Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Blinking lights on Larios Street. Blinking, lighting, fading, painting, decorating, sketching the city out. Larios Street: a line bringing the salty aromas of the sea –Mediterranean, Mare Nostrum– to the beating heart of town. A city that wakes up late and goes to bed even later. Larios Street –after the Marquis of Larios–, Málaga’s main street, setting the pace for the city’s rhythm and feeling –a feeling shared by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Christians, the French, the bourgeoisie, and modern tourists. Larios is a street of rest and rush. Málaga spreads out of it. The city opens like a flower and shows its hidden treasures to all visitors ready to go after them. Málaga City is an abridged version of Málaga Province. It’s pious and rackety, artsy and homely, cunning and honest. It overlooks the unavoidable sea and borrows its salty perfume. It tunes its naps to the croaking of seagulls. This sea welcomed the Phoenicians in the seventh century B.C. and contributed its bluest, deepest heart to the salted fish of the Romans. It opened up to the world through its port. A city that dresses up in Easter and has an unfinished cathedral. A city to eat fried fish and sardine skewers. The city of Picasso. A city where you can see and smell orange blossoms, and jasmines. A city of martyrs and fishermen. A city of tapas and pleasant strolls. A city with an Arab fortress and a convent. Malaka. Málaga: a city to enjoy.

Trip and Experience Planning

Málaga is a city with many faces. The one you see depends on what kind of traveller you are. There’s a cultural Málaga, a sociological Málaga, a culinary Málaga, an artistic Málaga… There’s one Málaga for each visitor. The possibilities are endless. I’ll try to reel them off for you. A good tour of Málaga takes time. Time to go sightseeing and time to let yourself go. Málaga’s had an eventful history, and it’s a Dionysian town, promising pleasures at sunset, long seaside strolls, amazing delicacies and popular dishes, fine perfumes, traditional patios… It’s in the city’s nature, and you’re constantly reminded of it as you wander about. At you can find lots of trip planning tips and useful information: tours, calendar of activities, sight descriptions, phone numbers, accommodation directory, theme guides, etc. For those travellers who don’t have much time and want to see the main attractions only, Málaga Turismo offers guided tours of the Historic District (€5) showing (without giving access to) the Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, the Roman Theatre, the Arab Fortress, Picasso’s Birthplace, and the Church of Santiago. The tour ends at Bodega El Pimpi, where visitors get a glass of wine. These guided tours take 90’ and are available in Spanish or in English (for special tours in French, Italian, or German, call (+34) 669 127 457). Travellers who prefer customised tours can download eight different itineraries at Sights in Málaga, Botany in Málaga, Romance in Málaga, Religion in Málaga, Rocks and Water, Tradition in Málaga, Contemporary Art in Málaga, Picasso in Málaga. They’re shown on an easy-to-read street map of Málaga. Visitors who’d like to have a little bit of everything and take their time, there’s a street map showing the most important sights, which you can visit in the order you want. Even you do you some research before coming, make sure you begin your tour at the Tourist Office in Plaza de la Marina, just where Larios Street begins. (There’re other Tourist Offices in town, but this is the main one.) Here you can get information on hours and prices. (Most, but by no means all, buildings are open all day long, so you’d better check before planning your itinerary.) Most buildings and museums charge admission fees (€1 to €8) so, if you want to avoid queuing and crowds, have your money ready. The money you pay to enter the buildings is then used to preserve them –in most cases, successfully. Inside, there’re guides ready to tell you interesting things or answer your questions. I’ve planned my tour to take two days. Day 1: Historic District, its buildings and museums. Day 2: Roman Theatre, Arab Fortress, Gibralfaro Castle, and the fishing districts Pedregalejo and El Palo. Accommodations in Málaga can be counted by the hundreds, and there’re prices for every budget. My choice: a downtown hotel, so that I can leave my car in a public parking area and forget about it. Several hotels in town offer parking discounts. Check it before choosing yours. After collecting quite a few brochures, I draw my itinerary on the map: Picasso, nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, several churches, a few museums, the Cathedral, García Lorca, El Pimpi…

Plaza de la Marina, Casa de la Guardia, Atarazanas Market, Museum of Popular Arts

Starting point: Plaza de la Marina, a square absorbing the hustle and bustle of the port behind and opening in three directions –Paseo del Parque (east), Larios Street (north), Alameda (west). I choose to go westwards, strolling in the shade of the trees, watching the passing cars and the passers-by (both locals and out-of-towners). Málaga is chaos; it’s in its nature. I’m heading for the Atarazanas Market, one of the key points in town –a non-stop flow of people and goods. But before, on No. 18, there’s the Antigua Casa de Guardia, a tribute to traditional taverns serving sweet wines of the land directly from casks. A wooden bar, fresh foods, light filtering shyly in. If you want to enjoy the bar even before coming to it, check its website ( You’ll find everything you need to know there. Founded in 1840, Antigua Casa de Guardia looks as it did when it first opened. It’s the oldest tavern in Málaga. I take note of its opening hours. With sleep in its eyes, the tavern is only waking up. A sign on Alameda marks the detour to Mercado de Atarazanas. What a lovely market! Markets tend to be special parts of towns, beating time with their racket, their hours, and their goods. Atarazanas was built in the nineteenth century. Architect Joaquín de Rucoba preserved the original Mudéjar façade in carved marble. I walk in and let the special lighting effects of the market wrap me in. Zillions of things to eat: fish still tossing their heads, shopping bags, buzzing sounds, Malagueños in a hurry and gaping tourists. The heart of the market beats as the windows reflect an amazing colour palette. I walk past the stalls: fish, pork, meat, vegetables… Each of them has its own smell. The market used to be a shipyard; hence the name (atarazana means “shipyard” in Spanish). With the market aromas still in my nose, I walk out and head for my next icon. I go down Atarazanas Street to Puerta del Mar and from here to Plaza Félix Saénz, where Málaga’s first modernist building, Almacenes Félix Sáenz, stands. Now undergoing rehabilitation, it was built by Fernando Guerrero Strachan between 1912 and 1914. Until recently, it housed one of the first department stores, which opened in 1886 and closed down in 2007. At its glorious best, Almacenes Félix Sáenz had 300 employees. When you come to the Historic District, remember to look up as you wander about: remarkable façade details, galleries and balconies, lace curtains, roll-up blinds, wrought-iron grilles. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Málaga experienced an economic boom as a result of the thriving industries and trades managed by the bourgeoisie living in town. They had their own homes, stores, and meeting places built. Those rococo, neo-baroque, decadent buildings still lend a special air to the city. Many of them have been renovated. I keep walking in search of the Guadalmedina River. On its bank, on Pasillo de Santa Isabel, there’s the Museum of Popular Arts and Customs, housed in a seventeenth-century building known as Mesón de la Victoria. The Museum boasts a great collection focusing on the city’s recent past, from everyday objects to an old fire engine. The Museum has 19 rooms set up to show how people lived in Málaga in the past few centuries. Some of the objects are really curious: a sixteenth-century midwife’s chair, a traíña or sardine fishing net still in use in the twentieth century, harvesting and reaping tools, a bourgeois home. Customs and traditions have changed a lot in 50 or 60 years. The gadgets we use in everyday life have evolved. It’s just amazing. The Museum of Popular Arts and Customs charges an admission fee of €2. Here you can taste past times. Recovering popular arts in the form of ethnographic heritage is a very important task. At the Museum, such heritage has the place it deserves.

From the Museum of Popular Arts to the Portal of the Cathedral

Carretería Street leads from Pasillo de Santa Isabel and the river bank back to the heart of town. I walk past a couple of funny shops selling religious items: cards, figurines, scapulars, and so on. I walk on, always looking up to spot special features or curious details. More traditional shops along the wayBiedmas Street leads to the Wine Museum in Plaza de los Viñeros (what a coincidence in names!). The Museum is housed in the rehabilitated eighteenth-century baroque building of the Palace of Biedmas. Inside, visitors can go over the whole wine-making process and try Málaga wines. The Museum’s website contains a lot of useful information: wine tasting courses, lithographs, gift shop, and more. In the future, the building will also house the headquarters of the D.O. Málaga, Sierras de Málaga, and Pasas de Málaga Control Board. For €5 you gain admission to the Museum and the possibility to taste D.O. wines. An irresistible deal. Back to Carretería Street and past the Medieval City Walls to the recently opened Holy Week Museum, which is clearly signposted (admission: €3). If you’ve never been to Málaga in Easter, you’ll find the Museum overwhelming. It shows all the elements that are present in Easter Week celebrations, from organisation of brotherhoods to the carving of images to multiple cloaks and crowns and huge floats. In Málaga, Holy Week celebrations go beyond the religious or the spiritual to become a major cultural and social event. The Museum contains information on their evolution and development, their importance, and the most curious or remarkable aspects about them. The floats are majestic, and they must be so heavy! After visiting the Holy Week Museum, you’ll have a better understanding of traditions that might look weird at first sight. It’s highly educational. The Museum is housed in a building with high historical value: it used to be the Hospital of San Julián, founded in 1683 by the Brotherhood of Santa Caridad, “from the Brotherhood of Santa Caridad in Seville.” The Museum opened in 2010. For more information, go to the Museum’s website, Inside, you can smell the burning candles and hear the echoes of Easter bands. Back on the street, I feel a fragment of the Holy Week is hanging from my rucksack. Ballesteros Street, Andrés Pérez Street… In search of the Historic District again. The slim tower of the Church of Divina Providencia reaches up for the sky. The narrow alleyways lead to one of the largest churches in town: Iglesia de los Mártires –an impressive, unconventional building whose exterior design isn’t what you’d expect for a church. Vibrant, bright red brick and an impossibly high belfry tower. The interior is profusely decorated –the perfect example of Baroque horror vacui. Incense makes the air and the light coming in through the glazed windows thicker. People come and go; they kneel down, say their prayers, light their candles, and leave. The door squeaks whenever someone gets in or out. Dedicated to St. Cyriac and St. Paula, the Church of Los Mártires was built after the city was seized by the Christian troops (1491) and consecrated in 1505. I wander about in a respectful mood, trying not to bother regular church-goers. My next sight is yet another church, Iglesia de San Juan: another icon in Málaga (Mártires Street, across Compañía Street, the Especerías Street). The Church of San Juan is one of the four temples built by the Catholic Monarchs after the conquest of Málaga on their way to Granada. Built between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries, it’s a bold mix of Gothic and Mudéjar features. The tower was finished in 1543, and the first extension was undertaken in 1554. The building was extended again in 1620, and the arcade in the right aisle was added in 1680. Together with the Church of Los Mártires, San Juan draws the largest number of church-goers in Málaga, in part due to its accessible location in the Historic District. From the Church of San Juan to Plaza de la Constitución, the starting point of Larios Street and the nerve centre of city life. Before reaching the square, I take a look at the building of Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, whose curious history is worth mentioning. Built in 1785, it’s housed many different organisations and institutions. First, the Friendly Society of Harvesters; then, the Maritime and Ground Consulate; later, the Economic Society of Friends of the Country (hence the building’s name today); finally, a Jesuit school. The building is a fine example of eighteenth-century domestic architecture: continuous balconies on the upper floors, windows at regular intervals, and a central courtyard surrounded by galleries. Plaza de la Constitución is the stage where many city rituals are performed: Easter processions, youngsters getting together to go party on Granada and Uncibay Streets, locals doing the shopping, tourists who know their way around, tourists who get lost… If Larios Street is the main artery in town, then Plaza de la Constitución is the beating heart of Málaga. From the square, I walk across Pasaje de Chinitas in search of the Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace. Pasaje de Chinitas is a dear alley to the city, mentioned by Federico García Lorca in his poems. The whole story of Café de Chinitas would need a blog entry of its own. I’ll only say that it was the meeting place of the intelligentsia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a café where literature was discussed and politics was brewed, “a place halfway down a courtly hall and a brothel” (Diario Sur). The café closed down in 1937. These are García Lorca’s words about it:
“En el café de Chinitas
dijo Paquiro a su hermano:
‘Soy más valiente que tú,
más torero y más gitano’.
En el café de Chinitas
dijo Paquiro a Frascuelo:
‘Soy más valiente que tú,
más gitano y más torero’.
“At the Café de Chinitas
Paquiro said to his brother,
‘I’m braver than you are,
more of a bullfighter and gypsy.’
At the Café de Chinitas
Paquiro said to Frascuelo,
‘I’m braver than you are,
more of a gypsy and bullfighter.’”
Still hearing the merrymaking of past times, I walk away, approaching a place more connected to the soul. Let me introduce you to Málaga’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace

With García Lorca’s words still clapping like castanets in my head, I’m coming close to the most majestic building in Málaga: the Cathedral. Prone to humour as they are prone to solemnity, Malagueños call their Cathedral la manquita, for it has only one of its two towers (the other was never finished). But before visiting the city’s greatest church, whose interior affords the finest of religious experiences, I’ll take a look at the Episcopal Palace next to it, in Plaza del Obispo. The Cathedral casts its shadow across the square –a classic meeting point in town– and many tourists choose this place to take pictures or have a snack at one of the bars there. The square sounds like a small-sized Tower of Babel: you can hear different languages and accents. Groups big and small follow their flag- or umbrella carrying guides like flocks of sheep, listening to stories and curious facts about the Cathedral. Meanwhile, the Episcopal Palace watches them all. It’s a huge complex of buildings dating back to the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and bearing multiple styles, depending on each building’s original purpose. Currently, only the Diocesan Museum and an exhibition gallery are open to the public. Everything said, I’m now ready to set foot in the Cathedral. After queuing for a few minutes and paying €5, I’m in. I’ve been here before, but it still takes my breath away. Again. It’s just spectacular. No wonder the Arabs chose the same location for the largest mosque in town, which stood there for eight centuries. Construction of La Encarnación Cathedral began in 1528. Although work continued well into the eighteenth century, it was never finished. The final details of the main façade and the south tower were never added (this is why locals call the building La Manquita). Málaga Turismo adds interesting information: “The most remarkable elements inside are the choir sculptures –42 carvings by Pedro de Mena– and two rare eighteen-century organs (4,000 tubes) that are still being played today.” Words, however, are not enough to describe what you see. The church is incredibly high inside: 41.79m in the central nave. The colossal columns that hold the roof make a double half-circle delimiting a single high altar dominated by a huge stone cross, which can be seen from behind too. The sunlight filters through the windows in amazing patterns, dyed with the whimsical colours of their glaze. The paintings hanging on the walls are also very big, almost out of proportion. Visitors wander about, move as if they were to sit in the choir stalls, then leave. We all feel so tiny here, industrious ants taking pictures without flash, reading all signs, taking down notes, taking a break and sitting on a bench, praying. The Cathedral gulps me down, merciless, as I enjoy every single detail, every story, every comment. The Holy Cathedral Basilica of La Encarnación is torn between its Baroque exterior and its Renaissance interior. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the finest Renaissance icons in Andalusia. For more detailed information on the Cathedral, go to the website below. Echoes, lights and shadows, choir stalls, paintings, the imaginary music of the silent organs… Everything is inside me now. When I get out, I feel the glaring light of the sun in my eyes and an annoying pinch in my belly.

Technical Stop and Tribute at El Pimpi

It was my intention to visit the Picasso Museum before lunch and then go to El Pimpi, one of the best-known traditional taverns in town, but time flies and, after so many religious icons, I’m now really hungry. So I take Granada Street, across San Agustín Street. Granada is one of the most popular streets in town. Connecting Plaza de la Constitución with Plaza de la Merced, it’s always busy and noisy. Many well-known bars and taverns, or even prestigious restaurants, can be found here: La Campana, El Piyayo, Mariano (Plaza del Carbón), El Clandestino, and others. They’re all great eateries to go tapas or have a hearty meal. On Granada Street at Plaza del Siglo are the modern headquarters of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, the organisation where this blog was first conceived and thanks to which I’ve visited the 101 towns in Málaga Province under The Bright Blue Sky. Granada Street also houses the editorial office of the newspaper La Opinión de Málaga, as well as many different shops. My tavern choice is El Pimpi. A great place and a great name. In the nineteenth century, there used to be helpful boys at the port who helped passengers get off boats and carried their suitcases for them. They were known as pimpis. With time, pimpis grew in number and became the first tour guides in town. Their hallmark was the bikes they used to get around. After getting organised, they began to run a tavern opposite the Roman Theatre. Their tavern, called El Pimpi, became a popular meeting place for youngsters and tourists. In the shade of its casks and barrels, locals sit alongside visitors from Northern Europe or Japan, sharing the best wines and the best dishes. This is why El Pimpi is such a charming place. Moreover, El Pimpi has played host to literary meetings, flamenco shows, and endless talks between poets or artists. Antonio Gala, Manuel Alcántara, Lola Flores, and Antonio Banderas have all been at El Pimpi and signed its casks. The old history of El Pimpi (until 1800) must be connected to the modern part (as of 1971), when the tavern was reopened in the same place and with the same name, without moving a single beam. I like the ambience, the old bullfighting posters, the unmistakable flavours of traditional recipes, and the boisterous or quiet atmosphere depending on the time of day (for you can have lunch, dinner, tapas or a snack at any time at El Pimpi). Well, my technical stop at El Pimpi morphed into a tribute to this tavern’s spirit. The menu announced Iberico ham and cheese, salted meat, homemade tortilla, toast and ligeritos, rellenitos, salads… If you want to know what each of these things is, better come and taste them. My order: 6 glasses of bear, 1 chopped tomato salad, 1 ligerito serrano (loin and pepper sauce), 1 ligerito pringá (delicious stew meat), 1 ligerito montes (larder loin), 1 ligerito palomar (pork scratchings), 1 salmorejo (to wash everything down), and 1 tortilla. The bill = €33.35. Time flies (again) as I talk and laugh and order more beer and more ligeritos. I take a look at the pictures I’ve taken, plan my afternoon tour, think of the friends I’ve shared tables with at El Pimpi or those I’d like to be with here. Wearing a secret smile, I get ready to leave. It’s time to meet one of Málaga’s favourite sons: the great Pablo Picasso, whose works I can feel beyond the tavern’s walls, for the Picasso Museum is close to the Dionysian temple I’ve just been to. Off I go.