Neanderthal man lived in cave complexes near Malaga many thousands of years ago, this archaeology tells us. As time went on populace increased, and by the time the Bronze Age dawned human presence throughout the Costa was widespread.
Malaga itself took rather longer to emerge. The city was founded over 3000 years ago by Phoenician traders, though then called Malaca (probably originating from the word Malac – to salt). In fact they used the harbour area as a centre for salting fish. The fortress overlooking the city was also (originally) built by the Phoenicians and beneath it a collection of pottery and other remnants are on display.
In the 6th century BC the Phoenicians were replaced by the Greeks, who held the city for just 70 years until conquered by the Carthaginians. They of course were to be embroiled in the Punic wars (ending in 202BC) which saw them expelled from Malaga by the Romans, and eventually the entire peninsular (Spain).
Under Roman rule the city was renamed Flavia Malacita. Malaga quickly grew in importance, becoming a major colony, which in turn led to the Romanisation of the surrounding lands. Aqueducts, bath houses, temples, fortifications and government structures were built in and around the city, as well as farther along the coastline. In fact Julius Caesar himself was once a governor of Hispania Ulterior (the south and west of Spain) and is said to have spent time here.
By 476 AD the Roman Empire was in decline and Malaga was affected by large migrations and settlements of Germanic tribes. First the Vandals, Alani and Suevi peoples took power; though quickly followed by the Visigoths, who went on to conquer much of Spain.
The Moors (Arabs) brought about the next major change in the history of Malaga, and indeed much of southern Spain. In the 8th century AD they invaded the region after defeating a Hispanic-Visigoth army. Malaga then became the main port for the kingdom of Granada and the entire region was named Al-Andalus. Much progress was made during the years of Islamic rule. They brought with them advances in art and architecture. Also imported were oranges, palms and rice, in addition to the irrigation techniques needed to transform the arid landscape into fertile agricultural land. Some of Malaga’s most beautiful buildings and monuments were left behind by the Moors; such as the Alcazaba, and the La Puerta de Atarazanas gate (now the entrance to the central market).
Though the Moors held key areas in the South of Spain for a considerable length of time, the seats of power in the rest of the country were increasingly taken by Catholic kings. As time passed the Moors were tolerated less and less and before long the situation descended into hostilities. The first attempts at the conquest of Malaga took place in the 14th century, but it was not until August of 1487 that the city was finally overthrown. Much change took place; the first town square was built (constitution square), the convents of Trinidad and Victoria were founded, and many of the remaining Moors were compulsorily converted to Christianity.
A period of optimism was followed by a downturn in Malaga’s fortunes. The 16th and 17th centuries were plagued by epidemics and bad harvests, in addition to economical crisis as a result of the expulsion of the Moors. Little was to change (save the building of the cathedral) until the 20th century, which after a slow start was to change the city more than ever. Post war Europe demanded entertaining and this brought many celebrities to the Costa del Sol. This was quickly followed by a budding package tourism industry, focusing in the main on Torremolinos. With its international airport Malaga was to be the gateway for any travel to the region, and as a result it prospered. Quite how much it would prosper was unforeseeable; today it is Spain’s 5th most important city and much of it built with the income from the tourist industry.