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Virtual Jewish World: Malaga, Spain

Malaga is an important port city in Andalusia (Southern Spain). It lies approximately 120 miles northeast of the Strait of Gibraltar along Spain's Coastal Plain. The Coastal Plain is comprised of four distinct regions, each known as a Costa. Malaga is the capital of the Costa del Sol, which is approximately 300 km. long, stretching from Cadiz on the west to the Gulf of Almeria on the east. The average temperature in Malaga is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and it basks in more than 2,700 hours of annual sunshine. A popular tourist spot on the Mediterranean, Malaga has a population of 1,200 Jews out of 600,000 residents.

Malaga was settled by the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago. They gave the city its name, calling it MALACA, which means "salting," because they used the harbor for salting fish. (Note - The Hebrew word for "salt" is MELACH) The fortress overlooking the city is a remnant of Phoenicians.

The Greeks conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 6th century B.C.E. and remained until the Romans colonized it in 218 B.C.E. Roman rule lasted for almost six centuries, and you'll find evidence of the Roman occupation of Malaga in the ancient Phoenician fortress, which they expanded. In addition, the Romans built the theater at the base of the fort, which is now open to the public. The Visigoths overran the declining Roman empire and reigned throughout Spain from 400 - 711 C.E., only to be overthrown by the Moors in 711. Malaga became a famous Moorish port, famous for its wine and figs, and the Moorish influence is still present in the city today. Indeed, it was one of the last Moorish cities to fall to Ferdinand and Isabelle in 1487.

Jewish fortunes in Malaga parallel the experience of many Jewish communities throughout Andalusia, rising and falling depending upon who was the ruling authority. Under Roman control, the Jews of Malaga undoubtedly engaged in trade with the port cities along the North African coast. With the coming of the Visigoth hordes, Jews gradually lost their privileges, until they were almost totally enslaved. In fact, when the Moors began their conquest in 711, there were no Jews practicing Judaism in public. 

Life under Mohammedism was far more favorable, and secret Jews came out of hiding, and those who had fled, returned. In Malaga, the Juderia was in the eastern part of the city, and the communal cemetery was on the slopes of Gibralfaro. When Southern Spain was attacked by the Berbers (1013), and Cordoba overrun, much of Cordoba's Jewish community fled to Malaga. In the mid 11th century, there were 200 Jews living in Malaga out of 20,000 people. In 1487, when Malaga was conquered by the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabelle, the entire community of 100 families was captured and ransomed for 1 million maravedis. Finally, in 1490, the King and Queen ordered that Malaga be settled only by Christians, and the Jews were expelled. Records indicate that 62 Jewish exiles left the city, most of them destitute. The community was revived in the early 1960's by Jews from North Africa. Malaga is currently the site of one of the five permanent offices of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain. The Federation is affiliated with the World Jewish Congress. Malaga has a synagogue, with a Rabbi and a day school. Kosher meat is available.


The Malaga Synagogue
Alameda Principal, 47 20B   290

Sources: This material was originally published in Sparks! - an e-zine for Jewish families.