A visit to the Cathedral of Malaga is an absolute must when you vacation in Andalusia. Built in the Renaissance architectural tradition, this stunning Roman Catholic church is one of Malaga’s most important attractions.
Now, if you’ve been traveling around Spain long enough, you probably came across quite a few incredible churches, like the Mesquita, or the Cathedral of Seville. Although Malaga’s Cathedral does not share the same fame, you’ll still be impressed by its beauty, grandeur and elegance.
A Brief History of the Cathedral of Malaga
Like many other sacred buildings in Spain, the Cathedral of Malaga sits on the site of an old mosque. More precisely, the Aljama Mosque (the Great Mosque of Malaga). After the conquest of Málaga by los Reyes Católicos in 1487, the Muslim temples started being demolished and replace by Christian churches.
Initially, the Great Mosque suffered only minor alterations which allowed it to function as a Catholic church. But eventually the Christians demolished it completely and replaced it with what we know today as the Cathedral of Malaga. The only thing that remained from the mosque was the Patio de los Naranjos, a small courtyard of orange trees.
In 1622 the cathedral received the name of Santa María de la Encarnación, which is still its official name today.
The actual construction of the Malaga Cathedral began in 1528 and lasted for more than 200 years. The cost of the project was so big that by 1782 the work had to come to halt. Since no additional funds for the construction could be raised, only one of the two bell towers projected was completed. That left the Cathedral looking like a one-arm lady, hence its nickname La Marquita (the One-Arm Lady.)
Although the Cathedral of Malaga has never been finished in a proper sense, you don’t realize that when looking at it. Other than the “unbuilt” tower, nothing else seems to be missing. Over the last 200 years, there have been several attempts to complete second tower, but they never succeeded. Today, the absence of that tower is regarded more like a trademark of the cathedral.
An Architectural Masterpiece
Malaga Cathedral was built on a plan designed by Diego de Siloe. But many experts believe the construction actually followed the plans of Enrique Egas, a master of the Old Gothic School.
The initial construction started in a Gothic style, which was the official style of the time, but it rapidly evolved into the Renaissance style you see today. There is still a Gothic doorway from that period, which is the sacristy door that today leads into the gardens.
The cathedral has four façades, two floors and three aisles that are separated from each other by Corinthian columns. The main façade was built in a Baroque style, unlike the rest of the building.
The cathedral’s entrance is through Puerta de las Cadenas, on the north side. The door has two semicircular towers, called “cubillos,” which date back to the 18th century.
The cathedral roof is also very unusual, when compared to other cathedrals. It features a series of domes which are very clearly visible when you walk around the access path above them. If you want to visit the rooftop, you can book a tour. But in order to get up there you’ll have to climb about 200 steps on a narrow and winding staircase.
The rooftop offers great views of the city, the Alcazaba and the Castle of Gibralfaro, so it’s worth climbing up.
The front façade of the Cathedral is absolutely magnificent. Unfortunately there is not much space around it to allow you a better perspective of its grandeur. The best vantage point in Plaza del Obispo which is right in front of the Cathedral. But that square is really tiny and almost always crowded.
The façade has three doorways separated by Corinthian columns of red marble. Above the main door is the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
What to Look for When Visiting the Cathedral of Malaga
The first thing that catches your attention when visiting the Cathedral of Malaga is its height. The domed ceiling soars 40m into the air giving the interior a feeling of grandeur that very few other churches have. But unlike other tall cathedrals you may have seen, this one appears very bright and luminous.
The Cathedral’s rectangular plan has a nave and two aisles. One unusual detail to notice is the fact that the two aisles have the same hight as the nave. This makes the Cathedral appear brighter and more spacious.
As you walk around, you’ll notice both Renaissance and Baroque influences. Some of the most remarkable elements are the choir stalls and wood carvings in the central nave, which date back to the 17th century. These were completed by the Spanish sculptor Pedro de Mena.
Another interesting component are the slender arches supported by Corinthian columns that continue up through the vaulted ceilings. The columns feature compact headers with moldings, which are typical for the Renaissance architecture.
The central nave is surrounded by 15 chapels that display gorgeous religious art. One that you shouldn’t miss is the Chapel of the Incarnation (Capilla de la Encarnación) which gives the cathedral its name.
The grandiose organ you see today, which dates back to 1776, is a replacement of the old original organ. The new organ had an improved façade and was considered a masterpiece of the period.
There are many other beautiful statues and religious paintings in the Cathedral that will catch your eye. Take time to admire them while walking around.
Getting to Malaga Cathedral
The Cathedral of Malaga is located in the historic centre of the town, on Molina Lario street, and it’s visible from almost every part of the city. Most people walk to the cathedral, as the historic center is almost entirely pedestrian. However, if you’re getting to the city center by bus the nearest stop is Paseo del Parque/ Plaza de la Marina.
Tickets and Hours for Visitation
Admission prices for visiting the Cathedral of Malaga are as follows:
General admission: €8 for adults and €5 for children
Cathedral & rooftop: €12 for adults and €8 for children
The hours of visitation vary by season, so for more accurate information please check the Cathedral’s website (only available in Spanish).
If you are looking for a guided tour of the Cathedral, I recommend the one below: