© Carlos Criado / Ayuntamiento de Málaga
Andrew Ferren
August 05, 2015

Málaga’s growing role as a cultural capital of southern Spain got a major boost this spring, with the opening of a “pop-up” Centre Pompidou, an offshoot of the Paris museum that is among the great repositories of 20th-century art. The Centre Pompidou Málaga is the only branch of the museum located outside France.

Housed beneath an arresting colored-glass cube in Málaga’s newly renovated passenger port, the “pop-up” Pompidou will provide special temporary exhibitions and a rotating selection of works from the Pompidou collection over a period of five years. If the arrangement is successful, it could be extended for five more years. 

Nearby, in the city’s former tobacco factory, a new satellite art center established by the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, known as the Museo Ruso Málaga, has a rotating display of Russian art, as well as film programs and other educational events. With an influx of wealthy Russians buying homes in southern Spain, the museum aspires to be a beacon of Russian culture in Europe.

Of course reinvention is nothing new to Málaga, the Andalusian port city on Spain’s southern coast. Originally settled by the Phoenicians, it became a center for the production of garum, the fermented fish sauce that was like ketchup for the Roman Empire. The city’s more recent exports include Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas. 

Its most recent transformation began a little more than a decade ago with the opening of the Museo Picasso Málaga in 2003. Suddenly cruise ships chugging between Lisbon and Barcelona had a reason to stop midway, putting the city—known to most travelers as the gateway to the golf resorts and beaches of Marbella and the Costa del Sol, where folks typically come for sun, sand, and celebrity spotting—back on the culture map.

That same year saw the opening of the CAC, and the “cultural revolution” continued to pick up momentum with the 2011 opening of the Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga, whose international exhibitions complement a display of Spanish painting on loan from Baroness Thyssen. 

It’s estimated that local authorities have invested nearly 100 million euros ($110 million) to attract cultural tourism in the last decade. Since Spaniards tend to appreciate their local charms all the more after foreigners “discover” them, this new wave of international interest in Málaga is likely to spawn even more investment in the city. 

Andrew Ferren is on the Spain beat for Travel + Leisure. He lives in Madrid.

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