Ronda, picturesque town balancing on the edge of an abyss

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Ronda
ASSSA

RONDA – Balancing on the edge of a hundred-metre-deep gorge and wedged between the Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra Grazalema, Ronda seduces everyone who approaches this stunning Andalucian town from the south.

Ronda’s location is almost absurd! It´s as if a great giant once stuck a knife in the landscape and cleaved Ronda in half. The gorge, El Tajo, is so straight and so deep that it is hard to imagine that it was created by the erosion of a river (Río Guadalevin), which most of the time looks more like a babbling brook. The ruggedness of this natural phenomenon and the fact that Ronda is also very strategically located on the edge of a plateau does not alter the fact that it is a very lovely town.

Ronda had a reputation for being impregnable in the distant past. It took ‘Los Reyes Católicos’ Ferdinand and Isabel 13,000 horsemen and 80,000 soldiers to finally conquer Ronda in 1485.

Monumental

Like many other villages in Andalucia, Ronda is teeming with historical monuments and museums. ‘Palacios’ of nobility from a bygone era, well-preserved Arab baths and Moorish turrets compete for attention with parts of the city wall with two gates, the oldest ‘Plaza de Toros’ in Spain, and three very special bridges.

Bullring

Andalucia bullfighting

The bullfighting arena was built in 1785. This was the birthplace of the form ‘corridas’ as they are still held today. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Francisco Romero from Ronda drew up the strict rules that his grandson Pedro later developed to perfection. The museum at the arena is very interesting and shows beautiful outfits decorated with sequins and even a faint blood spot here and there.

 

Puente Nuevo

Puente Nuevo in Ronda

To the right of the arena is the ‘Puente Nuevo’ from the eighteenth century. It is the most famous of the three bridges. This piece of architecture is popularly called a ‘wonder of the world’. The impressive structure bridges the hundred-metre-deep gorge and the enormous pillars once housed prisoners. Now there is a museum that shows more about the history of Ronda.

Other bridges

The second bridge is the Puente Viejo and, although it is also called Puente Romano, it dates from the Middle Ages. The Puerta de Felipe V gate, built in 1742, forms the entrance to the historic centre of El Ciudad. A small white house with colourful flower pots and an unlimited view over the valleys and mountains in the distance provides that typical southern Spanish view.

Baños Arabes

Nearby is the Moorish bridge Puente San Miguel. To the west of this are the Baños Árabes. These are among the best-preserved Arab baths in Spain. Here even the roof is still standing with the typical star-shaped light holes. The rooms for the hot, lukewarm, and cold baths, including the characteristic Moorish horseshoe-shaped arches, can all still be admired.

Stairs of ‘La Mina’

Next to the Puente de San Miguel is the ‘Casa del Rey Moro‘ on Calle la Mina. The house is a neglected building that has been bought by private individuals. One day, they want to  turn it into a hotel. Now only the jasmine and lavender scented gardens, laid out in 1912 by famous French landscape architect Forestier, are accessible.

There is a surprise hidden next to the gardens. For anyone who wants to feel that they have muscles again, there is a very special structure here; ‘La Mina’, literally the mine, but here in the sense of source. More than two hundred steps have been cut straight down into the rocks. The stairs formed a secret escape route for the Moors because they could reach the river unseen.

The saying ‘look before you leap’ applies here because more than 200 steps must also be climbed again after descent. Below, a view of the gorge awaits us from a very beautiful perspective. The smell here takes some getting used to. The water may be from the Río Guadalevín, but it doesn’t seem to flow in this place. Far down there it smells like a dirty, stagnant ditch.

In addition to an escape route, La Mina was also important as a water supply because of a spring in the rock and the river below. It seems that chains formed by slaves had to ensure that the water was transported up in buckets. The source has disappeared, but the room where it was located still exists, as well as the room where weapons were stored and oil was heated to throw over the enemy in the river below.

Ciudad

We enter the old centre of Ronda, ‘Ciudad’. The streets are sweltering with heat around five o’clock and it is very quiet at this hour. In contrast to the radius of two hundred metres around the Puente Nuevo, where it is teeming all day with groups of tourists quietly strolling behind their guide. This part of Ronda consists of narrow, winding, and hilly streets, dotted with picturesque corners. The facades of the dazzling white houses are all decorated with colourful filled flower boxes.

Worth seeing in this part of the city is the Palacio de Mondragón, built in the fourteenth century by a Moorish king. It houses the municipal museum which is not special but worth a visit to see the beautiful building from the inside. At the very end of Ciudad stands the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo accompanied by part of the old city wall with two gates; the Puerta de Carlos V and the Puerta de Almocábar.

Lara Museum

The Museo Lara is very special in the old centre. In this Palacio de los Condes de la Conquista, which was recently completely saved from demolition, a fanatical hobbyist has displayed his life’s work. It is unimaginable that everything on display was collected by the same person. There is an unprecedented drive behind this, it cannot be otherwise.

There is too much to mention. All objects in this unique collection date from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; watches, weapons, typewriters, telephones, sewing machines, gramophones, pipes, opera glasses, photo and film cameras, a whole room with everything about bullfighting, steam engines and a collection of coins from before the year zero. And, says owner Juan Antonio Lara Jurado, beaming with pride: everything, absolutely everything, still works. He repaired it himself or with the help of acquaintances.

Museo Lara

It seems as if, as soon as he gets the opportunity, he lovingly surprises every visitor with his whole story. In us, he finds such grateful listeners that he enthusiastically takes us to his private domain. He lives upstairs in the classic building and his rooms are also packed with antique items. It’s hard to convince him that he doesn’t have to prove it when we ask if that very old-fashioned telephone still works.

Difficult to leave

Everything is mixed up; large vases from the Roman period, untouched Cuban cigars from 1920, banknotes from the same period from all over the world, posters announcing bullfights with Pedro de Romero, Ronda’s most famous toreo, antique dolls, leather-bound Bibles with gold edges, cameras and many more. It is difficult to leave here. The urge to browse around here for hours is hard to suppress. While we enjoy it, Juan continually apologises for the dusty state of this room, which is the last thing we would be concerned about.

When he then invites us to the Flamenco show that will take place that same evening at the bottom of his atmospheric Andalucian bodega, complete with filled sherry barrels, our afternoon is complete.

Culinary Ronda

Of course, you can also eat in Ronda. We find most restaurants in the area opposite the Plaza de Toros. Additionally, the main shopping street, the Carrera Espinel, and the Plaza del Socorro offer some good bars and restaurants. Calle Pedro Romero is dotted with terraces. The menus here can all be read on the facades in four languages.

Tragatá restaurant is known for its creative cuisine and cosy atmosphere. Try their signature dishes and prepare to be amazed. Furthermore, Mesón El Sacristán is for visitors who love authentic Andalucian food. Sample their tapas, especially the oxtail, and enjoy local tradition. Restaurante Don Javier offers a mix of Spanish and international cuisine. The panoramic views of Ronda are stunning, and their varied menu will please everyone. For more casual dining options try De Locos Tapas. Finally, located in the heart of Ronda Almocabar offers typical Andalucian dishes with a modern twist and has a perfect terrace for enjoying a meal outdoors.

Ronda’s traditional cuisine includes ‘calabazas rondeñas’. This is pumpkin prepared specially. Additionally, ‘migas con chorizo’; is bread without crust with chorizo. Typical are the dishes ‘habas con tomate’: broad beans with tomato, ‘ajo y jamón’: garlic with ham, almond soup and soup of artichokes, black pudding, goat cheese, ‘gazpacho al la serrana’ and tortilla.​

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