Heading inland from the well-known Costa del Sol even only for a couple of minutes you will be totally surprised by a world unexpected.
Inland Andalucía breathes the atmosphere of times long gone.
With every mountain pass you cross the landscape changes dramatically. One breathtaking view changes for the next. The center of the Serranía de Ronda consists of a large Mesa (tableland) with the town of Ronda in its heart. Due to the town’s elevated position (app. 750 m above sea level) even in mid-summer temperatures in Ronda are pleasant. Also during July and August usually a cooling breeze blows across the town, and in the evening temperatures drop to a very agreeable level, enabling you to sleep comfortably.
The scenery of the Serranía de Ronda is of outstanding beauty
The setting of the town of Ronda is spectacular. The town is flanked by the impressive peaks of the Grazalema Natural Park to the west, and the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park to the East. Both Natural Parks have been nominated Unesco Biosphere Reserve because of the incredible amount of wild flowers and almost extinct bird species like eagles and enormous vultures. Ancient walking routes cross these Sierras, nowadays these are way-marked and provide wonderful routes for hiking.
The mountain landscape is impressive.
Jagged formations of deeply weathered limestone rise in sharp contract to the flat tableland. Lush valleys with pretty ancient olive and almond groves, grazing sheep, cows and goats, alternate with dramatic outcrops of rock. It is obvious why for many years the famous ‘bandoleros’ were able to escape capture again and again in this rough terrain.
Ronda retains much of its historic charm, particularly its old town.
It is famous worldwide for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its centre. Three bridges have been built over the years to connect the old and new part of
town, the Puente Romano (‘Roman bridge’), de Puente Viejo (‘old bridge’) and the famous 18th century Puente Nuevo (‘new bridge’), which straddles the 100m chasm below. It offers unparalleled views over the Serranía de Ronda mountains.
Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting.
In 1784 the famous Ronda Plaza de Toros was built. Nowadays bullfighting only takes place once a year at the beginning of September, at the spectacular Feria Goyesca. The bullfighters and some of the audience still dress in the
manner of Goya’s sketches of life in the region, a very picturesque sight. The next day is the day of the Concurso de Enganches (hores carriages). The rest of the year the Bullring is used as a museum.
The town of Ronda has always appealed to Romance.
Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles have lived in Ronda for years, and described the beauty of this spectacular area. In For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway described the murders by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Opponents were simply thrown off the cliffs of El Tajo.
The small town of Ronda (with only a 36.000 inhabitants) is a joy. Especially in the Old town magnificent buildings testify of its’ rich heritage. Across the bridge, where an elegant cloistered 16th century convent is now an art
museum, old Ronda, La Ciudad, sidewinds off into cobbled streets hemmed by handsome town mansions, some still occupied by Ronda’s titled families. The best is probably the Palacio Mondragón. This palace still has working vestiges of the exquisite miniature water gardens dating from its time as a Moorish palace during Ronda’s brief reign as a minor Caliphate under Córdoba in the 12th century.
Near the Mondragón, the Plaza del Campillo overlooks steps that zigzag down to a dramatic eye-level through the Puente Nuevo. A cobbled alley leads from the Mondragón on to Ronda’s leafy Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, which boasts a convent, two churches, including the tiny belltower of the iglesia Santa Maria de Mayor, and the arched ayuntamiento (council) building.
Closer to the river is the Casa del Rey Moro, the Moorish castle, with the ‘water mine’. Originally it had 365 steps, cut out in the stone walls of the gorge by Christian captives by order of Ronda’s Moorish king, to enable the bringing of water from the río Guadelevin below.
The calle Armiñan leads down to the lovely plaza of the traditional workers’ barrio, San Francisco, with excellent bars and restaurants.
Large numbers of visitors are brought in to Ronda by buses every day, all year long. Ronda nowadays attracts even more visitors than the capital of the Moorish Al Andalus empire, Córdoba. However, by mid-afternoon the buses drive off and the town once again becomes a relaxed and particulary beautiful white village again. If you go only a bit outside of the ‘tourist track’through the town, the local ventas'( small simple restaurants) still serve a ‘menu del dia’
for Euro 7 (three courses, and a drink!). No foreigner in sight, and hardly anyone speaks anything but ‘Andalus’.
This is still very much authentic Andalucía.
The history of the Serranía de Ronda goes way back.
In the Cueva de la Pileta cave prehistoric paintings have been found, some are estimated to be up to 24.000 years old. Later the Celts lived in the area, and then the Feniciërs and the Greek. The Romans named the place Arunda, because of the panoramic views from the town, which were of strategic importance. These were the early days when trade in the area flourished.
High cliffs on three of its sides offered natural defences – equally important to the Moors.
During the Moorish reign Ronda was the capital of the Taifa of Ronda, under the reign of the Berber tribe Banu Ifran. Most of the buildings originate from this period. The Moroccan Almohaden-dynasty took over and built the Moorish baths. The last Moorish tribe that rules the area was the Nasrid dynasy, part of the Kingdom of Granada.
In 1485 Ronda was re-conquered by the Christians, who built their own cathedrals, but fortunately left most Moorish buildings untouched.
In 1572 The Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda was founded, were horses and the horse riders were trained for the various wars. Nowadays still horse breeding and horse riding is one of Ronda’s main trades.