Directly under the Alcazaba on the city side of the hill-top fortress rests one of Malaga’s oldest architectural sites, the Roman Ampitheatre which dates back to the period before the birth of Christ, posibly as early as 200BC, and is believed to have been completed in the reign of the emperor Augustus. In fact it is now believed that despite the poor condition of the ampitheatre that it remains one of the oldest in Iberia, and is therefore a protected monument.
Little of the Roman era was known until the discovery of the ampitheatre in 1951 as the city made plans to build a new cultural centre on the site, however so spectacular was the find that this was soon relocated. Meanwhile excavations continued and even now Roman houses, palaces, temples, and other structures are being found nearby.
By the middle of the 3rd century the theatre was abandoned, though it may have been in almost continuous use for 300 years. By the time the Western Roman Empire collapsed we know the ampitheatre and its buildings were being used as a factory for salted fish, after which the complex was used as a necropolis for Iberian Romans.
The Byzantine era saw the entire complex returned to industrial use as Malaga reclaimed its position as a major western Mediterranean port. However, this use was shortlived and ended with the emergence of the Visigothic kingdoms, and then was almost completely demolished by the Moors of North Africa who used the marble columns and seating in the construction of their fortress and palace.
From then until 1487 when Malaga returned to Christian control the site housed a small Mosque and barracks, and after this period simply became part of the ruins of the Alcazaba.
In its complete form the ampitheatre had a radius of 31 metres, with seating and the former portico standing 16 metres high, and a large orchestra of 15 metres for local gentry. Unlike the colliseum in Rome, Malaga’s ampitheatre was only ever used for theatre, recitals, and political discussions, though being as large as it is, it could be sectioned so that Roman laws relating the separation of the different classes was possible.
Historically it is interesting to note that Malaga’s ampitheatre follows the traditional design of the Roman architect Vitruvio, and in its complete form would have been almost completely enclosed around the sides, with canvas sheets hung from the top of the structure to provide shade to those seated below.
Malaga’s Teatro Romano, calle Alcazabilla.
Entrance to the ampitheatre is free, and the adjacent interpretation centre is worth visiting to read interactive displays about Roman theatre and Malaga’s rich past. The theatre is closed on Mondays, though can still be seen from the street.