An itinerary that traces the history of the city and stops at the main arabesque points in Malaga.
(by Andrzej Otrębski, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
We arrive at the heart of Malaga’s Moorish soul, the Alcazaba, or ‘citadel’.
The term “qasaba” was historically flexible, but it essentially denotes a fortress, commonly a citadel that protects a city or settlement area or that serves as the administrative centre.
A qasbah, or kasbah citadel, typically housed the military garrison and other privileged buildings, such as a palace, along with other amenities, a mosque and a hammam (bathhouse). Some kasbahs are built in strategically elevated positions overlooking the city, like the Kasbah of the Oudayas in Rabat, Morocco.
The Alcazaba of Malaga is an 11th-century building built on rock, which shows the harmonious combination of defensive necessity and the beauty of its interior rooms and gardens. On the easternmost part of the last walls, there are the ruins of a quarter of tiny houses formed by three blocks of buildings between paved streets.
To reach the highest part, where the mayor or ”cadí” of the city lived, it was necessary to cross three concentric walls and eight fortified gates from the inside of the city. They provided security for its inhabitants, leaders and governors, and all those who lived in the suburbs within the walls. In the central part of the upper walls are the ‘Rooms of Granada’, where the kings and governors lived. In addition, the presence of albarrean towers with embrasures and crenellated walls bring essential defensive elements. From the palace’s balconies, one can enjoy an exceptional view of the bay, immersing oneself in an incredible Mediterranean Moorish atmosphere.
The current construction was partly the work of the king of the Berber Taifa of Granada, Badis ben Habús. He ordered the Alcazaba to be fortified between 1057 and 1063, using the marble and statues of the adjacent Roman theatre to embellish it. However, recent studies question this claim as there are indications that it was a restoration of the ancient walls of Phoenician-Punic origin rather than a construction job.
The Alcazaba and the castle are connected by a passage in the mountain protected by a double zigzag wall called “La Coracha”. It occupied the eastern end of the city walls, like all Muslim Alcazaba, so the southern, western and northern fronts remained within them.
According to architect and restorer Leopoldo Torres Balbás, the Alcazaba of Málaga is the prototype of military architecture in the Taifa period in Al-Andalus, with its double wall and many fortifications. Its only parallel is the impressive castle of Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. Examples of other Alcazaba in Spain include the Alcazaba of Almería, the Alcazaba of Antequera, the Alcazaba of Badajoz, the Alcazaba of Guadix, the Alcazaba of Mérida, the Castle of Molina de Aragón, the Alcazaba of Alcalá la Real and the Alcazaba of the Alhambra in Granada.
Historically, the Iberian Peninsula, comprising today’s Spain and Portugal, was the northernmost domain of the Moorish kingdoms of North Africa and the Middle East. However, as the concept of crusades intensified, European rulers soon set their sights on these lands occupied by the so-called ‘infidels’. In the early Middle Ages, the fight against the Muslims in Spain was linked to the fight of the whole of Christendom against the Islamic onslaught. Military orders such as Calatrava’s were even founded and called upon to carry out their military activities in the Iberian Peninsula. The popes called the knights of Europe to the crusades in the Peninsula together with the Christian rulers. Thus, the armies of the north began a military effort throughout Spanish territory aimed at driving the Muslim forces back across the Strait of Gibraltar. This large-scale process went down in history as the ”Reconquista”.
After a long period lasting centuries, the Christian armies succeeded in conquering most of the Iberian Peninsula. The last remaining territories of the Muslim kingdoms were in the south, in present-day Andalusia.
Under Ferdinand II and Isabella of Aragon, Christian military forces launched one of the last attacks, reaching the fortified walls of the Alcazaba in Malaga in 1487. The city, besieged by 45,000 men and defended by forces three times smaller, put up fierce resistance for months. Yet, under these very walls, one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Reconquista took place, making the next point of interest an emblem of that bloody siege: the castle of Gibralfaro.