Thursday, 5 May 2011

Continued from
Click on link to go to Part 1

Picasso: The Museum

Picasso introduces a new look at Málaga. A look at an outlined, severed face. A look in which reality appears carved by a new and unique chisel. Maybe it’s not a matter of chance. Maybe the many-faced Málaga had an impact on the boy playing in Plaza de la Merced, maybe the salt, the seagulls, the men and women lying on the beach influenced his matchless perspective. What could be the genesis of his unbridled cubist look? Málaga and the Mediterranean are ever-present in Picasso’s work, in the form of childhood visions or as part of the painter’s DNA. These are my thoughts as I stand in the queue outside the Picasso Museum. The Museum is housed in the former Palacio de Buenavista, an ascetic sixteenth-century building with whitewashed walls. Málaga is an amazing blend of history and avant-garde. Thus, under this temple of modernity, containing the work of one of the most prolific innovative artists of the twentieth century, there’s an archaeological site where the Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Arabs share Picasso’s Mediterranean essence. 155 works on display. 155 works that show Picasso’s development as a painter and a sculptor. 155 works that make the Picasso Museum in Málaga necessary and the most visited museum in the province. Book illustrations, drawings, sculptures, pottery, graphic designs from 1890 to 1973. 155 works that are the real stars here. An explosion of colour against a white background. Impossible silhouettes. Doves ready to fly away. Volatile figures. I sink the Picasso’s world of dreams. I’m wandering. I’m floating. I see the other visitors with new eyes. I break up their faces and put the pieces together again, as if they were puzzles. Visitors moving from one painting to the next. Visitors who know what they’ve come to see, analysing this brushstroke or that line. Sceptical visitors who can’t see the value of Picasso’s break with tradition. Conscientious visitors wanting to see everything and analyse every single detail, coming closer and then moving back, as if sizing the works up. Visitors who feel Picasso. It takes time to visit the Picasso Museum. It takes time and energy. You have to make a contribution: open your mind and let go. For information on the Museum, admission fees, hours, temporary exhibitions, the permanent collection, the genesis of the works, calendar of events, news, etc., go to Combined tickets for the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions are €8 (permanent collection only: €6; temporary exhibitions only: €4.50). Now on: “Kippenberger Meets Picasso.” If you can, have breakfast at the café. It can be expensive, but it’s worth it. Water and stone in a cosy patio as the building comes to life and the works shake off their drowsy sleep.

From Plaza de la Merced to Picasso’s Birthplace to Juan Breva Museum of Flamenco Art

The boisterous Granada Street takes me to Plaza de la Merced, past El Pimpi, where I felt so good a few hours ago. If Larios Street is Málaga’s main artery and Plaza de la Constitución is its beating heart, Plaza de la Merced is the epicentre of an earthquake. Everyone seems to meet in this square: youngsters ready for party, tourists, families in their early walks, and pigeons in the early afternoon. In the middle of the square there’s a monument to General Torrijos, one of those rare men who are committed to ideas like freedom above all else. His ideals cost him his life (he had a tragic death). To read more about him, click here. Facing the square, the Picasso Foundation and the Picasso Birthplace and Museum (admission + audio guide: €2). Take a look at the website (Picasso Foundation) before coming. You can read about the foundation’s mission, activities, and publications. The audio guide tells interesting facts about Picasso’s childhood, his family, his first steps in Málaga. It’s weird to be in the place where one of the geniuses of the twentieth century was born and raised. It helps understand where that unique vision came from, how little Pablo looked at this very square from these very balconies. If you’re a Picasso fan, download the special Picasso Route at Málaga Turismo (Picasso in Málaga) –a sightseeing tour with 13 points that had an influence on the life of the great artist: Picasso Foundation, La Malagueta bullring, Church of Santiago, old Town Museum, old Academy of Fine Arts… From the Picasso Foundation, my feet take me to the Cervantes Theatre, whose grey façade stands out against the cloudy sky. Built in 1870, the Cervantes Theatre puts on a wide range of shows and concerts throughout the year, reaching its climax at the Málaga Spanish Film Festival, whose main venue it is (the opening and closing ceremonies are held here). For information on the Festival –an event that’s becoming increasingly important and injects a dose of extra vitality to an already vital city–, go to The festival is held in March or April. Other Festival venues include the Echegaray Theatre and the Albéniz Cinema. I have to fight hard to resist the temptation of having an invigorating coffee at one of the cafés in the square before the theatre. Carcer Street leads to Álamos Street and this brings me back to Plaza de la Merced. Along the way I come across the Juan Breva Museum of Flamenco Art on 4 Ramón Franquelo Street. The building houses the Museum and the headquarters of the Juan Breva Flamenco Club. As a matter of fact, the Museum opened in 2008, on the occasion of the Club’s 50th anniversary. The collection contains 5,000 flamenco-related objects, 2,500 of which are records. It’s considered to be one of the most important flamenco treasures in Spain. Alongside the original records, there’re 40 guitars (some dating back to the eighteenth century), embroidered shawls, phonographs, dresses with trains, etc. Certainly, a must-attend for flamenco lovers and a curious sight for general visitors. Back in Plaza de la Merced. This is where Day 1 ends.

Some Clues

I share opinions, go over my notes, read some of the brochures I’ve collected during the day, and realise it’s been a hard day, rich in reflections and emotions. Now, I’ll give you some clues to have dinner, go tapas, or have a drink. The Historic District is crowded at weekends. The corner of Larios Street and Granada Street opens up zillions of leisure and culinary options. Some of them you’ll find below. The surroundings of the Albéniz Cinema are a typical meeting point, with several bars to have a coffee in the afternoon or a drink in the evening. Sitting at one of those tables, you can get great views of the Arab Fortress or the Roman Theatre –quite a privilege. Plaza Uncibay is another square featuring various bars, restaurants, and coffee houses. But there’re more squares and streets: Plaza del Carbón, Plaza del Siglo, Plaza Jerónimo Cuervo (opposite the Cervantes Theatre), Calle Méndez Núñez, etc., etc., etc. All of them can be reached on foot. International or Mediterranean cuisine, tapas, avant-garde dishes, fast food, fried fish… Tastes and colours for everyone. A coffee on a terrace, dinner at a modern restaurant, two pints of beer later in the evening… And then, to bed. I’ve booked an affordable room at a hotel in central Málaga. Just check rates and deals before coming; there’re so many options…

The Roman Theatre

Day 2: Older Málaga. The Roman Theatre, the Arab Fortress, the Gibralfaro Castle, and lunch in El Palo. The Visitor Centre at the Roman Theatre is one of the most modern centres of its kind I’ve ever been too. It’s free. The tour begins with a multimedia film in three screens and then you move on to cases that turn on when you pass by. In addition, there’re touchscreens where you choose the information you want to read. Modern and interesting. The contrast with the Theatre itself is amazing: from twenty-first-century technology to the latest engineering available in the first century B.C. Málaga’s Roman Theatre is a symbol of the city’s importance in Roman times. Perched on a hill in the shadow of the Arab Fortress, it was active until the third century AD, i.e. for almost four centuries. When the Arabs came to town, it had fallen into disuse, and so some of its stones were used to build the Fortress. Hence the Roman capitals or shafts inside the purely Arab construction. I come on stage, admiring the rehabilitation work done for visitors to be part of such a magic setting without spoiling the original building. I think of the Greek tragedies and Roman satires that must have been staged. I can hear the actors saying their soliloquies in a loud voice. As if by sleight of hand, when I leave the Roman Theatre, I find myself at the entrance of the Arab Fortress.

The Fortress: An Arab Dream

I’m loving it. I’ve been loving it since I first visited it a few years ago. The cobblestones, the views of the port and the roofs, the orange blossom smells, the direct look at the Mediterranean. There’re multiple entrances. Combined tickets for the Fortress and the Castle are €6.90 for two. Tickets are sold by vending machines, so make sure you’ve got change. The Arab Fortress combines the grace of a palace with the roughness of a fort. And it’s the combination that makes it glorious. When you wander about its battlements, gazing at the city and the sea, you understand why it was such an important building. Standing on a hillock by the sea, the Fortress watches over the natural bay of the Port of Málaga. Built in the eleventh century, it remained in the hands of the Muslims until Málaga was conquered by the Christian army in the fifteenth century. Two walls with L-shaped doors make the main hall. The lower, thicker, wall surrounds the building housing the chambers where the rulers lived. I roam and ramble without end. I fancy what life must have been like in those times, based on the objects shown in the Fortress’s cases, the murmur of the water flowing along irrigation canals, and the polychrome paintings on the arches. Veils and robes and turbans that evoke Moorish queens, emirs, and rulers gazing at Africa from the keep. I take a seat in the garden, close my eyes, give in to the morning cold, the violent aromas of the flowers, the lullabies from the water pipes. Visitors come and go, speaking different languages, and I think of the Port of Málaga as a medieval Babel in times of the Arabs. The Arab Fortress is connected to the Gibralfaro Castle by La Coracha, an uphill street between two imposing wall stretches. The street is inaccessible, though. There’re three other ways of getting to the Castle: skirting the outer wall, taking a bus (hours and stops shown at the entrance to the Fortress), or driving. If you choose to go on foot, take the lift down to the street –you’ll need to save energy for the climb.

Gibralfaro: Málaga’s Bastion

It’s a 20’ steep climb. If you’re fit enough and in no hurry, the walk is worth it, as you’ll get gradual views of the city, La Malagueta Bullring, and the districts of Pedregalejo, El Limonar, and El Palo. It’s tiring, but Málaga’s bright blue sky makes up for that. The Castle’s history is appealing, as usual. Toponymy. Etymology. The word Gibralfaro is believed to be a blend of an Arabic and a Greek stem: Yabal, “mountain,” and Faruh, “lighthouse.” Yabal-Faruh > Gibralfaro. The name points to the castle’s function as a coastal watchtower in times of the Phoenicians. The Gibralfaro Castle was built in times of Yusuf I (fourteenth century), probably to defend the Arab Fortress from ground and sea attacks. But the Castle’s background and reasons for being there pale before the beautiful setting. The Guadalhorce Valley penetrates the land with its boundless fruit and vegetable gardens. Málaga, Malaka, falls at my feet in a bird’s-eye view of some of its hidden treasures. The hillock affords views of the unfinished Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, the towers of the Churches of Los Mártires and San Juan, the new neighbourhoods and housing developments taking the city away from the sea, La Rosaleda Stadium (where Málaga CF play), the pine groves around the Castle, the Fortress and its chambers, the walls, the port and its huge steel insects, a.k.a. cranes, La Malagueta Bullring, the connection with the east with El Palo in the background, the connection with the west and Torremolinos, the first mountain slopes… And, above it all, the bright blue sky. A sky in a unique shade illuminating Málaga. A sky shared with and yet different from the 100 other towns and villages that make Málaga Province. A sky that is neither water nor cloud, that boasts a blazing sun in the summer and a decadent light in the autumn, that affords beach days in winter and colour revival in spring. You can walk along the Castle walls. Some steps are quite steep, but you can reach all bastions, look down at La Coracha, or play soldiers and pretend you shoot the cannons from the portholes. Inside there’s a Visitor Centre displaying original artifacts and replicas that reveal the Castle’s historical value and the role of Málaga in history. Rifles, sabres, and military uniforms to let your imagination run wild. The sun rules in the bright blue sky. Afternoon: time to think of my next target –lunch on the beach.

El Palo

I pick up my car at the parking area and drive to El Palo, enjoying the coastal landscape and the peculiar mix of smells: sardine skewers and salty waves. I drive past the Baths of El Carmen, an old resort built in 1920 and very popular with the early-twentieth-century bourgeoisie. Now, a decadent air makes it almost irresistible, one of the best places for coffee at sunset. El Palo is immediately associated with sea aromas, as if it were encoded in its DNA. Life here is rocked by the waves, the murmur of water, the delicate swing of the Mediterranean. The sea promenade is full of people, locals and out-of-towners alike. They’re skating, riding bikes, jogging, strolling… They look at the sea in amazement or with the certainty of those who see it every day. The charcoal is ready for the sardine skewers. The espeteros poke at them with care and know-how. Sea smells. Sea flavours. And sea characters. A tough, gaunt sailor, with skin weather-beaten and his beard grown, plays chess with a man in a suit. An old woman walks her tiny dog wearing a leopard print hoodie (the dog); she’s wearing a flower print dress, a flower print shawl, a flower tiara, and Nike Air gym shoes. Bars and restaurants have mushroomed in El Palo. They offer all imaginable fish dishes, all imaginable rice dishes, and all imaginable fish and rice combinations –the Mediterranean trapped in a pot. I’ve made up my mind already. A classic this time. A must-visit in Málaga. You have to enjoy or suffer it at least once in a lifetime: El Tintero.

Lunch at El Tintero: Y yo cobro!!

Even if you’ve been here before, you’ll be surprised. The waiters cry, “Concha fina, fina, fina, de verdad,” “En vinagre, llevo los boquerones en vinagre,” “Cigalita plancha, digo, cigala plancha”… A string of warnings that seems to have no end. All waiters hover between the tables as they shout the names of the dishes they’re carrying. Guests raise their hands to indicate what dish is theirs. No traditional menu. No traditional service. Instead, fish auction. Plates are never removed from your table before you finish. They just pile up, in different sizes and shapes, and when you’re done, a new character appears: “Y yo cobro! ¡No me quieren ver, pero yo cobro!” It’s the bill man. He counts the plates and the bottles and writes the amount on the paper tablecloth. This is how El Tintero works. It’s a restaurant-cum-show. It’s always crowded, and they make no reservations. Of course, it’s always boisterous and noisy. If you’re looking for a quiet seaside eatery, this isn’t the right place for you. Now, if you choose to come, be ready to enjoy yourself without guilt or complexes. Be ready to put up your hand to call the waiter when he shouts, “Calamar plancha llevo, oiga, calamar plancha!” If you’re visiting Málaga in the high season, be early (1:00 or 1:30 p.m.). Otherwise, it’ll be difficult to get a table (anyway, there’re guests finishing and new guests coming all the time). Also, don’t get too excited about the first cry you hear. Take your time; choose your fish: there’s enough for all, and it’s always fresh. I order water and beer, and a long list of dishes: rice, grilled prawns, grilled squid, clams, marinade, scallop… The bill = check the picture. After lunch, I make a short documentary video of life in El Tintero, which you can watch below.


As I bid farewell to Málaga, I feel my heart is filled with colours, flavours, aromas, sensations, names, stories and histories, peoples, streets and squares, buildings, morose strolls, sunsets on fire, party evenings, glorious dawns, poems and poets, tapas, painters and Roman legions, brotherhoods and tourists, museums, rivers and sandy beaches, curious characters, looks, pleasures and devotions, religious feelings, austerity and merrymaking, loneliness and hurly-burly, Larios Street, theatres, castle battlements… I shake it all, I mix it all until a get a unique blend, distinct and matchless. It’s the blend that makes the bright blue sky. Málaga’s bright blue sky.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

About this tour: It’s been my intention to design a comprehensive tour of Málaga City, including as many interesting sights as possible –the musts and a little more. In this I’ve followed expert advice and word-of-mouth recommendations, as well as past experience and hunches. This double-entry article on Málaga is just a sketch. Of course, the best thing to do is find the Málaga you want or need to find. There’re so many things in Málaga that there’s a Málaga for everyone, as there’s been one for me. Experience it. Enjoy it. The Mediterranean dream lives in its streets.
What to visit: 23 museums: There’re 23 museums in Málaga. There’re museums of the most various kinds. Here you can download a PDF file containing the locations and brief descriptions of all of them. Music, dollhouses, glass, cars… You name it. Málaga is a city of museums.
When to come: Festivals: Málaga’s cultural life and calendar of activities are built around four major events –Easter, the Festival of Virgen del Carmen (with the fishermen’s procession), the August Fair, and the Málaga Spanish Film Festival. For more information about them, click on the links above.
Before coming: To make your tour of Málaga more enjoyable, contact the staff at the Costa del Sol Tourist Board Contact Centre or the various Tourist Offices. Knowing the itineraries, hours, and fares in advance will help you make the most of your trip.
Useful links: In addition to all the websites included in parts 1 and 2 of this article, I shall add two key references: Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Málaga Turismo. In them you’ll find all you need to know to plan a perfect trip.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.