To Gibralfaro

Moorish Spain is enchanting. You who have wandered through the grand gardens of the Alhambra and the steep cobbled alleys of Albaicín in Granada, the Alcázar in Seville or even the Aljaferiá in Zaragoza, would know what I am banging on about. For one, the Moors knew how to pick on the best views of the city – for them though it was a matter of survival so they chose the locations of their fortresses for their defensive positions. But I would like to believe that the hedonists in them marvelled at the sight of what they had accomplished. Those great gardens of pleasure, water trickling off pretty fountains wrought in marble, intricate columns that look like they have been punched out of geometric patterns with precision and passion…for some reason they remind me of the ‘stately pleasure-dome’ decreed by Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. You know, those ‘gardens bright with sinuous rills,/ Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree’. But then you might argue, ‘You daft creature, Kubla was a Mongol and his palace was in Xanadu, in another continent altogether.’ I merely refer to the lushness of the description concocted by Coleridge in his opium-induced dreams.

One of the Moors’ famed castles sits atop the hills of Málaga, surrounded by dense forests of eucalyptus and pine. My mission one noon was to walk up to Castillo de Gibralfaro before I took the train for Madrid with my husband and his colleague that evening. Of all the many unwise decisions I have taken during my solo travels – I have to confess there are many – Gibralfaro possibly topped it.

There is a route through the Alcazaba that takes you to the castle. I could not figure it out and naturally I took the longer trail after I got out of the Alcazaba. The plus point was that I got to make a pitstop at Plaza de la Merced, a square that was home to Pablo Picasso for the first three years of his life. The 20th century artist was born in a house here and took his first baby steps in this part of the world, so I had to go gawk at it even though the guard rattled out ‘no puedes entrar’ blended with sign language to inform me that it was shut for the day.

I passed through avenues of trees with silver barks, swishing in the gentle breeze that alleviated the heat of the noon, past old churches and villas that put me in mind of lavish courtyards, pitchers of iced teas and slowly rotating fans in cool, dark rooms, and trudged up a steep ascent. Small villages studded with white villas cropped up across the winding roads, and after what seemed like eternity, I arrived at Gibralfaro. During the entire duration of which I was passed by a dozen taxis and a couple of buses full of tourists as I huffed and puffed uphill, bullied by an unrelenting sun.

The views from the castle are spectacular beneath the midday sun, the pale shimmering waters of the Mediterranean holding you in its spell like an enchantress, loathe to release you. I walked its solid ramparts which towered above the port city and thought of what the Phoenician lighthouse might have looked like. For a lighthouse stood there before the Caliph of Cordoba built the castle sometime during the 10th century on that very site. Its name – derived from Gebel-faro orrock of the lighthouse’ – attests to it.  But the time that I spent in the castle ended on a whimper. Midway through it I looked at the watch and remembered I had a train to catch in an hour and a half. That and the husband’s wide collection of scowls made me whiz through the castle at remarkable speed before I made my way back to the hotel at an equally frantic pace – it somehow happened that I could not catch a bus during my way to the castle or on the way back.

At the end of it all, the palm-fringed beach near the hotel and a bottle of beer helped soothe my high-strung chattering when I met a startled Adi and his colleague. But the relief was this that I did get on the train to Madrid.

Plaza de la Merced
Picasso’s childhood home
















From the ramparts of the fortress





2016-02-23 18.25.40.jpg
The drink that relieved my overwrought senses
Train to Madrid

Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

62 thoughts on “To Gibralfaro

  1. There is a wonderful story of Picasso that was told me in Malaga but is nothing to do with Malaga. He was on a beach on the côté d’Azur on his own just sitting. A couple with a young child spotted who he was and sent the little tot over to ask him for his autograph. Picasso smiles at the couple and takes the pen from the child. He turns the child around and draws on her back. Her whole back and then signed his work and sent her back to her parents. He raises his hand and smiles then leaves the beach. Can you imagine? What an elegant way to say ‘if you want something, ask me yourself, don’t send your cutesy kid to do your dirty work’. So they are left with an original Picasso which will wash off at bath time if the sea doesn’t do it first. The man who told me the story is Malagan born and bred. He was as proud of the story as if he had done the deed himself! Another fabulous post full of joyous evocative pictures and wonderful prose. Chapeau my friend, I have loved this series xx

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    1. What a wonderful story indeed. Picasso was a man of great wit then. I would have loved to see the parents’ faces when they saw their child’s back. Your Malagan friend sounds cute 🙂 I would have been as proud I believe, first to belong to such a beautiful city, and then, to have such illustrious residents. Thank you Osyth. I loved the anecdote. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There train station makes ours here look like a third world country. I also like to think that the people of the city, those hedonists, looked out over the walls of their city and were equally thrilled. It really is drenched in color isn’t it? These images make me think of the film Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s an excellent film. And one of the things I love most is how they portray the beauty of the hilly and rocky countryside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I have thought before of watching it if only for the sake of Nicholas Cage (if I am not wrong). Now I shall surely watch it and look out for the images…thanks Lyz. It is funny how places in any part of the world may recall unrelated images and descriptions. Spain is indeed drenched in colour, as you put it beautifully.

      The trains are superb. They are spotless, with comfortable seating, …and the part that thrilled Adi (only men would find thrill in these things) to bits was that they travel at 300km/hr 😉


      1. Omg, I said there instead of their. Dead. You’ll be so glad you watched it! I almost went to my phone to convert kilometers since I have no clue, but then I remembered I’m supposed to be staying focused. See, a bit of improvement. 🙂

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      2. Hahaha is that a crack at my not obsessing about stats? 😛 I am not a dragon which means that I shall not belch fire if you do check.

        There and their. The writer in you came down upon yourself hard enough 😉 Now you must be resurrected – for the weekend beckons. xx


  3. Your descriptions of Gibralfaro (with the photos to prove it) are as refreshing as the cold glass of beer that you are drinking there! It’s unfortunate that you weren’t able to visit Picasso’s childhood home 😦 but it was fascinating seeing his artwork in an open air area. BTW, is that a high speed train? Looks almost like the ones in Japan. Again, a truly enjoyable post to read – Neek

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Neek. I raise my glass to that generous comment. I was annoyed too. To stand at Picasso’s door (so to say) and be turned back was a bit of a bummer but I am a survivor.

      Yeah the trains do remind you of the bullet trains, no? More than me Adi was kicked at the thought of the train shooting @ 300km/hr. I was like – just bring on the crisps and I am a happy girl.

      You are always so nice you know. I shall buy you a vat of beer someday. xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With the heat being quite unbearable here (110F or 43.3 C), I would gladly accept the offer of a vat of beer! Lex would drink it and I would dive into it! Thank you for always being so kind and generous in your comments and replies. It’s always wonderful to connect with kindred spirits. Take care. 🙂


  4. What a beautiful post and captures, it was a delight to read. A bit nostalgic of the summers I won’t spend in Malaga anymore. It’s important to enjoy things when we have them, isn’t it? (in the good meaning of the word).


    1. Isn’t that one of the best and prescribed ways to see this planet of ours? Now you can indeed take yourself to Spain, gorge on tapas and teach away. Here are the makings of a grand plan. Cheers.


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