Ronda, Andalusia, Spain
The city of Ronda is perched high in the Serrania de Ronda mountain range of Andalucia, in the Malaga Province of Spain. This privilege alone qualifies it as deserving of the title of one of the most spectacularly located cities in the world. It is quite simply unique amongst all other cities in Spain, one of the world’s most varied and rich tourist destinations.
Ronda is known as one of the greatest Moorish pueblo blancos (white villages), so named because of the white-washed buildings within it. These contrast with the spectacular scenery, cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, combining to make Ronda a truly unique and breathtaking tourist destination.
Steeped in history and retaining much of its historic charm, Ronda offers spectacular views across the Andalucian landscape and the rapidly-growing city is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the famous Romero family.
The world-famous views and historic town are a mere 90 minute bus ride from the popular tourist destination of Marbella, and the dramatic landscape of multi-hued rock and pines was once the playground of bandits. As recently as 1952, buses making their way through the hills were regularly escorted by armed members of the Civil Guard.
There is much for the tourist in Ronda, which has seen domination by Romans, Moors, Germanic hordes and Visigoths. Ronda’s geographical location makes it unique and its city holds ancient treasures of architecture and engineering.
Ronda’s spectacular and dramatic landscape includes views known throughout the world. These include the El Tajo Gorge, a spectacular 120 metres deep in some places, that runs through the centre of Ronda town and carries the Guadalevin River. The Gorge separates the two sections of the town; these are the old Moorish part known as La Ciudad and the later part called El Mercadillo which was founded in 1485. The two parts of the town are linked by a spectacular 200 year old bridge of stone, named the Puente Nuevo. Construction of the bridge, one of three that span the Gorge, was started in 1751 and was completed 42 years later. A chamber built into the centre of the bridge has known many uses, not least of which was as a prison. Today this contains an exhibition of the bridge’s history.
El Mercadillo boasts one of Ronda’s most spectacular and world-famous views, the vast, undulating landscape of Andalucia that can be viewed from the end of the Alameda del Tajo, a tree shaded park ending in a sheer drop.
The beginnings of Ronda as a settlement cannot be specifically dated. Neolithic remains have been found in Ronda giving indication that it saw habitation then but it is supposed that the Iberians or the Bastulo Celts first settled what would later become Ronda in the 6th century BC. The terrain in which the settlement was sited afforded considerable protection from invasion and attack and this is in all likelihood why the site was first chosen.
Ronda has a rich history involving several great powers including the Romans, Moors and others. This is what adds to Ronda’s unique and deep historical significance and supplies some of its architectural variety and texture. Historically, Ronda has made a complex and fascinating journey to become the town that stands today and understanding some of that history c an only enhance the visitor’s experience.
The site that was to become Ronda became the focus of Roman attention in the 2nd century BC and fell under their occupation. The Romans renamed the town Arunda, which, literally translated, means surrounded by mountains. Arunda was the first recorded name for the town, featuring in Roman records.
The Roman occupation of the area saw much fighting with the Celt and Iberian tribes, and in a conflagration between two powerful Romans, Pompeius and Sertorius, Ronda was almost destroyed by the latter.
Sertorius built upon the old Ronda a new city that became a focal point in the unification of all of Hispania. When the Western Roman Empire fell in the 5th century AD the Visigoths took control as they did with much of Spain. But the Visigoth rule was short lived, collapsing in the 8th century AD and making it possible for the Moors to take control.
By 711AD Ronda had come under the domination of the Moors and it is from this period that it started to become the Ronda that is known today. The town became a link between the Emirate of Cordoba and the territories of Africa. Later one Abu-Nur seized control of the area, which had fallen into a disunited state of conflict and turmoil, and once again brought order and unification. Abu-Nur named this area the Kingdom of the Banue Ifran. Abu-Nur built for himself a town from which to rule, undertaking much building work and fortification and he named this town Madinat Ronda.
In 1091 Ronda yet again was under attack. The rise of Christianity angered the Moorish Kings of the Andalucian area and to put down the Christians hired the services of Africans called Almoravids. The Almoravids turned against their employers and easily took the area. Ronda had yet again succumbed to further foreign influence.
The reign of the Almorads did not last and in the twelfth century a Muslim Berber movement of opposing views to the Almorads waged a campaign that saw them take control of most of Moorish Spain.
Ronda bears witness today to the rich influence of its Moorish masters. The 13th Century remains of the Arab Baths are one of Ronda’s most popular tourist attractions. These Baths were located beside the mosque of Ronda in order that they could provide the means of cleansing before entrance to the mosque was made.
Ronda’s fate changed again in 1485 when Ronda was taken from the Moors by the Marquis of Cadiz following the Catholic Monarchs assuming control of Spain.
With the Spanish in control of Spain a great number of political, economic and cultural changes swept through Andalucía. The Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Isabel tried to subdue any remaining Muslims who remained in Spain and as a consequence many of Ronda’s Islamic buildings were destroyed or made fit for Christian use.
From the late fifteenth century, with the Moors gone, Andalucia fell into decline. Famine and sickness reduced the population and 300,000 died. As a consequence cities such as Ronda saw dramatic falls in their levels of population.
During the Napoleonic war Ronda was affected yet again and the conflict cost the lives of 10,000 of Ronda’s inhabitants. Spanish guerrilla fighters made Ronda their base during the Napoleonic war as they struggled to repel the French.
The Spanish Civil War affected Ronda as much as the rest of the Andalucian region. It is believed that in Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel For Whom the Bell Tolls the scene in which Fascists are executed by being thrown from a high cliff was inspired by true events that took place in Ronda. The Puente Nuevo Bridge would have been an obvious place from which to carry out such executions.
Ronda’s contribution to the development of bullfighting as it is known today has been considerable. The ancient form involved mounted fighters on horseback; the style used today was pioneered by Francisco Romero of Ronda around 1726, and later by his son Pedro. As the bullfighter was on foot the risk posed was greater and therefore provided the on-looking crowd with greater excitement. Whereas the previous form involving largely nobles on horseback was reserved for the rich, the newer form became open to all.
Just as with the rest of Andalucia’s cuisine, Ronda’s has been heavily influenced by its connections and the cuisine is very much in the classic Mediterranean style. Oil, garlic, tomatoes, peppers and onions are staple ingredients. Arabian delights of fragrant rice, lemons, oranges, spices, olives and mint feature in Ronda’s cuisine as do the Malagan game and stews.
Traditional, less exotic fare such as locally caught game of rabbit, trout, partridge and quail are still very much a part of Ronda’s everyday cuisine.
The Andalucian region is famous for its wines, partiucularly of the fortified variety such as Jerez, or Sherry, in Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso styles.
Perhaps Ronda’s greatest attraction is its very location and unparalleled views across the Andalusian landscape. But the city itself is steeped in a rich history that offers much to the tourist.
As well as the remains of the 13th Century Arab baths, there are many other historic buildings and structures to delight the tourist. The Plaza de Toros del Ronda is a two-tiered arena with a diameter of 66 metres; this was a famous sight of bullfighting constructed in 1785 and therefore one of the oldest in Spain. The arena holds 5,000 spectators and each tier consists of five rows of tiered seating. The arena is constructed entirely of stone.
Every year, traditionally in the first week of September, the Feria de Pedro Romero is held in the arena. This four day event is inspired by the three important historic figures connected with Ronda: Pedro Ramero, the bullfighter, and son of Francisco Ramero; Francisco de la Goya, the painter, and the later bullfighter Antonio Ordonez. Goya executed a painting of Pedro Romero.
The Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge, is of course a most spectacular attraction offering stunning views.
The 13th Century Mondragon Palace offers a glimpse of the golden days of Moorish occupation. The impressive courtyards and gardens evoke those ancient times and the Palace is home to the city’s Municipal museum.
Ronda boasts several historic churches and the largest is the Santa Maria la Mayor. This church was built on the site of the site of the Moorish Mosque that was destroyed. A small part of the Mosque remains preserved and can be viewed on entrance.
The spectacular El Tajo Gorge is of itself impressive, but tourists may, if they summon sufficient courage, use the stone steps carved into the rock face to descend begin their descent into the Gorge; the steps then give way to paths but those making the journey will be afforded the most spectacular views of the Puente Nuevo.
Ronda is surrounded by Moorish walls and gates stone construction that evoke the historical path the city has taken. Anyone making their way through Ronda will find the walls and their ancient construction make an imposing backdrop to any walk around the city.
The city benefits from several squares but perhaps the most attractive is the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent. The Plaza is the location of the Santa Maria del Mayor church and the Plaza also boasts many impressive monuments.
The Cuenca Gardens are spread across a series of impressive terraces on the faces of the El Tajo Gorge. The tourist wandering amongst the terraces is treated to spectacular views of the Gorge and unique perspectives of the city of Ronda.
Ronda’s Water Mine offers a fabulous experience; built at the beginning of the 14th Century Moorish occupation of the city, the Water Mine is characterised by 231 steps carved into the rock of the El Tajo Gorge. Entrance is made through the Casa del Ray Moro. Known as the home of the Moorish King of Ronda, this building was actually constructed in the 18th Century long after Moorish occupation had ceased. The steps of the Mine lead down through chambers that were once an impressive fortress before the river is reached.
Without doubt Ronda offers a truly unique experience to the visitor. The spectacular location, teamed with the outstanding views across Andalusia, make it an incredibly beautiful place to visit. But Ronda’s history has left it with an array of unique structures that evoke that history, and recall the different cultural influences that have made Ronda what it is today.
The combination of Ronda’s exposure to different cultures, coupled with its position in Andalusia and the spectacular Serrania de Ronda mountain range ensure its place as one of the world’s most rewarding and unique tourist destinations in the world.