Malaga Detailed

Malaga CastleMalaga castle was amongst the most important centres of medieval Spain. The location of the castle on the Mediterranean coast overlooking a large natural harbour was a key site of the Roman empire and became a key strategic city of al-Andalus. It was amongst the first sites to be colonised by the Muslims from north Africa in the 8th century and remained a major centre for seven centuries almost until the end of al-Andalus and Muslim Spain after the famous siege of Malaga in 1487.

Throughout this period the castle and walled town of Malaga underwent several rebuildings and transformations. The remains as we see them today are of several periods mainly dating from the 11th to the 14th century, although much restored in the 1930’s and later.

Malaga castle is particularly noteworthy for its twin centres – the so called Gibralfaro castle built on the summit of a rocky hill overlooking the town and the fortified Islamic Palace or Alcazaba at the foot of the hill, the two connected by a defensive corridor. Malaga before restorationThis walled corridor referred to as the ‘coracha’ appears to be unique in Spain and provides a secure, private and enclosed link between the military accommodation for the garrison on the hill top and the luxurious palace and gardens of the court adjacent to the town below.

The Gibralfaro castle, so called it is said because of a lighthouse or ‘pharos’ that occupied this hilltop in ancient times, is essentially a Muslim military structure. Malaga GibralfaroThe surrounding walls of stone and tapial construction have been modified over many centuries as the castle remained an important and strategic location for the many wars and conflicts in this part of Spain including the 19th century Peninsula Wars.

The general plan of the Gibralfaro however is essentially 11th century Muslim and the interior of the castle contains Muslim water cisterns or ‘aljibes’, the remains of a mosque, and an elaborate main entrance. This main entrance has a typical late Muslim turned approach requiring several right angled movements to enter the castle interior, each turn having a strong door. At Malaga the approach once inside the castle led the visitor to a wide ramp, overlooked from above, up which they had to climb before finally arriving at the reception area and the parade ground.

Gibralfaro EntranceThis strong and elaborate entrance is further protected by a detached ‘albarrana’ tower linked to the castle walls by a bridge. The outer gate of the Gibralfaro castle opens into the remarkable ‘coracha’ or walled corridor leading down the hillside to the town and Alcazaba below. A further gate and barbican in the coracha at this point allows access to the exterior of the site and the road to Granada.

The Gibralfaro castle was the site of the famous siege of Malaga in 1487 when the Christian forces of Ferdinand and Isabella laid siege to Malaga on the final push of the reconquista that would eventually lead to the fall of Granada and the overthrow of Islamic Spain. At the time of the siege of Malaga the Gibralfaro castle had the concentric defensive walls and deep ditches between them that are still visible today. The strength of the Muslim castle and the large number and well provisioned defenders within meant the siege lasted for three months before the defenders finally surrendered and the Christians occupied the fortified town and Alcazaba, and the following day, accepted the surrender and occupation of the Gibralfaro castle.

The magnificent walled town of Malaga was surrounded by strong stone walls and regularly spaced, square-section interval towers, typical of Muslim towns and castles of the period. At the height of the kingdom in the 11th century the walls of Malaga were against the Mediterranean sea to the south and the river bank to the west and enclosed a strong harbour and river crossing.

Malaga AlcazabaAt the foot of the mountain and below the Gibralfaro castle was the sumptuous royal fortress-palace or Alcazaba, formed in the eastern corner of the walled town and adjacent to the sea to the south. Today the sea has retreated considerably leaving much low ground between the Alcazaba and the present harbour but in medieval times the sea would have been beneath the castle walls.

The Alcazaba, itself built over extensive Roman remains, has been much restored during the 20th century, but the extent of the outline and many of the precincts within largely follow the 11th century building. Malaga AlcazabaOver the next three centuries the Alcazaba was made progressively more luxurious as tastes became more exotic and the palace within and its gardens and patios were developed along the same lines as the more famous Alhambra Palace in Granada, especially during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Alcazaba was strongly fortified however with many gateways, turned entrances and at the main approach from within the town, a detached ‘albarrana’ tower. Within the Alcazaba were several separate and distinct areas, each with fortified gateways allowing controlled movement between them. These various areas included royal palace accommodation and gardens, but also more simple dwellings for staff and retainers and a military area. From this inner precinct was another elaborately defended gateway allowing access to and from the coracha or walled corridor to the Gibralfaro castle above.

The coracha is probably the most interesting aspect of the whole complex due to its unusual nature. The military castle, situated high on the rocky mountain overlooking the sea, was quite obviously integral to the defensibility of the whole Malaga city complex and therefore to be contained within the defensive circuit. The topography of the site however left the Gibralfaro isolated from the lower city and Alcazaba. The ingenious solution was to create a linking fortified walled corridor between the two with strong defensive entrance gates in both fortifications.

The coracha is stepped and of varying width as it follows the contours of the steep hill side and the enclosing walls step and turn forming an irregular course. Malaga CorachaEven at the narrowest parts however there is enough room to allow columns of soldiers or horses in formation to move up and down the coracha. The side walls of the coracha are made from both stone and tapial. Stone is used to make the lowest half of the wall but the upper half is of tapial. This gives the strongest masonry at the most vulnerable ground level and a cheaper, quicker to construct higher section, out of standing human reach. The whole would have been plastered and painted and therefore the underlying construction would not have been apparent.

Coracha masonryThe coracha structure is not accessible to visitors but the Gibralfaro castle and the Alcazaba can be visited separately or together with a joint ticket.


More photographs of Malaga Castle (Alcazaba, Gibralfaro and Coracha) here:


Photos on this page: Malaga Castle: Alcazaba, Gibralfaro & Coracha