by Bonney Rega, special to Donne Tempo
Located in the region of Andalucía, Spain, the city of Ronda lies sixty miles southeast of Seville and twenty miles northwest of Marbella in central southern Spain, near to the Costa del Sol , making it an easy drive from either direction.
Yet Ronda lies off the beaten tourist track.
Numerous multi-cultural influences that span centuries of time make the city remarkable. From the Muslims, who arrived in 711 and built the old walled city called La Ciudad, to King Ferdinand of Spain’s Catholic forces that conquered the city in 1485, Ronda offers a uniquely historical and breathtakingly beautiful destination.
The river, a tributary of the Guadiaro River in Málaga, Andalucía, Spain is fed by the melting snows of the mountains.
Three bridges cross the Tajo Gorge, linking the older walled Muslim city, known as La Ciudad, with the “modern” or new city of Mercadillo. Immortalized by Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the Puente Nuevo, or new bridge, was constructed between 1759 and 1793 under the rule of King Ferdinand of Spain.
The bridge’s massive arches house the Interpretation Centre for the New Bridge Museum. The Moors built the Puente Arabe or Arab Bridge, also known as the Puente Viejo or old bridge, during the 16th century. The Puente de San Miguel, also known as the Puente Romano or The Roman Bridge, was built in the ninth century.
Built on the foundations of a Muslim Mosque, the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor serves as sentry to Ronda’s religious and cultural history and is a sacred monument to the people of Ronda.
Amongst the Gothic columns and Baroque gilding, visitors to this centuries-old church will find evidence of Ronda’s rich and diverse past dating back to the days of the Roman Empire. Visitors will find the age of Arab domination evident in glorious Moorish-inspired tile work and the arch of Mirhab, with its Arab plaster decorations and the tiny Black Madonna statue.
Ronda also lays claim to the creation of modern bullfighting. Native son Francisco Romero (1700-1762) is recognized as the very first Matador, founding the blood sport almost by accident when a bull attacked a nobleman perched on his horse. Francisco, a lowly peasant, waved his hat in the animal’s face, mesmerizing the bull, and saving the noble’s life.
To this day the familiar red muleta (cape on a sword) is credited to Ronda’s Francisco Romero. The development of bullfighting into an art form – a kind of ballet between bullfighter and bull – is credited to Francisco’s grandson, Pedro Romero.
Ronda’s Maestranza Bullring, built in 1785, is one of the oldest bullfight rings in Spain. Located in the center of town, the bullring serves as a public museum. Bullfights occur only once a year, in September, and attract the rich and famous to Ronda, where they celebrate the Goyescas, Spain’s most elaborate and expensive festival.
During Goyescas, you’ll see “toreros” dressed in period costumes modeled after the original designs of artist Francisco Goya, who created costumes for his friend Pedro Romero.
Touring the Maestranza Bulling Museum, our guide recounts the local legend of an early Matador who discovered his wife with another bullfighter in a most compromising position. He killed his rival and threw his wife to her death in the Tajo Gorge.
The tale of the Matador’s murdered wife has led to some modern urban tales, including one of teenage travelers finding a part of a skeleton buried at the bottom of the Tajo Gorge, certain it belonged to the murdered wife.
Ronda’s well-documented and colorful history, dating back to before the Roman Empire, offers many attractions for today’s traveler. One can tour the Roman ruins or visit the once opulent Islamic public baths, and Catholic influences are evident in both the old walled city of La Ciudad and the new city of Mercadillo.
Marvelous antiquities from the Moorish and Roman realms are waiting to be discovered.
Adding to the lure of Andalucía and the city of Ronda, there are plenty of accommodations, including hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts. And then there are the Paradors.
The Ronda Valley (photo /Bonney Rega)
The Paradors of Spain were originally medieval castles, palaces, monasteries, Moorish fortresses, or elegant manor houses. These were refurbished by order of King Alphonso XIII in 1928 to provide “more-than-adequate” accommodations throughout Spain to meet the needs of travelers.
Today, a string of ninety-three Paradors, or hotels, can be found throughout the region, with no more than a few hours drive between one and the next, allowing excursions where a “traveler can explore out-of-the-way areas and really get to know the country - always confident that a delightful place to rest, one of the fine Paradors of Spain, is awaiting just a little ways down the road…”
In Ronda, the four-star Ronda Parador, on the edge of the Tajo Gorge adjacent to the Purente Neuvo Bridge, was once the city’s town hall. Offering breathtaking views of the river below, this luxury hotel offers excellent service and fine meals, based on local cuisine, as well as modern amenities.
Footpaths winding through the Parador’s gardens and grounds lead to lookouts with incredible vistas.
For more information visit:
Parador Hotel Ronda
Paradors of Spain
Espana - Spain’s Official Website for Tourism