The city of Malaga has over 3,000 years of history, from its Phoenician origins all the way to today’s beautiful, friendly, cosmopolitan city that enchants tourists from all over the world.
The city of Malaga has over 3,000 years of history, from its Phoenician origins all the way to today’s beautiful, friendly, cosmopolitan city that enchants tourists from all over the world. The city has been populated since prehistoric times, although it was the Phoenicians who founded the first settlement, at the mouth of the Guadalhorce, under the name of Malaka. These Semitic traders established several colonies in the area due to its wealth of wood for foundries and the abundance of the fishing industry, for the production of purple dye and salted fish. After this trade was dominated by the Punics in the second half of the 6th century BC, the Phoenician colonies were abandoned, and the Carthaginians settled on the southern Spanish coast. From the end of the 6th century BC to the change of era, Malaga’s territories were occupied by two types of people: those who lived in the coastal area, called Libio-Phoenicians, and those in the interior, called Iberians or Turdetans.
At the end of the third century BC, the Romans began their fight against the Carthaginians, eventually dominating the area and unifying its population. The Romans imposed the Latin language on the inhabitants of the area, and many changes occurred in their lives and customs. Malaga became part of Hispania Ulterior. After two centuries of domination, Malaga began to develop new communication routes that connected it with other territories. New legal statutes were introduced, with the Lex Flavia Malacitana, passed in the year 81, standing out in the first century. Some fragments of this law can be read today in the Interpretation Centre of the Roman Theatre in Malaga.
In this area of the city we can still see remains from the Roman period, such as one of the city’s major monuments, the Roman Theatre, which has been restored as a theatrical space, and the glass prism on Calle Alcazabilla, through which you can see some garum basins. Garum (a fermented fish sauce) was played a very important economic role in the history of Malaga, as it was exported to many parts of the Roman Empire. Throughout the 3rd and 4th centuries, great changes took place in all areas, including religious beliefs, with Christianity spreading rapidly. The fall of the Roman Empire was followed by the rule of the Byzantine Empire, until they were expelled by the Visigoths at the beginning of the 7th century.
In 711 the process of feudalisation was interrupted by the Muslim conquest. New settlers became established, and a large part of the native population took refuge in the Montes de Málaga Natural Park. The defeat of King Roderic by Tariq ibn Ziyad marked the beginning of eight centuries of history in which Malaga was part of the Islamic world. This led to a distinct evolution in its society, compared to the process taking place at the time in Europe, where society was feudal. Architecture, inward-facing houses with no façades, crafts, commerce, and agriculture that supplied the urban centres are some of the characteristics of this period.
The process of Islamisation that took place during the 8th and 9th centuries, promoted by the new Umayyad dynasty, was faced with resistance from tribal groups, as well as from the heirs of the Visigothic aristocracy. The most important rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate was led by Omar ben Hafsún and his sons in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, and was centred in the province of Malaga, specifically in Bobastro. This revolt was the last attempt in Al-Andalus to maintain the feudal privileges formally held by the aristocracy of Hispanic-Gothic origin. Ultimately, it was destined to fail, as it lacked the social base to sustain it, given the progress of Islamisation in the population as a whole.
The fall of Bobastro imposed the Islamic system, with the proliferation of alquerías (small rural farming communities) and an increase in irrigation. It is during this period that the Alcazaba of Malaga was built, one of the city’s most important monuments. The integration of the successive Berber empires of the Almoravids and Almohads, from the end of the 11th century until well into the 13th century, led to the lands and the city of Malaga becoming definitively established in the western Mediterranean sphere.
On 19th August 1487, the Catholic Monarchs entered the newly conquered city. From that time onwards, Malaga underwent important changes in its urban layout. A longitudinal axis was opened, followed by another transversal one, both intersecting at the “Plaza de las Cuatro Calles” (“Square of the Four Streets”). This later became the city’s Plaza Mayor, today called Plaza de la Constitución. The most profound transformations took place in the southern half, where the opening of the Calle Nueva made it possible to link the Plaza de la Constitución with that of Puerta del Mar.
From the 16th century onwards, the port of Malaga became the driving force behind its production system, to the extent that it transformed the city into an important trading centre. Wine and raisins were the products that dominated Malaga’s exports, and constituted its main source of income. Silk, which was closely tied to Malaga’s Moorish history, stood out in the textile sector. Malaga’s strategic location would transform the city and its coast into pieces on the political chequerboard of the House of Habsburg, who turned the capital into a veritable arsenal. During this period, the church of Malaga had almost completed the network of parishes and religious and charitable institutions throughout the diocese.
The population of Malaga grew despite the many disasters that took place in the 18th century, and it spread to neighbourhoods outside the city walls, such as Perchel, Trinidad, Capuchinos and Victoria, which are now traditional neighbourhoods in the city. Next to the sea, the Paseo de la Alameda (or Alameda Principal, the main boulevard) was created, an urban symbol of the new era. The Cathedral was also built at this time.
The beginning of the 19th century was marked by the presence of various adverse events that left a strong mark on the lives of the people of Malaga: the aftermath of the war against Great Britain, which had very detrimental effects on trade; a deadly epidemic of yellow fever in the years 1803-1804; and, as a disastrous climax, the Spanish War of Independence. The reign of Ferdinand VII (1814-1833) was a period of economic stagnation and major political instability. In addition to the consequences of the war against the French, the effects of the independence of Latin America were also felt. The political struggles between liberals and absolutists drew a lot of energy away from the recovery of the country.
Towards the end of his reign, Malaga was the scene of one of the cruellest episodes of absolutist repression: the execution of General Torrijos and his companions. Ferdinand VII did not deliver the expected peace and harmony. Today, in the Plaza de la Merced, there is an obelisk monument to Torrijos.
The second third of the century brought an economic revival for Malaga, which became one of Spain’s major manufacturing locations. An example of this was seen in the forges of Manuel Agustín Heredia, who found a place among the leading iron manufacturers in Spain. The Larios family also played a role in a major growth in the textile industry. Other families that stood out in Malaga at that time included Loring, Huelin, Crooke and Gross, among others. The proliferation of factories led to the appearance of an industrial and workers’ city on the right bank of the Guadalmedina River, separated from the bourgeois and residential areas of the centre and east.
Malaga contributed decisively to the triumph of liberalism in Spain. During the years that followed the death of Ferdinand VII, the city initiated or supported insurrectional movements aimed at preventing political regression and avoiding any form of despotism. In 1843, this attitude earned Malaga the title of “Siempre Denodada” (“Always Courageous”), and the motto “La primera en el peligro de la libertad” (“First in the fight for freedom”).
After the military coup of 1868 that ended the reign of Isabel II, a radical period followed among the popular classes with rebellious attitudes. It was in the 1870s that the area’s prosperity began to crumble, due to the decline of the steel industry, trade and agriculture, the latter due to a serious phylloxera plague. It was then that Malaga’s tourism industry began to take shape, an alternative that sought to take advantage of its privileged climate and geographical setting. In 1897, the Sociedad Propagandística del Clima y Embellecimiento de Málaga (Propaganda Society for the Climate and Beautification of Malaga) was created.
By the 20th century, some important changes had already started to take place in Malaga, such as the circulation of trams in the city and the commissioning of El Chorro hydroelectric power station, which supplied the city with electricity. Spain’s neutrality during the Great War (1914-1918) opened the way to a short period of economic recovery, but it was during this period that social conflict intensified and a revolutionary crisis broke out.
The Spanish Civil War was particularly bloody in Malaga. From the 1950s onwards, a dual economy began to take shape in the Malaga area: a modern and progressive sector, tourism, and another traditional and regressive one, agriculture and the rural world. During these years, the city grew in a disorderly manner. There was a lot of urban expansion, based on a tolerant urban policy.
Between 1960 and 1975 the history of Malaga is marked by the presence of two major facets. On the one hand, the economic recession of the sixties, following the growth achieved in the previous decade; on the other hand, the consolidation of “Malaga’s demographic duality”, due to the contrast between the depopulation occurring inland and extensive settlement on the Costa del Sol coast.
The boost arising from tourism triggered strong demographic growth along the Costa del Sol, and an economic policy was implemented that sought to attract not only tourists but also foreign capital. Between the expansion of the sixties and the crisis of the early seventies, decisive changes would occur in Malaga. On the one hand, the capital grew at a dizzying rate and in a disorderly manner; on the other, political and union activity in opposition to the regime resumed, after a long period of silence. There was also a cultural revival that was of great social significance, exemplified by the founding of the Ateneo and the creation of the University.