High on a hill, overlooking the Andalucian city of Malaga and the vibrant blue sea beyond, is the ancient castle of Gibralfaro. From this vantage point, past the stands of pine and eucalyptus, the city stretches out in a shimmering haze, and the boats in the marina are nothing more than specks as they gently bob in the placid waters. Where Gibralfaro Castle stands is part of the Montes de Malaga, a mountain range extending into the north-east of the city and out into the countryside beyond.
Gibralfaro itself is a well-loved image, incorporated into the city’s flag and seal. Fortifications have existed on the site for over two and a half thousand years, ever since the Phoenician founding of the city in the 8th century BC. The current castle was built in the 10th century and later expanded in the 1300s. Its name means “rock of light”, referring to the location’s past use as a lighthouse. Today the castle impresses visitors with its imposing ramparts and magnificent courtyards. You can walk all around the ramparts and they offer soaring views.
Across the forest is the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortification with beautiful gardens and water features. Built in the 11th century, the Alcazaba is one of the best-preserved in the country and consists of two enclosures forming outer and inner citadels. Follow a winding pathway up through the outer citadel, passing tranquil gardens and cascading fountains, to the gateway of the inner citadel. The Alcazaba includes many other interesting features, including defence towers, dungeons, and a museum exhibiting Phoenician and Moorish remains.
But the story of the Alcazaba and its environs goes back further than medieval times, and the evidence for this can be seen just next to the fortress, and even in the structure of the Alcazaba itself. For this was the site of an old Roman theatre, or the Teatro Romano, as it is known. Built in the 1st century BC, the theatre was used for around four hundred years before being abandoned for several centuries.
Then came the onset of Moorish rule. The Moors used the theatre as a quarry, hauling blocks from the site to build their fortress. Look out for Roman columns and lettering in the walls of the Alcazaba – a reminder of the impermanence of empires and of this region’s turbulent history.
The Teatro Romano has only been reopened to the public since 2011, following decades of excavation and restoration work. Restoration work has been made more problematic because of the use of theatre components in the Alcazaba. However, despite various difficulties, the theatre is now open throughout the year and puts on several open-air performances throughout the summer months, the first for almost two millennia.
The theatre is divided into three areas, known as the Cavea, the Orchestra and the Proscaenium. The Cavea and Orchestra are seating areas, with the semi-circular Cavea for the general public and the Orchestra, in front, originally reserved for important citizens. The Proscaenium is in front of the Orchestra and slightly raised.
The Teatro Romano has an excellent visitor centre attached to it, a striking building made of steel, wood and engraved glass. You can read a little about the site, and its excavation and restoration, as well as viewing some of the archaeological findings here.
Car hire from Malaga Airport opens up the south of Spain. Both Gibralfaro Castle and the Alcazaba are accessible, though you will need to walk up to both. There is a car park at Gibralfaro Castle and a walk between the two sites takes about half an hour to an hour.