In the 1st century B.C., Estrabon mentions a Phoenician town which stood at the foot of the hill now occupied by the city’s fortress, the Alcazaba.
Roman Malaga enjoyed periods of great splendour, as witnessed by its Roman Theatre and other important archaeological remains, as well the statute which declared it a confederate, self-governing city, known as the Lex Flavia Malacitana.
A long period of decadence followed the fall of the Roman Empire. In 571, the city was captured by the Visigoth king Leovigildo.
In 711, Tarik, lieutenant to the governor of the north of Ifriquiya (Africa) Muza ben Nusayr, crossed the straits of Gibraltar (Yebel-Tarik) with almost 10,000 men to begin the conquest of the whole peninsula -a feat which took just five years-, which was achieved more by convincing its inhabitants of the virtues of a new creed and way of life than by using military force. That same year, Malaga was taken by the Moslems, and a new chapter in its history, one which was to span eight centuries, had begun. The area was settled by a variety of peoples -Yemenies, Berbers, Southern Arabs, Muladies (Hispanogoths converted to the new religion), Mozarabs (Christians who continued to observe and practise their religion) and Jews. In the first three centuries of Moslem domination, the city’s population grew rapidly as a result of a considerable economic impulse which brought prosperous times for Malaga, with commerce and barter of products via its sea port.
By the 10th century, Malaga had a population of 15,000 inhabitants. Following the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba, Malaga became the capital of the Taifa of the Hammudies, a kingdom which stretched as far as Algeciras. After the Almoravide and Almohade invasions, the city and the surrounding area became part of the Nazari kingdom of Granada at the end of the 13th century. During this period, the city flourished, living from the commerce of its agricultural produce -sugar cane, almonds, raisins, figs, saffron and olives, while its silk textiles and fine ceramics also acquired great prestige.
It was during the Moslem occupation that the city walls were built, running from the sea to the Alcazaba fortress, climbing up the left bank of the River Guadalmedina as far as the present-day Calle Alamos street, from where it headed towards Calle Granada, so named because it was here that a gate led out of the city and onto the road from Malaga to Granada; the whole of the walled area was protected by Gibralfaro Castle.
The traveller and geographer Ibn Batuta (1304-1368) wrote of Malaga: “It is one of the most beautiful capital cities in all Al-Andalus. It combines the advantages of inland regions with those of coastal cities. Its figs and almonds, its fine ceramics and gold porcelain are exported to distant locations to the East and to the West “
The 14th century saw the Christians make their first attempts to reconquer the area.
The city was captured in 1487. From this date onwards, religious communities would play a crucial role in Malaga’s urban development.
On the whole, the 16th century was a time of decadence, not only as a result of the aftermath of the morisco (Moslem convert to Christianity) rebellion and their subsequent expulsion, but also due to the epidemics, floods and crop failures which afflicted the city. Even so, this century saw the building of a large section of the Cathedral: the transept, nave and main chapel. The 16th century was also the date of the first urban redevelopment of the Moslem city: a wide road was built to allow carts and merchandise to be transported from the main square (Plaza Mayor, now Plaza de la Constitución) and the Puerta del Mar gate, present-day Calle Nueva.
In the 17th century, life in the city revolved around the port, which had two clearly-defined functions: one military -being the most important naval base on the coast of the kingdom of Granada-, the other mercantile -the port of Malaga stood in a privileged position between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic-. The busy port stimulated the growth of industry in the city, notably weapon manufacture.
One of Malaga’s most serious problems was without doubt the lack of hygiene, its streets, awash with faecal waste and rubbish, were breeding grounds for illnesses and epidemics, the worst of which was probably the plague of 1637.
By the 18th century, the port, the catalyst of the city’s economy, was one of the most important on Andalusia’s Mediterranean coast. Its activities were based on the importation of wheat and exportation of wine and raisins. Following the decree permitting free trade with the Americas in 1778, commercial traffic at the port increased further still, the population growing considerably as a result. The city’s growth was evident in the urban renovation carried out in accordance with the enlightened ideas of the period; 1783 saw the building of the Paseo de la Alameda avenue. The Customs House also dates back to the end of this century, as does the harbour in the port.
The 19th century brought times of general political, economic and social crisis. The ravages of the War of Independence, the permanent conflict between absolutists and liberals -Malaga was the scene of the shooting of the liberalist General Torrijos-, the cessation of sea trade with the Americas, the collapse of Malaga’s industry and, in the final quarter of the century, the terrible phylloxera plague which swept the Axarquia region and the Malaga Mountains all combine to write a dark chapter in the city’s recent history.
The 20th century began with high hopes of progress, hopes that were soon dashed. The first decade of the century saw the renovation of the old centre, with Calle Larios, built in the late 19th century, becoming the hub of the city and the meeting point for Malaga’s high society; also built in the same period was the landscaped avenue of Paseo del Parque, on terrain reclaimed from the sea. The political, economic and social crises which hit Andalusia in the opening third of the century were more tragically evident in Malaga, the city being the port of entry for wounded soldiers returning from the African War. The Civil War had two distinct phases in the city of Malaga, the Republican domination (July 1936 to February 1937) being followed by Nationalist control (February 1937 to July 1939).
In the second half of the century -particularly in the 1960s, coinciding with the opening of Franco’s régime to the western world- the city, capital of the Costa del Sol, experienced a rapid rise in population and huge urban growth as a result of the development of tourism; this decade saw the disappearance of large sectors of the historic districts of El Perchel -formerly known as Los Percheles- and La Trinidad, with a new urban centre being built on this site: the Avenida de Andalucia. Subsequent years brought further increases in population and Malaga became the most populous city in Andalusia until September 1988, when Torremolinos ceased to be a suburb of Malaga and became an independent municipality.