There are few places in Europe as richly textured in its mix of ancient and modern history, than the city of Malaga. Its foundations are three thousand years old, going back to early Phoenician traders who settled in Malaga along the Guadalhorce River. Its name probably came from the Phoenician word, “Malac”, which means to salt. Beginning as a fish-salting centre, it slowly grew in commercial importance, with a rich industry in metals such as copper and silver.
The Greeks followed several centuries behind the Phoenician trade; with an eye on the precious metals mined in the area they called Iberia. By then, Phoenician factories along the Mediterranean were controlling its mineral wealth and exporting it to Carthage, Sicily, the Greek Magna and the Aegeon. The early Greeks used the trade route of the Phoenicians, sending its first Greek products to the west through the Iberian peninsula. Greek rule ended in 550 BCE when Carthage took control of Malaga. The Phoenicians were forced to abandon their settlements while Carthage managed Malaga’s commercial industry.
Greece had not shown any special interest in Malaga except as a port for the precious metal industry, nor did it receive a great deal of stimulus under Carthage’s rule. The Greek and Phoenician heritage did leave behind some gifts, however. The Iberians were introduced to new crops, such as olives and straw, developed new techniques and styles in ceramics, adapted a trade currency and acquired first a Phoenician, than a Greek alphabet. Most of Greek artefacts are found inland however, leaving Malaga an industrious but under-developed city.
The Roman Empire attacked Malaga and other parts of Spain around 218 BCE, driving out the Carthaginians. Malaga benefited greatly under Roman rule once it became included in the Hispania Ulterior of the Roman Empire. It was transformed rapidly into a confederated city with its own special law, the Lex Flavia Malacitana. Malaga became one of the few Iberian cities to adjust well to its new Roman identity. The city experienced a cultural and economic revolution as the Roman theatre and the city port were constructed. When Rome embraced Christianity, so did Malaga, and the people continued to follow the Roman life-style until the collapse of the empire, with its fall during the fifth century, first by the Visigoths, then when the Byzantine Empire took control over Malaga.
The Byzantine Empire was not able to hold onto Malaga very long. The beautiful coastal town was prime real estate for conquering armies. By 624 CE, the Byzantine’s were forced from the peninsula during the Muslim/ Arab conquest. During this time period, fortifications were built, encircling the town, including the famous Alcazaba, Built as part of the defence structure; the magnificent castle is also an architectural wonder.
From Malaga, the Moors exported goods to the entire Mediterranean and to the seaport of the Arabian Kingdom of Granada. Malaga became a significant Moorish city, famous for its figs and wine. Moorish culture flourished, with festivals and activities, while the population prospered, erecting many magnificent buildings and works of art.
Malaga was one of the last towns to fall to the Reconquista, giving it a long history of Moorish influence. In 1024, it became the capital of the Taifa de Malaga, an independent Muslim kingdom ruled by the Hammudid dynasty in the Caliphate of Cordoba. This rule continued through four distinct time periods; from 1026-1047, from 1073-1090, from 1145-1153, and from 1229-1239, when it was finally conquered by the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.
Although Islamic rule had been peaceable, with Jewish colonies and clans of Christians living side by side with the dominantly Muslim community, it suffered another fate during the Reconquista. The siege of the stubborn city in 1487 was one of the longest in the history of the Christian Monarchs. At its end, the Moorish people were punished for their resistance by being sold into slavery, or captured and put to death. Much of the Moorish architecture was destroyed, with the exception of the Alcazaba and its fortifications. The once booming city experienced a slow decline, exacerbated by epidemics of disease, food shortages, floods and earthquakes. The Christian communities were built outside its walls to encourage the development of churches, convents and the formation of new neighbourhoods.
Malaga enjoyed a series of economic bursts as it began entering the eighteenth century. It never lost its reputation as one of the most rebellious cities in the country, and contributed greatly toward the triumph of Spanish liberalism. It was a pioneer in the industrialization of the Iberian Peninsula, becoming the first industrialised city in Spain.
In 1880, it began going through another decline. By 1893, its economic collapse forced it to close the La Constancia iron foundry. Accompanying the tale of woe, the sugar industry collapsed and the phylloxera blight devastated Malaga vineyards.
The early twentieth century was a period of unrest and struggles for political ideologies. In 1933, a military dictatorship was set up, with brutal consequences for the opposition. An estimated 17,000 to 20,000 citizens were murdered and buried in mass graves at the cemetery of San Rafael. Oddly enough, it was during the dictatorship that Malaga began experiencing an influx in tourism, beginning in the 1960's. The dictatorship ended with the election of a Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party mayor, who remained in office until 1995, when the conservative Popular Party won the elections.
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