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A Bridge Between Nations

Posted on 5/7/2019 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

While the flooding of the Guadalmedina River prompted Germany to fund a new bridge for Malaga, the river has since been dammed and is dry for much of the year.

Question: What prompted the Germans to buy the Spanish city of Malaga a new bridge—twice?

Answer: Gratitude after a daring rescue.

On a stormy night in 1900, the sleeping citizens of Malaga were awakened by the sound of a ship crashing on their shores. The German frigate Gneisenau was sinking, taking the crew down with it. Despite the risk to themselves, the Malagueños leaped into action to save the sailors. Some of the rescuers lost their own lives in the process. The heroism of the townspeople made headlines in both countries, earning Malaga the name “Muy Hospitalaria” (Very Welcoming).

Seven years later, the tables were turned. After days of rain, the Guadalmedina River overflowed its banks, wiping out the bridges that connected the communities on either side. When this was reported in Germany, citizens began raising funds to build a new bridge as a gesture of thanks. Officially called Santo Domingo Bridge, the steel “Bridge of the Germans” (as the locals call it), opened in 1909, adorned with a plaque that read: Germany donated this bridge to Málaga in gratitude for its heroic assistance to the shipwrecked sailors of the German war frigate Gneisenau.

Though floods have never again claimed the steel bridge, it has endured a few challenges. By 1982, its supports were deteriorating. Times were tight in Malaga, so the city’s mayor turned to the West German government for funds, and they agreed. The bridge’s restoration was completed on its 75th anniversary in 2004. But just eight years later, it was decided to reposition the entire structure. (This time Malaga paid for the work.) It survived that move and went on to mark its centennial in 2009 with heads of state and dignitaries from both countries in attendance.

In 2015, it was the scene of one more rescue: a British tourist climbed the bridge in the middle of the night and fell asleep atop one of the arches, blissfully unaware of the dangerous situation into which he had placed himself. Locals called the police to safely get him down, and all ended well. (There are no plaques to commemorate this event.) The bridge celebrates its 110th birthday this year.

7 More Unique Things About Malaga

  • Malaga’s motto is “Tanto Monta” (“It doesn’t matter”), which is short for “It doesn’t matter if you cut it or untie it.” Inspired by the Gordian knot which Alexander the Great is said to have cut through instead of untying, the motto is a way of saying that how something gets done is less important than if it gets done.

  • During the plague, most of Malaga was quarantined and the annual Easter procession was banned. Prisoners asked to hold the procession themselves and were refused, but they broke out anyway. Surprisingly, they then all returned to the prison, and one prisoner even brought back a religious relic in hopes that it would cure a sick companion. When the King heard of the men’s honor, he made a decree that is still in effect to this day: one prisoner is freed every Easter.

  • In Spanish, all objects are gendered male or female, and lighthouses use the masculine form, el faro. But Malaga’s defied the convention in naming its lighthouse: La Farola is one of only two “feminine” lighthouses in the entire nation.

  • Malaga has its own lingo for ordering coffee (with terms distinct even from the rest of Spain): for instance, semilargo means strong; sol y sombra (literally half sunny and half shady) means half milk/half coffee; and un nube (a cloud) means only a splash of coffee in a lot of milk.

  • Despite not being a holiday in Spain, Malaga celebrates the 4th of July every year on the Plaza del Obispo. The party is in honor of Bernardo de Galvez y Madrid, a Malaga native who fought with the revolutionary forces against the British in the American War of Independence for four years (and for whom the city of Galveston, Texas is named).

  • The biznaga, Malaga’s signature flower, isn’t a real species but a man-made hybrid of two: jasmine and thistle. Thistle are dried out until only the stem and spikey bristles remain, and then jasmine (picked early so the buds remain closed) are inserted onto individual spikes and then allowed to “bloom” over the course of the day.

  • It took 250 years to build the Cathedral of Malaga, which mixes Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. But construction ended in 1782, before the South Tower was finished. As result, the locals call their cathedral “the one-armed lady” (La Manquita). In the centuries since, the idea of building the missing tower has come up more than once, only to be rejected every time; Malagueños like it just the way it is.

Experience the singular charms and quirks of Malaga when you join O.A.T. for our Iberian Voyage: Lisbon to Barcelona Small Ship Adventure.

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