Malaga City History

© MVC - There is something for everyone in Malaga, history, beaches, city culture all with a superb Mediterranean climate
There is something for everyone in Malaga, history, beaches, city culture all with a superb Mediterranean climate

Malaga City History

by Chris Chaplow with Chris Wawn and David Wood.


3.000 years ago the Phoenicians landed in Málaga, they called it MALACA (probably from the word malac - to salt) and they used the harbour as an important centre for salting fish. They built the fortress overlooking Málaga - now replaced by the Alcazaba, the interesting archaeological museum housed in the Moorish Castle, beneath this fortress contains Phoenician pottery excavated from the fortress and nearby burial grounds.

The ancient settlement of Cerro del Villar was built by Phoenicians around the second quarter of the 8th century BCE on a small sand bar (island) in the wide estuary of the Guadalhorce River. The sand bar is now connected to the southern river bank and alluvial plane. A ground-penetrating radar survey in 2018 has confirmed that the town is intact with its houses and streets.

Due to the low height above mean sea level, the site was been prone to river floodings. In other Phonecian settlement locations on the Andalucia coast such as Cadiz, Almuñecar, or Malaga city, the Romans (and later civilisations settled) on top of the Phoenician remains. However El Cerro del Villar is unique in that after the island was abandoned posible by a tsunami in 584 BCE, no one settled there again and the Phonecian remains have been preserved. An excavation took place in summer of 2022. The site is not open to the public but can be viewed from its perimeter where there are information boards. It is located south-west of the MA-20 ring road on the east bank of the Guadalhorse river estuary south-west of the Malaga Coastal Path. GPS is 36.67221, -4.46404.





The Greeks followed the Phoenicians in the 6th century B.C.


Málaga was further developed by the Romans, who colonised Spain in 218 B.C. and stayed for more than six centuries. They enlarged the fortress and built a theatre as its base which is now excavated and open to the public. Under Roman rule, Málaga prospered as a trading port, with exports of iron copper and lead from the mines in nearby Ronda, they also exported olive oil, wine and garum (a relish of pickled fish). 


The Visigoths were one of two branches of the Germanic Goths and the name meant 'Valiant People'. Malaga fiercely resisted their invasion and when they entered the city around 490AD the Visigoths found it half deserted. The Visigoth had lived inside the Roman Empire for many years and had become Romanised in habits. The big difference however was no Emperor but an elected King and an assembly of free men who were eligible to go to war.


The Byzantine Emperor Justinian force captured the city for a time and marble and stone was exported for the construction of Sancta Sophia church in Constantinople. When the Byzantine enclaves were eradicated by 630 AD Malaga (unlike Cartagena) was not distroyed.


In 711 A.D. the Moors invaded Spain and called her Al-Andalus. Málaga became a major Moorish city and port - it was the main port for Granada too, famed for Figs and Wine. Moorish ruler Yusuf I built the Gibralfaro as a defence against the Christian conquerors Isabella and Ferdinand, however the defences were not enough to keep them at bay, after a bitter seige Málaga fell to the Christians in 1487. It was one of the last cities to be taken by the Christian conquerors. After the conquest Moors in the city were persecuted, and their belongings confiscated, the city mosque was converted into a Cathedral. At this point the city fell into decline, followed by a revolt in 1568 by the Moors, which resulted in their complete expulsion from the region.

Christian Period

The Golden age of 1500 to 1650 was more about Seville and Cadiz, In Malaga the nobility deserted the city, hense there is little Andalucia Christian architecture to be seen today. The port remained active including a lucrative slave trade of captured Turks, North African Berbers and indeed Moriscos. the Bubonic plaque that swept the city in 1637 is blamed on a sailor. Vinegar was the weapon against the plague and all awnings were soaked in it. The plague only subsided after 9th July when the whole of the city knelt beside the route of the Virgin of Victory which was carried to the convent of St. Francis. They were dificult times for Malaga including great floods in 1580, 1621, and 1661 the last of which distroyed the roman Bridge of Santo Domingo. There were two large explosions in 1595 and 1618 at the gunpowder factory that stood close to La Ataranza in the Plaza de Arriola.  A yellow fever epidemic raged in Malaga for a year in 1803.


Napoleon's forces invaded Malaga in 1808, the locals resisted and were brushed aside by the superior force. The Duke of Wellington aided by Spanish guerillas ousted the French in the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The constitution of Cadiz was written that year by a Cortes in that city which limited powers of the monarchy, established a single chamber parliament without privileges for the nobility and the church. King Ferdinand VII returned from exile in France and his repressive rule sparked many rebellions. One of the most notable was by General Jose Maria de Torrijos and Robert Boyd. An obelisk was raised to their memory in Plaza de la Merced. Another rebellion was the Coloraos in Almeria whose monument can be seen in Plaza Vieja, Almeria City.


© Chris  Chaplow Plaque on the Obelisk in Plaza de la Merced
Plaque on the Obelisk in Plaza de la Merced


Following the death of Fernando in 1833 freedom and prosperity truly returned to Málaga, middle class families from the north brought wealth which they invested in factories, shipyards, and sugar refineries. In nearby Marbella and Ojen Manuel Agustin Herrera had opened his two iron ore foundries, El Angel and La Concepcion and in 1846 he joined the Larios family from La Rioja in setting up the textile company Industria Malagueña SA. Sr. Loring set up Banco de Malaga. It is from these families that the streets take their name. Meanwhile, Málaga´s dessert wine had become the favourite tipple of Victorian ladies, and thus, wine exports soared.

Chiefly because of the beneficial climate, Malaga became a favourite foreign residence for wealthy English invalids from around the middle of the 19th century. Lady Louisa Tenison observed in 1850. "society there is none, and with the exception of the theatre there are no amusements whatsoever which could contribute to make time pass agreeable, and no objects of interest to attract the traveler". What perverse desire for martyrdom, we wonder, made her stay?

However the prosperity was short lived, in the early 20th century the phylloxera virus (also known as the blight) struck the vineyards and wiped put entire crops, and other industries succumbed to global competition and collapsed. The city lost its reputation in the lead up to the Civil War, when several groups of radicals started a number of revolts.


During the Civil War, the city was outwardly republican, the result of which was repression and persecution; convents and churches were burned to the ground and heavy bombing from Italian forces destroyed large portions of the city´s ancient architecture. As Franco´s nationalist forces came south and crossed the province, by the end of 1936 Nationalists controlled everything from the south of Estepona to Ronda and Granada leaving only a 20km strip and Malaga in republican hands and even their commander in Valencia grew disenchanted with his comrades and declared "Not a rifle or a cartridge more for Malaga."

The Nationalist colonel, the Duque de Sevilla, started the offensive on Jan 17th 1937. His troops moved up the coastline from Estepona and met little offensive and took Marbella in three days. A second thrust came from the north and took Alhama. On February 3rd nine battalions of Italian black shirts and a hundred aircraft began the assault. The fighting produced panic in the city when it became clear that the Almeria corridor east along the coast might be cut. There was a mass civilian exodus along the coast road to the east which suffered ariel and naval bombardment. Numbers of civilians who took part in this and fatalities are debated to this day. A monument at one particular black spot can be seen today on the old coast road. The that remained population of the city was also subjected to mass executions by conquering Nationalists leaving an emotional scar on the city.


In the 1960´s things finally started to pick up again for Málaga, the city´s big break came in the form of mass tourism made possible by the airliner. Franco who is often accused of starving the south of industrial recourses was quick to develop tourist infrastructure such as Malaga Airport and high rise hotels in Torremolinos (which was a district of Malaga until 1988) to capitalize on the bohemian image created by escapades of Jean Cocteau and others. Read a detailed  acount of the history of Tourism in Torremolinos.   Alfonso Hohenlohe opened the Marbella Club Hotel in 1954 and the hotel Pez Espada was opened in Torremolinos in 1959. The Costa del Sol became the hub of tourism in Europe.

The AVE high speed train connected Malaga to the capital Madrid in just 2 and a half hours in 2004. Even since this website was created in 1996 when we politely described Malaga as ‘gritty' it has been transformed for tourists with a number of initiatives including the city centre pedestrian zones, the Picasso and Carmen Thyssen and other museums, the Muelle Uno port development and the Pomipdou center. Malaga is now a tourist destination in its own right.