Picasso's legacy

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady finds a host of undiscovered gems in the artist's birthplace

For most travellers to southern Spain, Malaga is a jumping off point, the name of an airport on the way to the crowded beaches of the coast or the Moorish delights of Granada, Seville and Cordoba.

Which is a pity, because this wonderfully Spanish, relatively tourist-free city, on a coast which has suffered much from invasions by the British and other northern Europeans in search of sun, has a lot going for it as a destination of interest in its own right.

Among the attractions are the Picasso Museum, the Alcazabar or old Moorish fortress, and the Gibralfaro, a castle built above it; an old town which is a maze of passages, shops, cafes and restaurants; and a magnificent cathedral.

Pablo Picasso is the city's most famous son. He spent the first few years of his life there before leaving for Barcelona, then Madrid and Paris - and Malaga is now beginning to make the most of this auspicious connection.

The new Picasso Museum, an imposing, beautifully refurbished 16th-century palace, has around 240 paintings, drawings, and ceramics, many donated and loaned by the artist's daughter-in-law and grandson. Though the collection cannot compare with those in Barcelona and Paris, its strength, says education officer, Macarenta Ventosa, is that there is something from each of Picasso's periods "and you can get a good sense of what his life was about". The paintings are re-hung every October.

It also acts as host for major exhibitions of Picasso's work drawn from galleries all over the world. The most recent was on the theme of the bullfight, a major interest of the artist, and the next will showcase his ceramics.

The museum has worked successfully with Spanish schools - several visit every day - and with English language schools in Spain, using methods devised by educationalists. It is now ready to provide sessions in English or Spanish to schools from the UK focused around a selection of the paintings in the exhibition, but will require several weeks notice.

The house where Picasso was born is also open to the public and contains small exhibitions of some of his prints and a room with related works and artefacts.

Malaga was one of the last Moorish strongholds to fall to the Christian conquerors Ferdinand and Isabella in 1487. Before this it was colonised by the Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians (there is a very handsome Roman theatre at the base of the fortress which is now partly excavated and open to the public).

Evidence of the 700-year Moorish occupation is everywhere. The Alcazabar, built by the Moors around 1065, is far less intact than the Alhambra in Granada, but nevertheless worth a visit for its wonderful gardens, the exquisite patterning on the arches and walls, and Phoenician artefacts excavated from beneath the fortress. Unfortunately, there is little information available at the site in English or any other language apart from Spanish, so take a Spanish translator.

A 30-minute walk from the Alcazabar is the Gibralfaro, a castle built in the 14th century by the Arabs to protect the Alcazabar against artillery.

Along the uphill path which leads to it you can sample some of the finest views of the city, port and the bullring. (Bullfighting is unlikely to be popular with children, but can't be ignored in this part of Spain or as a major influence in Picasso's work - if you are interested the bullring has a museum). A warning: the battlements, which are what remains of the castle, would be a nightmare with younger children.

In Spain, the useful mantra less is more is not always applied to church interiors and the cathedral is no exception. A great mouldering edifice called "La Manquita" (the little one-armed lady) by the Malague$os because its second tower was never built, it is spectacular and overwhelmingly full, but has some magnificent features. The free audio guide takes you on an interesting tour and explains its history.

And finally, don't forget the tapas. These small portions of many different dishes are an Andalusian tradition and a wonderfully inexpensive way to try a variety of local food. If you and your pupils are daring, find one that doesn't provide a Spanish translation and just go for it. The Malague$os love their food and the bars and restaurants are where the real social life takes place.

Picasso Museum: www.museopicassomalaga.orgFestivals: www.red2000.comspainmalaga.fest.html

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