History of Malaga

A Trump Tower in Malaga?

A Trump Tower in Malaga?

When walking around our city, you may notice something a bit odd: the Malaga Cathedral is missing one of its towers, the southern one to be precise. Yep, this is why we call her with affection:  “the Manquita”, the “one-handed”. 

If you want to know why, you are welcome to read on, but I’m warning you, we have to take a little trip down history lane.

What we know for a fact is that the construction of the Malaga Cathedral took nearly 250 years to complete (1528-1782). Well, you know, everything takes time in Andalusia.

What we also know is that it was built where the old Grand Mosque used to stand. A mosque in Malaga? Yes, you might have heard that our city (and to a certain extent most of Spain), was under Muslim rule for nearly 800 years (711-1487). After the birth of Prophet Muhammad in Mecca (AD 570), his followers invaded several countries to spread the good word and convert people to Islam. In 711, one of the Arab commanders, Tariq, took the shortest way he could find from Africa to Europe. When he arrived on the peninsula, the first thing he found was a small mountain, a large rock rather. His soldiers named that rock in his honor “Jabal Tariq” (the mountain of Tariq in Arabic). Over the years (and through language deformation) it became known as “Gibraltar”. From there, he and his troops invaded most of Spain and part of France.

Pretty much from the offset, Christians tried to take Spain back from the invading forces. When the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella finally “reconquered” Malaga from the Moors on 19th August 1487 (yep, that’s why we celebrate our big “Feria” every year), the old mosque was destroyed and used as the place to build the current church. This was a very common occurrence during the Reconquest. Destroy a mosque and build a Catholic church instead. A way of saying “my God is bigger than yours”. It is pretty safe to say that wherever you see a cathedral or church in southern Spain today, there stood before a mosque or a synagogue.

A few years later, on 2nd January 1492, a date that every Spaniard knows (aside from their mother’s birthday), the Catholic Kings got into a rather shady deal (the Treaty of Granada) with the last Moorish ruler Boabdil (last Sultan of the Nasrid dynasty) who had been hiding with a handful of followers in the last bastion of non-Christian Spain, a quaint little palace called the “Alhambra”. The Kings promised the Moors that if they turned in the city of Granada, they would receive in exchange 30,000 gold coins and a slice of the Alpujarras region south of Granada where they could live thereafter in peace.  Story has it that leaving the city for the last time, Boabdil looked back and wept for his lost kingdom. In response to his tears, his mother uttered: “You do well to weep as a woman for what you could not defend like a man”. The village where this all took place is still called “Suspiro del Moro”, the Moor’s sigh. Because Granada was handed over without a fight, some areas of the city retain their Moorish flavor to this day (we strong recommend a quick visit to the Albaicin quarter right across from the Alhambra).  

This deal was of course a lie. Within 3 months after Granada’s fall, an expulsion order was issued for any Jew refusing Christian baptism. An estimated 50,000 converted, about 200,000 left Spain forever and a few thousands were killed for refusing to do either.

This is when the infamous Spanish Inquisition was born. Its main business was finding and weeding out “false” Christians, particularly Jews who had converted but were suspected of secretly maintaining their rites and customs. Those so-called “conversos” were considered unreliable and dangerous to a monarchy obsessed with unity and uniformity.  Most were submitted to torture, death or exile. Eventually both Muslims and Jews would be expelled from the country.  

Very recently, in an act of late redemption, our current King, Felipe VI, has offered automatic Spanish citizenship to all Jews who could prove they descend directly from those who were expelled during that dark period. Strangely enough, the same favor was not returned for the Muslims who were evicted at the same time.

This was 1492, the same year the Spanish Queen finally gave her royal nod to a young stubborn sailor called Christopher Columbus who had been pestering her for months to go discover dreamed-for lands named India and China (well, we all know how that went). Aside from the commercial benefits of acquiring eastern spices which were in great demand for preserving and flavoring meats in an age before refrigeration, the Queen was more motivated by the chance to gain souls as well as gold. By sailing west to the Orient, she reasoned, the Christians could attack Islam from the rear and even regain control of the Holy Land. In her mind, the Reconquest should go on until the last infidel perished.

The discovery of America marked the end of the Al-Andalus era and the beginning of a new era for Spain. For many Americans, this was the greatest single event in the history of mankind. With one stroke, it put an end to the Middle Ages, opened the colonial era, and shifted the centre of gravity from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Most importantly, the discovery challenged forever the Old Continent’s concept that a man’s station in life was inextricably linked with the class into which he was born. America became an illusion, a hope for better things in both material and idealistic realms.

One thing is for sure: the discovery of the Americas led Spain to its Golden Age. The New World provided the country with huge amounts of treasures. Today, you can still visit the place where the local government controlled the goods coming back from the Americas, the Customs House (“Palacio de la Aduana”). Last December it re-opened as the Museum of Malaga. A wink to History.

But let’s go back to our Malaga Cathedral. Why on earth is it missing a tower?

Well, it turns out that a Malaga-born military leader, Bernardo de Galvez, aided the American 13 colonies in their quest for independence by leading Spanish forces against Britain during the American Revolutionary War. Galvez ended up defeating the British troops during the Siege of Pensacola (1781), battle through which he reconquered what is known today as the State of Florida. On the other side of the Atlantic, Galvez is considered a hero who took a major part in the American Revolution.

Today, his portrait hangs proud today in the US Capitol and several American cities, counties and places in the US carry his name.

Malaga’s part in Amerian Idependence War

If you happen to be in Malaga on the 4th of July, you may want to stop by the Plaza del Obispo, the beautiful building right next to the Cathedral and participate in the celebrations of American Independence Day as they take place to celebrate the local hero.

But as in every war, there were large costs involved. So how did this Malaga son finance Spain’s contribution to the American War of Independence? Well, rumor has it that by using the money that was destined to finish the Cathedral!

Whether it’s true or not, we will possibly never now. But the fact is that our poor Cathedral is still missing a hand.  And believe or not, every year there is an ongoing debate in the city hall on whether or not we should finish building it. If we did, that would be close to 500 years after it was first started. When I told you that everything takes time in Andalusia, I wasn’t kidding.

So the question is: if our cathedral was never finished because we sent money to help the colonists form the United States of America, surely they should return the favor and help us finish it now. Maybe we need to find a wealthy, multi-billionaire real estate mogul with good connections in Washington and kindly ask him to pay for it.

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