Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Parroquia de San Juan Bautista - Málaga, Spain

Taking on my first day of Feria de Agosto after arriving to Malaga, I strolled my way along the wide streets of the southern district of Carretera de Cadíz to the heart of the city.  Heading north, I encountered the wide and shallow river Guadalmedina.  The name was given to the river by the Moors as they settled on the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages and the name derives from wadi al-medina (وادي المدينة) meaning 'valley of the city'.  As an Arabic speaker, there were numerous "Huh.  That's interesting!" moments as I ventured through Andalusia, which itself is etymologically Arabic as well, but Málaga was filled with them!  Crossing the river meant the wide and unbending streets of Carretera de Cadíz rapidly changed to narrow, winding lanes of the Centro District.  I was not in any rush to get to the festivities just yet so I ran the risk of "getting lost" on a few of the side streets.  Those "streets" began to twist and turn every few meters and in parts I could casually stretch out my arms and run my hands along the sides of a few of them!  I soon discovered this beautifully cobbled lane lined with small shops and brightly colored buildings that led me to one of my favorite discoveries during my near-week stay - la Parroquia de San Juan Bautista.  The Parish of Saint John dates back to the Catholic Conquest of Malaga in 1487 as one of four parishes that quartered the city.  What I saw as the bell tower came into full view was a vibrant mixture of Spanish Colonial and Mudéjar architecture standing before me.  Following heavy damage from an earthquake 335 years ago, the parish was rebuilt largely with Moorish influence during the height of the Spanish Empire giving what remains today a tasteful blend of the two styles - on the exterior!  Passing through the northern portal's large and heavy wooden door, I quickly became overwhelmed by beauty.  I arrived just in time to hear the angelic voices of a choir made up of young school children as I sat in one of the back pews admiring the mesmerizing details of the nave.  The complex pattern of golds, greys, and blacks captivated my attention against the pure white vaults of what I had expected to be a simple and austere parish as I approached the door.

As the children of the choir finished and were presumably released from all academic restraints for the day judging by the quick change from their everyday clothes into their festival attire and the elderly ladies ended their midday prayers, I soon had the parish nearly to myself.  Still in awe of this historical cornerstone to Catholic Malaga, I only fell deeper into the beauty as each step was taken to the altar.  In comparison to the famed cathedral of the city for its size and grandeur, I feel that this parish is a more spellbinding experience.  Firstly, half the adventure is getting there!  Following the white marble trellis pattern pathways leading up to the parish and the small plaza flanking to the southeast is soothing for the traveler's soul just as much as the elegant interior of the parish is to admire.  Even if seeing religious sites is not a common activity during your travels, I would recommend making this small side trek if you ever find yourself in Malaga.  One, the parish is a must-see and secondly, there is an incredible cafe tucked away in the petite plaza that goes above and beyond when it comes to making a savory café cortado.  Although, I tried to ask what the secret behind their mystical powers in making this perfected blend between espresso and "milk", all I would get was a full smile from the olive-skinned barista.  My best guess was that milk was one shade away from being butter being it was so creamy and delicious because if there was one thing I saw while living in the American South was that butter makes everything better!  

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