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skyline including several surprising facts about Malaga

10 surprising facts about Malaga

Malaga is best known as the capital of the Costa del Sol and Picasso’s birthplace. As a city of museums, sunshine and beaches. As a destination where delicious food comes at surprisingly wallet-friendly prices. But there turns out to be a lot more to Spain’s sixth largest city – did you know these 10 surprising facts about Malaga?

Surprising fact 1: Deep factory roots

Malaga’s roots go back to 700BC making it one of the oldest cities in the Western world. The Phoenicians, a sea-faring civilisation from the Middle East, discovered it and called their new home ‘Malaka’, It means ‘factory’ or ‘salt’, continued by later arrivals in Malaga. For example, the Romans – you can see their tuna fish sauce (garum) factories in the Roman theatre – and entrepreneurs in the 19th  and 20th centuries. Their factories used the 15 industrial chimneys around the city.

Industrial past on the beach in Malaga
Industrial chimney on the western seafront

Did you know?

You can see Phoenician walls in the basement at the Picasso Museum and Malaga University Headquarters (on Paseo del Parque). The Museum of Malaga exhibits a wonderful bronze mask excavated near Plaza de la Merced and belonging to a Greek warrior employed by the Phoenicians.

Phoenician mask at Museum of Malaga
Bronze Phoenician mask

Surprising fact 2: Sea gains

Like many seaside ports, Malaga has gained a lot of land from the sea. You might be surprised to discover that the Paseo del Parque, Plaza de la Marina and a large chunk of the port area are relatively new additions to Malaga. In Moorish times, the sea lapped at the foot of Atarazanas, once the city dockyards and now the main fresh food market. Next time you’re at the market, step outside the main arch and imagine looking out across the Mediterranean.

indoor markets in Malaga
Moorish arch marking where the sea once stood

Did you know?

See this surprising fact about Malaga for yourself at the Municipal Museum (MUPAM, on Plaza de Torrijos). Feast your eyes on the engravings and models of Malaga when the Mediterranean was literally outside the Alcazaba walls.

Surprising fact 3:  Blowing hot or cool

Two types of wind blow in Malaga – the levante, the prevailing wind that comes from the east bringing humid breezes in the summer and whipping up the waves in the winter; and the poniente, known as terral in Malaga because it blews into the city via the inland valleys, baking hot in summer and chilly in winter. The terral always blows for an odd number of days and everyone crosses their fingers for none at all in the summer.

Surprising fact 4:  Being an anchovy

If you’re born in Malaga you’re a boquerón (anchovy) or boquerona if you’re female. Unsurprisingly, anchovies are one of the local delicacies, crisply fried or pickled in vinegar, available at most bars and chiringuitos (beach bars) in the city. When you’re there, spot the locals – they eat their boquerones whole.

Surprising fact 5: 10-year wonder

Although Picasso was born in Malaga, he only lived in the city for a decade of his near century long life. Not long enough to paint very much, but plenty of time for the city to make the most of its most famous inhabitant. Picasso would be proud of his museums in Malaga and probably approve of the links to his art in the Pompidou Centre, but what would he think of the souvenir Picasso aprons?

Picasso statue in Plaza de la Merced Malaga
Picasso statue in Plaza de la Merced Malaga

Surprising fact 6: A stadium-stopping war

The first foundations for the original football stadium in Malaga were laid on 21st April 1936, but just over two months later, the Spanish Civil War broke out and Malaga football team and fans had to wait four years before work could be restarted. The first game was played in 1941 against a Madrid team (Ferroviaria Madrid) with Malaga winning 6 nil. (If only Malaga CF could repeat that prowess today…)

Surprising fact 7: Seriously expensive rents

When it was built in 1891, Calle Larios was considered the most elegant street in Spain and nearly 125 years later, it ranks among the most expensive for commercial rents in the country. Rates have become so high that many traditional shops have been forced to close or move to cheaper side streets and Calle Larios is now mostly home to international brands (and a lot of lingerie stores).

Did you know?

As well as Malaga’s prime shopping street, Calle Larios also stages some of the city’s biggest events. During the Film Festival (March), the entire street has a red carpet (as in the above image); the carpet turns blue for Malaga Fashion Week (September); and at Christmas, the sound and light display is one of the best in Spain. 

Angel christmas lights in Calle Larios Malaga 2022
Christmas lights on Calle Larios 2022

Surprising fact 8: For one-night only

One of Malaga’s symbols is the biznaga, a delicate creation made from jazmine flowers attached to a dried wild thistle. Sold on summer evenings by biznagueros in traditional attire, this scented symbol rarely lasts into the next day but for a more permanent version you can buy biznagas in silver, ceramic and enamel in souvenir shops. Giant biznagas stand at the entrance to Calle Larios during the August fair and the main prize at the Malaga Film Festival is the gold biznaga de oro.

biznaga flower

Surprising fact 9: New matches old (and exactly)

The roof on Malaga cathedral has undergone extensive restoration and parts of the stone balustrade repaired. Keen to replicate the original exactly, the restorers brought in stone from the village of Almayate, 30km east of Malaga whose quarry had provided all the stone in the cathedral since the foundations were laid in the year 700. The quarry was specially opened for the restoration work.

new stone matches old on Malaga Cathedral roof
New and old stone on Malaga Cathedral roof

Surprising fact 10: Coffee like Malaga makes it

The Malagueños are big fans of coffee, but they’re also very picky about how they like it – half milk with half coffee, two-thirds coffee with one-third milk, splash of milk, splash of coffee… And all the different combinations have a name – read about Malaga coffee doses.

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