dried ham. The beans were to die for, so sweet and fresh in contrast to the salty ham. For the main course I had shrimps in garlic and Geoff enjoyed his hake in a garlic parsley sauce. We were really getting to like the seafood and the strong flavours. And I can tell you that the crème caramel there was better than anything I’ve tasted in France. Very, very dark caramel flavour, as burnt as you can get without becoming bitter, with a pinch of cinnamon somewhere to warm the palate.

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