I have just come back from Malaga, Spain and this is a picture of Plaza Mayor. A typical Spanish streetscape? Look closely, and things are not quite what they seem. There are no actual windows at first floor level. The recess in the window frame has been painted to look like a window. Likewise, the life-size horses and cows dotted around are not real. That’s a real clue that Plaza Mayor is a fake. I am a regular visitor to Spain and have never seen horses and cows wandering around freely in town centres.
Plaza Mayor comes complete with plazas, fountains and orange trees but devoid of local businesses, people (rather than shoppers), or the 200 years of history the architecture initially suggests.
Instead, Plaza Mayor has just over 10 years history as an out-of-town retail and leisure centre built to look like a small Andalusian town.
Like some other towns, its leisure offer is separate to its main retail offer. This was added in 2008 and, I guess, built far enough away from the original centre so as to avoid any disruption to existing trading by the construction works.
So, as the photo below demonstrates – Plaza Mayor’s plaza mayor (main square) is now a 1100 space car-park.
This may be quite an apt development and one that shows that even fake towns suffer the same forces of change as real ones.
At 8am yesterday morning there were plenty of cars in the car-park before the centre was even open. With all that free parking and being next to a railway station on a commuter line to Malaga (it takes 20 minutes) it is obviously playing an important role for local people, as the original marketing literature said it would, but I suspect transport interchange was not what the developers were thinking.
At 8pm the evening before the centre was busier – but certainly not attracting the 20,000+ visitors per day it was when it opened in 2002. Interestingly, the addition of more retail in 2008 is housed in a more ‘traditional’ development – in terms of looking more like a run-of-the mill shopping mall. It seems to be doing well as the only vacant units are in the leisure half. At 9pm there were shoppers in the retail half – but many of the restaurants and bars in the leisure half were empty.
I may be just one of the 10,000,000 tourists to the area who prefers the reality of Malaga, Torremolinos or Marbella to the hyper (or hypo) reality of Plaza Mayor. An out-of-town town just isn’t the same.