Like most of Spain, Malaga was once home to the Romans who left their mark in various parts of the city. This is most noticeable in the area around the Alcazaba Fortress. In this blog post, we go on the trail of Roman Malaga and highlight some of the most interesting Roman sights in Malaga.
The Romans weren’t the first inhabitants of Malaga – the Phoenicians beat them to it by several centuries. However, under the reign of Augustus, the Romans settled in the city for nearly 300 years. Time enough to leave quite a big archaelogical footprint.
Known as Malaca, Malaga appealed to the Romans for its strategic position on the Mediterranean trading routes and for the abundant supply of tuna. Like Baelo Claudia in Bolonia and Cadiz, Malaga become one of Spain’s centres for the production of garum, a sauce made from tuna fish bones and innards. And a highly prized condiment at Rome’s imperial feasts.
Roman Theatre in Malaga
The biggest evidence of the Roman’s stay in Malaga comes in the Roman Theatre to the west of the Alcazaba Fortress. This is one of the 7 preserved Roman theatres in Andalucia. The Malaga version was built in the first century AD and used as the main entertainment venue in the city for around 200 years. It then fell into disuse until the Arabs used it as a quarry for building the adjacent Fortress. The Theatre then slowly filled in and disappeared from sight.
It wasn’t until 1951 that the Roman Theatre reemerged and then only by chance. Workers digging a garden for the cultural centre built on the site came across remains and these were later identified as part of the Roman Theatre. It then took several decades for excavation work to be completed and the Theatre restored to almost its former glory.
Today, you can wander round the Theatre and see the three clearly defined areas: the stage (performances are held here in the summer); the orchestra section where the local authorities sat on white marble seats; and the seats themselves. In usual Roman style, the 13 rows of seats form a perfect semi-circle around the stage.
You can see most of the Theatre from Calle Alcazabilla, although you get a much better idea of perspective if you enter the theatre itself and climb to the top row of seats.
Open Tues 10am-6pm, Weds-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-4pm. Free entry. Allow between 30-60 minutes for your visit.
Garum Factories in Roman Malaga
The garum fish sauce fit for emperors became such as delicacy in Rome that anyone who made it and/or traded it became rich. And garum from Spain was particularly highly sought-after so it’s not surprise that numerous garum factories were set up in Malaga. Today, you can see the large stone vats where the sauce was prepared at:
- Roman Theatre – look down into the glass pyramid on Calle Alcazabilla. This section of the Theatre is occasionally open.
- Malaga University headquarters – the central patio has some well-preserved examples of garum vats.
- Picasso Museum – the basement contains important archaelogical remains from several eras including part of a Roman factory where the prized garum was made.
Other Signs of Roman Malaga
You can see some of the finds excavated during the uncovering of the Roman Theatre at several places in the city. For example:
MUPAM, the city museum has some sculptures and a marble torso of the Emperor Augustus.
The Museum of Malaga has numerous Roman statues and sculptures. You can also see a copy of the Lex Flavia Malacitana, a document declaring Malaga full rights as a city under the Roman Empire in 74AD. The original is in the National Museum of Archaeology in Madrid.
The Alcazaba Fortress also has some Roman artefacts on display.
For a glimpse of the Roman walls, go down into the basement at Malaga University headquarters to admire the large section of wall built by Phoenicians, Romans and the Moors.
Read more about historic walls in Malaga.
When in Rome…
- Visit the Roman Theatre in the late afternoon when the setting sun turns the stone a golden yellow.
- Take time out from the hustle and bustle of Malaga, and sit on one of the seats at the Roman Theatre and watch the world go by.
- View the Roman Theatre from above from the Alcazaba Walkway, almost a bird’s eye view.
- Try a tuna dish. The original recipe for garum has never been discovered but there are several venues in Malaga that offer excellent dishes with tuna.
The Roman Theatre rates as 1 of the best historical sights in Malaga, but the city also has lots and lots of other things to see. Check out our list.