From an Arab word meaning ‘fortress’, the Alcazaba is no mere castle. Unlike some of the interesting but fairly plain examples in England, this defensive structure is also an architectural marvel.
Situated on one of the many high hills near Malaga in the Andalucian region of Spain, it was constructed over a period of several hundred years. Some of the earliest sections date back to the late 8th century after the Moors first conquered Spain. Parts built on still older Roman foundations are still visible.
But the main effort culminated in the mid-11th century, at the height of Moorish rule. There are two rings of defensive walls and a number of lookout towers around the fortress. Set high on the hill overlooking the port, the Alcazaba provided a secure home down the years for the many governors of the province.
The entrance is through a large gateway now known as Puerta del Cristo (Christ’s Door). The name is a much later addition, of course, given that the citadel was built and used by the Muslim Berbers for centuries prior to the Reconquest by Christian Kings.
That long series of events, finalized by Queen Isabella at the end of the 15th century, led to several changes in the Alcazaba. The entrance was converted to a chapel and the Torre del Cristo (Tower of Christ) are two that remain highlights of a visit.
Down the pathway next to the entrance is a series of landscaped gardens and elaborate fountains that provide an oasis from the hot Spanish sun. Strolling through this section, visitors pass the Puerta de las Columnas, Arco del Cristo and Arcos de Granada. Along the way there are several high terraces that provide magnificent views of the town below and the harbor beyond.
One of the sights visible from here, and which can be toured later, is the large 2nd century AD Roman amphitheater. It was discovered only in 1951 and adds an even greater historical perspective to the site. The Archaeological Museum inside the inner perimeter of the Alcazaba has considerable detail on its discovery and history.
One aspect that invariably excites visitors are the private living quarters of the Moorish rulers, called the Cuartos de Granada (Granada Quarters). The ornate pillars in the Maldonado Tower are only one of the awe-inspiring features of an elaborate maze leading to bedrooms once occupied by Spain’s Moorish aristocracy. Further on is the Torre de la Armadura Mudejar, featuring a stellar carved wooden ceiling done in the Mudejar style.
Along this labyrinth of hallways beneath traditional Islamic-style arches one can trod the same stone steps that once supported the rulers of Spain before the Reconquest. During that effort in 1487, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand raised their standard at the Torre del Homenaje (Tribute Tower), on the eastern side of the fortress.
Just in front of the private quarters is the Patio de la Alberca (Courtyard of the Pool). Here there is a restored pavilion offering a cool place to sit and relax while enjoying the delicate scents wafting in from the Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees).