For Pablo Picasso, Malaga was the true heart of Spain. He was born in the Costa del Sol town on October 25, 1881, and it was there he lived for the first ten years of his life. That might not seem like a long time but it was for Picasso: After his boyhood here, where he began drawing and painting, his family moved four times in less than a decade. From La Coruña to Barcelona to Madrid and Barcelona once more, Picasso never again settled in a Spanish town for more than a few years at a time. After his first trip to Paris in 1900, he shuttled back and forth between countries, and by 1904 lived in France year-round.
But to understand Picasso, Malaga is the best place to start, not only as home to a museum at his birthplace, but for strolling the lanes of his life, including Plaza Merced, whose denizens were the first subjects of his drawings, and Church of Santiago, where his parents and grandparents were married, and where he was baptized.
Despite many years living away, Picasso did visit Spain over the decades in pursuit of passions both artistic and political (which together yielded Guernica, one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century). As arguably Spain’s most famous artist, his legacy can be seen everywhere—even in cities you might not expect.
6 Spanish Cities Perfect for Discovering the Passions of Picasso
- From an early age, Picasso was fascinated by the dark drama of bullfighting. When in Seville, check out the 18th century Real Maestranza, which is both massive, seating 14,000; and singular, as a rare oval-shaped bullring.
- For the last 25 years of his life, Picasso was hooked on ceramics, as he found this art form a relaxing change from his cubist painting. He made everything from plates and bowls to animal-shaped utensils. Spain, of course, is known for its pottery, and Córdoba is a great place to fall in love with ceramics. In the shadow of the mosque-turned-cathedral known as the Mezquita, handmade pottery may be found in several of the narrow lanes (Calle Martinez Rücker and Calleja de Flores, among others).
- One of the signature events in Picasso’s life, the Spanish Civil War yielded some of his most impassioned and memorable work. Cartagena is home to the best introduction to that turbulent era, the Spanish Civil War museum. A stronghold of Republican forces, continually subject to bombing raids, the city built underground safety shelters, one of which houses the museum. Picasso would appreciate the mix of historical objects, propaganda posters, and modern art.
- Valencia is known for its hearty, rustic cuisine, which includes one of Picasso’s two favorite dishes: allipebre de angulas, or eel stew. (His other favorite: omelette with green and red peppers). You’ll find eel stew on menus here both at luxury hotel restaurants and mom-and-pop cafés, so there’s no excuse to miss this simple, rich delight.
- Though Picasso is associated with cubism, his work spanned genres. His restless mind made him curious to try many of the forms of modern art, yielding an array of styles that span most of the art movements of the 20th century. In Mallorca, a visit to Es Baulard, the museum of modern and contemporary art, offers a window into the creations of Picasso and his Spanish contemporaries like Joan Miro, and their global artistic descendants, including Serbia’s Marina Abramović and Germany’s Anselm Kiefer.
- Of course, the best vantage point on the passions of Picasso is his own artwork. In Barcelona, the city where he held his first art exhibit at age 18, the Picasso Museum is a must-see. Its 3,800 original works span all the periods and styles of Picasso’s career, from the final works of his life in Southern France all the way back to the drawings of a young boy in Malaga.