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

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

 

 

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.

Malaga market - imagine the sea just outside it

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 blows 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.

Did you know? 

Sometimes the levante wind builds up low cloud that sweeps into the city as a thick mist, usually in the summer. Known as the taró (another Phoenician word), the mist lies low and can last for a whole day. 

 

Surprising fact 4: Being an anchovy

Next up in our surprising facts about Malaga, we go to the local nickname. Malaga Bay is famous for its anchovies (boquerón in Spanish) and in particular the smaller species known as boquerón victoriano. So famous in fact that if you’re born in Malaga you’re a boquerón or boquerona if you’re female.

Unsurprisingly, anchovies are one of the local delicacies, crisply fried (picture below) 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. 

eat boquerones things to do in Malaga in February

Did you know?

Malaga is also famous for its sardines, grilled on skewers over open fires on the beach. One of the best treats in summer is an espeto de sardinas washed down with an ice-cold glass of beer or white wine. Boquerones are at their best in April, May and June while sardines are in season during months without an ‘r’ in them – May to August. 

Surprising fact 5: 10-year wonder

Pablo Picasso lays claim as Malaga’s most famous boquerón, but although he was born in the city he only lived there for a decade. Not long enough to paint very much, but plenty of time for the city to make the most of its most famous inhabitant. You’ll find traces of Picasso throughout the city centre and of course, in the Picasso Museum itself. We think he’d be very proud of his artistic legacy, but what would he think of his souvenir aprons?

Picasso quote for Malaga view

Did you know?

Picasso reportedly always longed to return to Malaga from his exile in France, but never did. The city celebrates his birthday in October with themed-events and installations. 

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Surprising fact 6: A stadium-stopping war

Malaga held its first game of football in 1904 when two local teams got together on an improvised pitch in the city centre and played in front of 3,000 people. Malaga Football Club officially appeared in 1921 when the team met regularly for matches on the beach at the Baños del Carmen. But the locals had to wait 20 more years for a purpose-built stadium. The first foundations for the original football stadium in Malaga were laid on 21 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.

Did you know?

Malaga Football Club has a rollercoaster history of legendary moments as well as those that are not quite so glorious. Highlights include getting to the UEFA Cup quarter finals in 2002 and finishing 8th in the Spanish First Division. La Rosaleda Stadium hosted the 1982 World Cup when Scotland, New Zealand and the Soviet Union played three matches. 

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.Discover the best shopping spots in Malaga.

Expensive Calle Larios

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. 

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. If you want 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

Did you know? 

Biznaga means ‘gift of God’. You can see a statue of a biznaguero in the Pedro Luis Alonso gardens on the Paseo del Parque, at their best in spring when all the roses are in full bloom.

biznaguero statue, one of the surprising facts about Malaga

Surprising fact 9: New matches old (and exactly)

We haven’t included the missing tower on Malaga Cathedral in our surprising facts about Malaga, but the city’s prime monument does get a mention. Restoration work recently took place on the roof to repair damage and replace stones on the balustrade. To make sure the new work was an exact match, the restorers brought in stone from the village of Almayate, 30km east of Malaga. The quarry has provided all the stone in the cathedral since the foundations were laid back in the year 700 and reopened specially for the restoration work.

new stone matches old on Malaga Cathedral roof

Did you know? 

Malaga Cathedral might only have one tower, but you can spot it almost everywhere in the city centre. Look out for it rising tall on Plaza de la Constitución, from Muelle Uno, the Alcazaba Walkway, on Calle San Agustín and of course, from any rooftop terrace. 

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. To check out the correct name for your dose of coffee and milk pop along to Café Central in the Plaza de la Constitución and take a look at the tiled mural.

How do you like your coffee in Malaga?

Did you know?

The locals also have a special name for the bread roll they eat at breakfast. Known as a pitufo (literally Smurf), it’s just the right size, comes as white or brown and takes a long list of fillings. The most popular are olive oil, tomato and olive oil, catalana (olive oil, tomato and serrano ham) and mixto (ham and cheese).

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