Discovering the splendours and Moorish past of Malaga
  • Europe /
  • Spain /
  • Malaga

An itinerary that traces the history of the city and stops at the main arabesque points in Malaga.

Patio de los Narajos
Ancient Patio de los Narajos beside the cathedral (by Holger Uwe Schmitt, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
(by Zitumassin, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Ancient Patio de los Narajos beside the cathedral (by Holger Uwe Schmitt, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

The mosque, also called ” Mesquita” in ancient times, is the place of prayer for the faithful of Islam. The word, in Spanish, “Mezquita”, derives from the Arabic word ‘masjid’, which indicates the place where are performed the ”sujūd” those prostrations that are part of the movements performed by the praying faithful. 

The mosque of Malaga has been destroyed over time, but as a testimony to its past, still stands a marvellous garden known as the “Patio de los Narajos”, meaning orange garden.

The Patio de los Naranjos is an open space garden typically planted with orange trees that was initially attached to the mosque. Its presence is common in other mosques in Andalusia, especially that of Seville.

Thanks to the preservation of this latter cathedral, we can imagine here the ancient mosque of Malaga with its garden.

Inside the Cathedral gardens are species such as cypress, ficus, rose, bitter orange, mandarin, privet, Canary Island palm, and date palm, among others. 

Specifically, within the colourful varieties stands out a small tree with aromatic whitish flowers and black olive-like fruits called Toxicophlea Spectabilis (toxic). This species is native to the Cape of Good Hope, and its curious use refers to the use of its toxic sap to poison arrows.

The Moorish past of this garden takes us on a journey back in time when almost the entire Iberian Peninsula, now occupied by Spain and Portugal, was conquered by Mussulmen armies that landed from the south in the Strait of Gibraltar.

The region had been conquered in the 8th century CE by Moorish troops, who made Granada (called Elvira) the kingdom’s capital during the caliphal era. Another important fortified city was Malaga, which from 1026 CE had been the capital of the Hammudite Taifa, one of the small states that arose in the Iberian Peninsula following the dissolution of the Caliphate in 1009. With this date came a period of political chaos and the following abolition of the Caliphate by the Umayyad dynasty in 1031. Thus it was that Malaga, during the second half of the 13th century, came under the control of the Nasrid dynasty, the last Muslim sultan dynasty to survive in Spain. The advent of new kingdoms destroyed the ancient cult and its symbols.

However, today, where a wonderful mosque once stood, we can admire Malaga Cathedral, built on the ruins of the ancient Moorish religious centre. 

The cathedral is affectionately nicknamed La Manquita (‘the little monk’) by locals as it is still unfinished as far as the southern bell tower is concerned.

The history of the building is somewhat troubled: started in 1528 to a design by Spanish architects Pedro López, Diego de Siloé and Diego de Vergara, the cathedral was inaugurated in 1588, but due to the ambitious project, work continued at a slow pace until the earthquake of 1680, which seriously damaged it. Construction was resumed in 1719 and stopped again in 1783, leaving the project unfinished from then on.

The interior, divided into three naves flanked by chapels, measures 97 metres long by 62 metres wide and 35 metres high. The richly decorated vaults rest on pillars with Corinthian columns. The frescoes on the high altar, created in 1580, depict scenes from the Passion of Jesus. Noteworthy is the gigantic choir, built from 1595 to 1632, in the middle of the nave by Vergara the Younger and Díaz de Palacios, with stalls made of precious woods (mahogany, cedar and granadillo, specially brought from America) carved by Luiz Ortiz and José Micael and adorned with 40 statues of saints made in 1658 by Pedro de Mena.

The ambulatory, flanked by four chapels, is also valuable. The first of these, embellished with a Baroque-era retable, is called Capilla de la Virgen de los Reyes due to the presence of a Marian statue (15th century) and the praying statues of the Catholic Monarchs. In the same chapel, the painting depicting the Martyrdom of St. Paul is by Henry Simonet. The altarpiece in the third chapel, made in the 16th century, is in Gothic style. Finally, the fourth chapel, known as the Dorada chapel, houses an Annunciation by Juan de Villanueva.

On the right side of the nave, the first chapel houses an Our Lady of Sorrows sculpted by Pedro de Mena, while the second chapel contains a Baroque-style retable and some 17th-century paintings by Castilian artists. Alonso Cano, on the other hand, made the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is kept in the third chapel on the same side of the nave.

We now head towards the ancient fortified citadel: the Alcazaba.


1. Patio de los Narajos

2. Alcazaba

3. Castle of Gibralfaro