Travellers searching for the “real” Spain will always be unsatisfied for Spain is a place of regions, each distinct. It is place of various identities with no unified “real” essence. It is a mosaic and every region a tile, uniquely crafted and separate in its own right but working together to make a larger image.
If Spain is a mosaic, Málaga is one of its most colourful tiles. It has been, among others, a Moorish, Vandal, Roman and Fascist city. These different histories and cultures have each left their mark and throughout the centuries have melded together and made something unique; inherited but new.
Dates are transcended as monuments from different cultures stare baldly at each other. The Moorish forts of the Alzacaba and Gibralfaro loom over the city plainly in the view of the Roman Theatre and baroque Cathedral nearby. The newer Calle Larios with its curved buildings, marble street tiles and four-storied balconies connects to the old Alameda Principal; a broad, tree-lined boulevard complete with grand mansions for Málaga ’s old bourgeoisie. Near the Alameda the 19th century Paseo Parque leads to the port; an area of intense trade and activity since 1000BC. The park is packed with trees and flowers giving the air a green tang of plants imported from Cuba, a nod to one of Spain’s last Colonial possessions.
Like most ancient, modern cities Málaga is patient, a ramblers’ delight. Visitors do not hurry through its alleyways and boulevards: they idle and dawdle, savour and discover.
In Old Málaga walkers are shaded from the sun by buildings that cast shadows and lean inwards as if burdened by the weight of stone, history and heat. Shops, bars and restaurants prop them up from below while sounds and smells pour from their balconies above. Smug diners and drinkers sit outside enjoying an afternoon caña or tapa.
Meandering streets flow onto plazas featuring even more bars, restaurants and bustle. The plazas act like beating hearts within the city, drawing people in, circulating them around the square and pumping them back out into the street. There is a waft of fried seafood in the air mingling with smells of chorizo, garlic, dust and petrol.
Plazas vary in size and function. Some, like the Plaza Constitucion at the end of the Calle Larios are flanked by polished buildings and stand as administrative, commercial and cultural centres. Smaller plazas are tucked away within the city acting as local hangouts. They are invariably noisy places; drums and music blend with rapid Spanish chatter and the shouts of children awake far later than we would consider proper.
Malaguenians maintain a fabulous sense of tradition and religious processions occur frequently. They are usually complete with traditional dress and statues of saints that obscure their carriers and appear as if floating down the street. Like all good Catholic countries food is its own ritual. Meals are lengthy and energetic affairs although, with typical Spanish nonchalance, bars and restaurants may operate on inexplicable schedules opening when the owner feels like it.
Despite this sometimes infuriating lack of efficiency Malaguenians are alluring. There is easy romance to their movement, languid yet prone to animated gesticulations. Words and laughter burst from them as friends and strangers alike are grasped by the shoulders and pulled closer as if distance between two people will dilute the atmosphere.
Visitors are drawn close, encouraged to share in the secrets of the city. Locals delight in tourist’s delight, pride dancing on their face. There is an almost conspiratorial air when they inquire about previous travels and, on hearing of visits to other Spanish cities, they nod and proclaim: “Ah, but now, you are in the REAL Spain” To them it is as if any travel up to this point was a slog, an unfortunate trek through the inauthentic with the sole purpose of getting here: to Málaga , to the REAL Spain.