Exploring Malaga’s rich history

This Andalusian city has much more to offer than its famous beaches. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 September 2019

Exploring Malaga’s rich history

DUBAI: The coastal city of Malaga in the south of Spain is principally known as an ideal summer destination, a top choice for those wanting to lounge on the beach and bask in the Mediterranean sun. But this Andalusian provincial capital offers more than just the joy of leisure. This is a city steeped in history — both ancient and modern — as evidenced by its warm-hued, charming, and often-colossal architecture, which hides delightful surprises and breathtaking views.

In the city’s historic center, consider starting your day with a visit to the Alcazaba, a limestone, palm tree-lined fortress that was built under Arab rule — which lasted for nearly 700 years — during the 11th century. Derived from the Arabic term ‘Al qasba’ (citadel), this leafy fortress is a gem of Moorish design with its characteristic horseshoe arches, refreshing fountains and airy gardens.  

Al qasba (citadel). (Shutterstock)

A few minutes walk away stands the grand Malaga Cathedral, which took around two centuries to construct, and is apparently still not complete. Building started in the 1500s, and this Renaissance- and Baroque-style monument was actually converted from a mosque into a cathedral under the patronage of Spain’s Catholic monarchs, who conquered the city in 1487. The tall interior — topped with ornate domes and stained-glass windows — is hugely impressive. Before leaving the cathedral, make sure to take a look at the intricately carved figures of saints, apostles, and other founders of religious orders around the choir’s wooden seating.

Malaga Cathedral. (Shutterstock)

Malaga is also home to a mélange of art museums that are scattered around the city. We would recommend the Carmen Thyssen Museum. Housed in the former home of a nobleman, which was built in the 16th century, this small, tranquil cultural institution showcases paintings created predominantly by Spanish masters — from the Romantic to the Fin-de-siècle periods — portraying remarkable imagery of Andalusian nature, architecture, and cultural traditions.

To unwind for a few moments, head to the museum’s patio — located on the second floor — where you will be charmed by the view of terracotta rooftops and church towers, the bells of which chime in the far distance.  

If you are a fan of Pablo Picasso, then you are in for a surprising treat. The radical 20th-century artist was born in Malaga in 1881, although he lived here for just the first decade of his life and eventually settled in France, never to return to his native city. You can visit the apartment in which he was born in at the Casa Natal Museum, situated in the Plaza de la Merced. The apartment was turned into a museum in 1988, and its intimate setting is meant to paint a picture of Picasso’s upbringing and family life. It includes personal mementos such as his delicate baptism robe, monogrammed undershirt, his sister Dolores’ tortoiseshell comb, and a selection of his father José Ruiz-Blasco’s artworks.

Casa Natal Museum is situated in the Plaza de la Merced. (Shutterstock)

Malaga’s officials also honored their most famous son (apologies Antonio Banderas) through the opening of the Picasso Museum. The museum’s collection — donated by Bernard and Christine-Ruiz Picasso (the artist’s grandson and daughter-in-law) —boasts nearly 200 artworks, covering eight decades of Picasso’s highly experimental artistry — his academic painting, Cubism, ceramics, etching, and much more. Through his striking portraits, you will encounter individuals from Picasso’s intimate circle, including his romantic partners, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, French artist Françoise Gilot, and his most-painted muse — and last wife — Jacqueline Roque.

Malaga is principally known as an ideal summer destination. (Shutterstock)

You can grab a bite to eat at any of the casual food bars on every other corner of the city. Near the shopping district on Calle Marqués de Larios, La Taberna del Pintxo is famous for its varied and delicious open sandwiches — a staple of Basque cuisine. For cold pintxos, help yourself at the bar, which offers fish-stuffed croissants, caviar-topped smoked salmon, creamed Roquefort and walnuts spread generously on small portions of bread. For warm pintxos, servers rotate around tables serving the likes of fried Camembert drizzled with raspberry jam, entrecote sprinkled with sea salt, and baked béchamel-infused mushrooms.

If you’d rather grab your own ingredients, head to the bustling Mercado de Atarazanas, located in a former shipyard that originally dates back to the 14th century, and renowned for its wide array of fresh produce — local vendors provide the best of olives, cheese, fruits, fish and meat.

And after all that food and culture, there should still be time to head to the beach.

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

Zain Al-Rafeea spoke to Arab News about his role in ‘The Eternals.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2020

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

LOS ANGELES: A child is forced to leave home to escape a terrible fate. Growing up in a strange land, he develops a special talent and achieves greatness.

It is a familiar story that could describe the lives of a host of superheroes. But it also applies to refugee and actor Zain Al-Rafeea, and his courageous journey from Syria to stardom.

Al-Rafeea was born in 2004. His family fled the Syrian conflict when he was eight, moving to Lebanon, where they were forced to find shelter in the slums of Beirut.

“Unfortunately, refugees face harsh conditions in Lebanon because the country has so many of them,” Al-Rafeea told Arab News. “I never thought I would be an actor or a famous person. I just dreamt of being safe with my family and that nothing bad would happen to them. I was focusing on making money to support my parents.”

In late 2017, Al-Rafeea’s life was changed by a chance encounter with Jennifer Haddad, casting director and collaborator of acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki.

“I was in the street with a group of friends. I saw Jennifer, and she asked me if I would like to act. My first reaction was like ‘OK, I have no problem with that.’ She took a video of me, sent it to Nadine and things went on from there.”

Labaki cast Al-Rafeea as the lead in her 2018 drama “Capernaum.” The film was a hit, and the young actor’s performance was lauded by both audiences and critics.

“I did not imagine in my wildest dreams that I have such an international success,” Al-Rafeea said. “I just thought of it as an acting experience, but things went in a much better direction.”

In November, it was announced that Al-Rafeea will join the cast of Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals.” The film tells the story of a race of immortal aliens who lived on Earth in secret, and features A-list stars such as Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.

“The introduction happened through Nadine. Directors and producers from Hollywood talked to her and she put us in touch,” Al-Rafeea said.

The actor met his fellow cast members on the Canary Islands during the early stages of filming. “They were nice and their welcome to me was very sweet,” he said. “They invited me for lunch and we chatted for hours, I felt so happy.

“When we finished the first day’s shooting, Salma Hayek came up and hugged me. That night she gave me an iPad and iPhone, and we chatted and listened to music together.”

The teenage star couldn’t reveal much about his role in “The Eternals,” only that he joins the alien heroes as a human who can speak a mysterious 7,000-year-old language.

Life in the Beirut slums is a thing of the past for the Al-Rafeea family. With their son’s success, they were able to relocate to Norway.

“It is a perfect country, the people are so calm, and there are no fights or even traffic. Having water and electricity all the time is a great thing.” While he is excited about his new home, Al-Rafeea has not forgotten his friends, family and the home he left behind in Syria.

“Work hard for nothing is impossible — look what happened to me,” Al-Rafeea said in a message to children facing situations like the one he endured. “Simply dream big.”

“The Eternals” is due to be released in the US on Nov. 6, 2020. A Middle Eastern premiere date is yet to be announced.