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.

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Plaza de la Merced
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Picasso’s childhood home

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Gibralfaro
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From the ramparts of the fortress

 

 

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The drink that relieved my overwrought senses
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Train to Madrid

Vignettes of Málaga

A whirligig of architectural styles. Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance and Neo-Mudejar schools of design coming together under one umbrella and as you gape at them, the many Christian temples that fall on your way as you saunter through the alleys of the city, you realise that these are not mere names to forget in a jiffy. These are the artistic movements that had Europe in its clutches at the time. They permeated almost all aspects of life.

La Manquita, the One-Armed Lady, as the gigantic cathedral is known among the malagueños. You stand beneath it gaping for some time at the lofty stature of the tower that shoots up, up into the blue sky above, but there is that south tower that is missing. A long time ago it seems the parish used its funds to help the American independence efforts. The cathedral remained unfinished but it helped an entire nation get on its feet. A cause as worthy as any.

Frequent stops in cafes for a bite to eat and drink because that heat saps the strength out of you. The solitary woman sitting in a corner of a cafe and sketching away. Of course you wanted to strike up a conversation but she looked so comfortable in her own little world that you let her be. Sometimes there is solace to be found in silent camaraderie, even with strangers.

The shoppers in various departmental stores, the random teteria decorated with those entrancing, intricate jaalis and people nursing glasses of chilled wines and beers on the sidewalks. You find yourself wandering aimlessly through the many alleys, a church at every corner, a man with the taqiyah on his head selling peanuts, the quiet courtyard with its traditional wooden beams and solid doors, the lanes where sheltered from the intense heat a man with long locks strums the guitar.

The old Roman amphitheatre above which stand guard the rambling walls of the Alcazaba of the moors with its rows of orange trees and clumps of flamboyant Bougainvillea growing inside, a hint at the beauty that must have flourished inside when the moors ruled over the land, a view of the sea from the walls because it was built as a defence against pirates during the day, the bullring in the distance and the towers of concrete painted up in the Mediterranean colour palette.

A wonderful jumble of impressions guaranteed to make you dizzy.

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Iglesia de San Juan Bautista

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Iglesia de los Santos Mártires (Church of the Holy Martyrs) is dedicated to Ciriaco and Paula. Christian saints who were stoned to death by Roman emperors who wanted them to bow their heads to the Roman deities.

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The Roman amphitheatre above which looms the Alcazaba
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Inside the Alcazaba
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An archway in the Alcazaba
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View of the city’s town hall and the sea beyond from the Alcazaba

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La Manquita
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Episcopal Palace
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The cathedral

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In Málaga…

Keeping in theme with the tone of the guest post on Seville by Sophie, I thought of my Andalusian adventures that kicked off from Málaga, the Andalusian port city of Spain, that lies across the tip of Africa. It was February and yet the heat, oh it was blistering. Ir ran along the lines of an Indian summer that tends to sear the mind and the soul. The day we landed in Málaga, the city was enveloped in a haze that was a curious shade of jaundice yellow. It is a common feature there in Málaga –  the desert wind, Calima, blows in from the great Sahara Desert bringing with it poor visibility and high temperatures. During the course of the next few days, the haze gradually lifted but the heat, boy it was a stunner.

Now Málaga is the underrated cousin of the Spanish biggies, Madrid and Barcelona, and I do not know why because it has infallible charm. Walking in the shadow of the grandiose Alcazaba, the towering cathedral and the baños (Arab baths), the imagination tends to be overwhelmed by tales of the Moors, that mixed race of Berbers and Arabs who crossed over from North Africa and occupied Andalucia for seven centuries. But ancient Iberians, Phoenicians and the Romans were here too and you see the strange confluence of cultures in its many alleys.

My first impression of Málaga was formed by the sight of the many palms that line one of its main avenues. Those trees bring upon me a wave of nostalgia for things left far behind in the past – hazy memories of the desert city that I was born in. A glorious park, the Parque de la Alameda, was my refuge from the heat of the morning with its green surroundings filled with exotic plants procured from five continents. It was but a paean to man’s potential for creating beauty from zilch. You see, the park was created on reclaimed land.

Sauntering down one of Málaga’s busy streets, I chanced upon an imposing horseshoe archway. The Ataranzas. A market for fresh produce and paella. Ah, now I could not leave it alone, could I?  There is something alluring about the mercados of Spain. Be it in Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga or even a small place like Zaragoza. Is it an old-world charm, you wonder, with vendors and customers exchanging notes over fresh meat, seafood, vegetable and fruits? A plethora of colour for as far as the eye can see beneath the warm lighting of the market hall. My nose led me into a massive hall that was once a shipyard (in Arabic it is Ataranzas) with seven grand arches. Only one of those arches remain and it was the one that had lured me in.

A shipyard in the middle of the city, you might ask dubiously? Things were different till around the 18th century. The sea reached till where I was walking a while ago – on the streets around the present-day market. Once fishermen would have sat along the walls of the former shipyard and trawled the waters for the catch of the day. Apart from housing a shipyard, the Ataranzas had many avataars. Convent, military fort, hospital and subsequently a medical school. So many stories, so many memories, all embedded within its walls. Now only if those walls could speak, the tales that might tumble out.

This was just the start to my extensive rambles around the city, and lest I lull you into a sound sleep, I shall retire till my next post on Málaga.

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The view from the hotel room was made up of water the hue of emerald, the blue shimmering sea beyond the blocks of concrete and then these pretty palm trees.
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The Alcazaba in profile
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Town hall
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A section of the Alcazaba shows up between the old bank and town hall
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Banco de España. If you are a fan of architecture, you will find yourself riveted by its neoclassical look.
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Palacio de la Aduana. The new customs house for the port city.
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Parque de la Alameda
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Parque de la Alameda
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Parque de la Alameda
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A quick change of pace in the busy city
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Ataranzas
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Oh hello there…

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Ataranzas
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The stained glass window in the Ataranzas that are fit to grace a cathedral

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