The Gibralfaro


At the peak of the hill in central Málaga sits the sprawling castle of the Gibralfaro.  The name is a pretty clear amalgamation of the Arabic jebel (mountain) and the Latin faro (lighthouse), though despite this, the castle’s literature simply says “there may have been a lighthouse here in the past”.  The putative lighthouse and ancient enclosure was replaced, in the middle of fourteenth century, by a castle, connected to the lower Alcazaba with impressive battlements.


Looking down to the Alcazaba, and city, from the Gibralfaro

The hike up to the Gibralfaro is stout, but offers the very best views of this picturesque city.  The castle apparently shares the peak with the Parador, which may be worth checking out one day.


View from the mirador near the castle

The castle itself sprawls over a considerable space at the top of the hill.  It once enclosed a large military encampment, but most of the structures of the camp do not survive.  What does survive are the massive walls which, perched high up on the hill, made the site virtually impregnable.  Not surprisingly, the fortress was more than capable of holding out against the siege of the city by King Fernando during the conquest of Granada.  The leading citizens of Málaga had chosen to support Muhammad az-Zaghal (‘the valiant’) in his civil war against Muhammad XII, better known as Boabdil (Abu Abdullah).  Boabdil  was a Castilian vassal, and essentially the lever by which the Christian monarchs hoped to destroy Granada, via internal division and conflict.  Therefore a Castilian/Aragonese army besieged the city for several months in the summer of 1487.  The siege was protracted, and Fernando had to send men all the way to Algeciras to collect cannon balls fired during the siege of that city, nearly 150 years earlier, in order to keep up his attack.  The defenders also employed cannon-fire from the Gibralfaro, making the siege the first conflict in which cannons were used on both sides (so says the castle literature– I have my doubts).  The city refused lenient terms of surrender in May, and so when the city walls were finally breached, and the population reduced to starvation, no terms were offered. Most of the inhabitants were enslaved, and only the elites, who held out in the castle, were allowed to depart safely for Granada or North Africa. The governor of the city was executed. The capture of the port of Málaga ultimately proved to be the pivotal act of the war.  When Boabdil was restored to Granada shortly thereafter, he found his kingdom completely untenable without its sea-connection to the rest of the Islamic world, and within a couple of years found himself compelled to surrender the whole thing to the soon-to-be-known-as Catholic Monarchs in 1492.


The castle remained a military base until the early twentieth century, which I suspect helps to account for its survival.  Aside from the views, the best part about the visit was feeding the particularly manipulative sparrows, who had clearly perfected the art of begging.



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