Dominating the central part of the city of Malaga is the hill known as Gibralfaro. The name comes from the Arabic Yabal – mountain and the Greek Faruk which means lighthouse, hence Gibralfaro. It is interesting to speculate whether the Phoenicians did actually use the hill as a lighthouse. There was certainly a settlement there, built on terraces, with its own defenses. Both settlement and defenses were extended by the Romans. The name of the hill is normally given to the castle that sits upon it so you can talk about the Castle at Malaga and the Gibralfaro at Malaga, the terms are interchangeable.
The Moors arrived in 711 but it was not until 1050 AD that the King of Granada, Badis el Ziri, ordered the building of an Alcazaba to be used as a royal residence and to protect the town beneath its walls from the pirates who were increasingly threatening coastal settlements. Unusually, the Alcazaba was not built around the highest point, the Gibralfaro, but on a spur of the hill somewhat lower down.
Until the 14th Century this was of little concern however, the introduction of cannon fired by gunpowder made the Alcazaba vulnerable from this higher point, the Gibralfaro, just a couple of hundred metres away. Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada from 1333 to 1354, ordered the building of a castle and more improvements to the Alcazaba. This is the chap who also had the Gate of Justice in Granada built, now the entrance to the Alhambra Palace. Zig zagging between the castle and the Alcazaba there is a double wall that forms a protected passageway between the two complexes. This feature is known as a Coracha and part of it can be seen through the trees in the two images above.
Within the imposing walls of the castle there is a deep well to secure a water supply, and terraces laid out with herb and fruit gardens to supplement the diet of the defenders. Two large ovens supplied bread.
For a time Malaga was considered the most impregnable fortress on the Iberian Peninsula.
Just over a hundred years later, in 1487, the defenses were put to the test when Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile laid siege to the city. This was the first recorded conflict in which both defensive and attacking sides used gunpowder. The Malagueños lasted three months before surrendering. Following the siege Ferdinand and Isabella must have had a tiff, he took up residence in the Alcazabar whilst she slept in the town. Or perhaps she just did not like climbing the hill.
The castle was occupied by the military right through until 1925 serving as a garrison and then as a training establishment. During that time it saw a little action. In 1656 the castle was bombarded by five British frigates during the Anglo Spanish War. The damage was minimal. Then in 1810 the city was occupied by the French during the Peninsular War.
In July 1873, during the Cantonal Revolution, Malaga was one of the cities in Spain that, disgruntled with the short lived First Republic government, decided to unilaterally declare independence by becoming a self governing Canton. The Gibralfaro was the main defensive position manned by militia who would rather have been at home with their families. Less than a month later, on the 3rd August, Malaga surrendered to a detachment of gendarmes and a few members of the line regiments who had not gone over to the Cantonist side led by General Pavia.
The tour of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro usually starts at the Alcazaba where you can buy a ticket that gains you entrance to both.
The Alcazaba, although a little smaller, is as beautiful as the ones at Almeria or Granada. Courtyards intersperse the formal gardens with ornately decorated rooms leading off. Water features play a prominent role, cooling and refreshing the air. It is, altogether, a delightful place.
Within some of the rooms you will see displays of Moorish glassware, richly coloured, fit for the Sultans that used it.
After the coolness within the Alcazaba it is a shock to find that, if you are walking, the path to the Gibralfaro is outside the walls, up the side of the hill itself. What would have been bare earth and rock has now been transformed into gardens with the path zigzagging up through shrubs and flowers.
The main courtyard as you enter the castle houses an Interpretation Centre, formerly the Military Museum, with an exhibition of the history of the Gibralfaro as seen by its occupants through time. You can climb the Torre Mayor for spectacular views over the city. The main courtyard also contains a well, reputedly Phoenician, together with the remains of a bath house and a later well that was dug 40 metres down through solid rock.
Below the main courtyard is a second courtyard. This used to be for the barracks and stables. The distinctive tower facing north east is the Torre Blanca. From this tower you can patrol the battlements and enjoy a 360 degree panorama of the city, the bay, the coast west and east and the mountains.
Visit the Alcazaba website for opening times and prices
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Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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