Updated: May 10, 2021
The historic city of Ronda lies 740 - 750 metres above sea level in the Serranía de Ronda mountain range, near the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, in the Andalusian province of
Málaga. Ronda has been inhabited almost without interruption since Neolithic times. At one point the city was settled by the Celts and later by the Phoenicians. However the Ronda we know today dates back to Roman times, specifically the Second Punic War fought between Rome and Carthage between 218 - 201 BC. It was founded as a fortified military post by that famous Roman general Scipio Africanus and granted city status by another famous Roman general, Julius Caesar.
In the 5th century AD Ronda was captured by a Germanic people called the Suebi, who originated from an area around the Elbe river, itself located between Germany and the Czech Republic. A century later the city was taken first by the Eastern Roman Empire and then by the Visigoths; the latter ruled Ronda until the early 700s.
The city of Ronda changed hands once again in 713 AD when it was captured by Islamic forces. A period of architectural renovation and innovation took place under Moorish rule, including the construction of stone walls and fortifications that enhanced the already formidable natural geographical location of the city. In fact you can still see remnants of what they built: the walls at the Puerta de Almocaábar, the Murallas de Levante, the Puerta de la Cijara. Other examples of Moorish architecture remain, including some houses and one of the best preserved Arab bathhouses in Spain; these baths date back to the 13th century and were constructed during the reign of King Abomelik.
Islamic rule in Ronda lasted several centuries, until the city was finally taken by Christian forces in 1485. Construction of a church was begun at the behest of the Catholic monarchs that very same year. Only a stone's throw away from the Puerta de Almocaábar, the church took twenty years to complete and was named Iglesia del Espíritu Santo (Church of the Holy Spirit). Another notable landmark, the Plaza de Toros de Ronda was established in 1572 and in fact Ronda is considered to be the home of modern bullfighting. Of course the bullring is no longer used for that purpose. Instead it's now a museum that houses bullfighting memorabilia and paraphernalia.
Ronda also played host to celebrities such as the writer Ernest Hemmingway and filmmaker Orson Welles. Both men were great lovers of bullfighting, and Hemmingway's experiences with the sport are recounted in the novel Death in the Afternoon. Welles' ashes were actually interred in Ronda in 1987, in a ranch called El Recreo de San Cayetano. There are memorials to both men near the Plaza de Toros bullring that can be visited by members of the public. The current population of Ronda stands at around 35,000 inhabitants.
The road to Ronda
I was fortunate enough to take a day trip to Ronda in October of last year. We started out in Manilva and drove all the way to San Pedro de Alcantara, situated near Marbella. We then turned inland on the A-397; the road cuts a path in between the natural landscape of the Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja and the Sierra de las Nieves national park; it takes you on a long and winding journey through the mountains, some rugged, rocky and bare, others sprouting foliage and still others covered in dark, green trees. Driving through the mountains is one of the most pleasurable things I have done in a long time. It takes around an hour and a quarter to get to Ronda from Manilva by car (so not long at all) and I highly recommend it to everyone. As a side note, I'm told you can also take a train to Ronda from the town of San Roque and that this also makes its way through the mountains; I will definitely be returning to Ronda at some point, and the next time might just be by train.
When we set out for Ronda the day had been grey and cloudy (although not unpleasant by any means). However, by the time we got to our destination, the day had blossomed and become beautiful and sunny and not at all autumnal. We approached Ronda from the northern side and parked twenty minutes' walk from the city centre. The idea was to stretch our legs a little after the car journey. We walked towards the Calle Lauría, passing modern dwellings, residential areas, a church, a pharmacy (and eventually) the train station. Walking around one would not have known we were in the middle of a pandemic; bars and cafes were open, there were throngs of people out and about, restaurants were hosting families. Our destination was the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) but we actually stopped at one of the cafes along the Calle Lauría to have churros and coffee; both were deliciously sweet.
Bullring & Alameda del Tajo Park
From Calle Lauría we turned into Virgen de la Paz (the bullring is on your right as you walk down towards the bridge). From here you can continue on to the Plaza de España (home of the Parador Nacional de Turismo) or take a slight detour into the Alameda del Tajo, a public park dating from the 19th century and where you'll find the aforementioned monuments to Ernest Hemmingway and Orson Welles. We decided on the latter, taking a look around the bullring before entering the park proper and walking around the pathways that line the cliff edge. The Alameda del Tajo itself consists of four tree-lined promenades and a theatre; it also sports balconies and lookout spots that afford spectacular, uninterrupted views of Ronda's mountain range. The largest balcony - housing its own bandstand - offers the best vistas of the rugged Ronda landscape; mountains, hills, fields, even winding roads and paths.
Puente Nuevo & Cuenca Gardens
After spending some time in the Alameda del Tajo park, we again moved towards the Puente Nuevo, crossing into the Plaza de España. From there we looked south across the bridge towards the Old Town, our next destination. From across the way you can observe buildings with balconies that look straight down into the gorge below. These are famously and humuorously called the "Balcones Coño" in Spanish - apparently anyone brave enough to look out of these balconies and down to the gorge below for the first time is liable to blurt out "Coño!", roughly translated as "Shit!" (although the actual Spanish word is much harsher...)
From there we walked out onto the bridge proper. There are a couple of things to mention here. First you can see that the Puente Nuevo is supported by three arches. Above the middle one is a chamber that at one time or another was used as a torture cell but now houses a small museum dedicated to the history of the bridge. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit this. Second you get a very good view of the Jardines de Cuenca (Cuenca Gardens) from the bridge (see above image). These gardens comprise a series of terraces overlooking the cliff edge that you can walk around (and that apparently lead to the old town via a small bridge). However, we did not get a chance to visit them during our time in Ronda either.
As we crossed the bridge we saw a horse and carriage go by and this is by no means an uncommon site in Ronda. From the bridge as well, you can get a decent view of the gorge below. Speaking of which, it is possible to take a path down into said gorge; in fact we saw many people do just that. However, we did not have time to do that ourselves on this occasion.
The Old Town
Directly on the left as you step into the Old Town is a path leading to a restaurant, the outside area of which has a lookout point that affords a closer look at the Cuenca Gardens. To the right is a lively bar called Tabanco Los Arcos. We walked on along the main road until we came to a cobbled street that leads to the Casa del Rey Moro, or House of the Moorish King'; down this street we went. It will surprising to learn that despite its name, the palace was not built during the Muslim occupation but long after the city had fallen into Christian hands. It is actually a relatively recent structure, being built in the 18th century and housing its own water mine and gardens that are a must see for visitors (although the former involves a steep trek down a stone staircase). Unfortunately the building was closed when we visited but I am reliably informed that it offers its own unique views of the canyon and bridge.
Winding our way back to the main road after this detour, we came across a museum called the Museo Lara that again we did not have time to visit. A little further on is one of the best preserved Arab baths in all of Spain, dating from the 13th century. In general the Old Town features a whole host of places to see and visit and unfortunately we did not have time to visit every single one of them.
In fact, the whole of Ronda offers a wealth of places to visit, to eat, to drink, areas to enjoy the scenic vistas in, as well as historical monuments and places to relax. With so much to see and so, it is no wonder then that Ronda is the third most visited town in Andalucía. We were only able to visit Ronda for a few hours, but those hours are indelibly etched in my mind, and I cannot wait to visit again and experience more of what the town has to offer.
We capped off the visit with a dinner at the Tragabuches restaurant, situated in a narrow street in between the bullring and the Plaza de España. We enjoyed a hearty meal with good wine, relaxing in the sun and comfort of our surroundings. I for one am not done with Ronda. It is not a question of if I will visit again, but when.