Category Archives: Ronda

Ronda city is one of the most picturesque destinations in Spain, and the third most visited city in Andalucía. Popular sites to see are the Puente Nuevo bridge, the Plaza de Toros Bullring, Ronda’s cathedral, the historic Arab Baths, and much more.

In the Ronda Mountains you’ll find the beautiful white villages of Andalucía, including the most popular, Grazalema, Setenil de las Bodegas, Zahara de la Sierra, Genalguacil

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Ronda Walk Pine Forest Dehesa del Mercadillo

The park Dehesa del Mercadillo is a pine forest just outside Ronda on the Ronda-Sevilla road, and is very easy to get to, however the direct route doesn’t take in any of the valley below Ronda, but using the industrial area of Ronda as a starting point passes through some gorgeous countryside with mountains on the horizon, along farm roads with numerous horse studs before finally entering the forest from the north.

We start the walk in the industrial estate, follow signs pointing to the Poligono, and look for the hotel Berlanga which is very close to the Día supermarket. Directly across from the hotel Calle Genal, which looks industrial, but after 100m begins to descend out of the city to the railway line.

If you keep going straight ahead on this road you’ll come to some olive groves around 150-200 metres from the hotel, and then a little further you’ll cross the railway line before reaching an overpass for the highway. After the overpass, turn immediately left and then immediately right.

You are now on the old Ronda-Setenil road and will continue going down hill for a kilometre or thereabouts. As you descend you’ll come across a small fuente known as Don Pedro, and shortly after this, the road naturally veers to the left.

At this point you are now on the European walking track, the E-4, also known on some maps as the GR-7 and is a walk that commences in Tarifa, and terminates in Athens. You continue on this road which bends to the right near some horse stables, and then continues toward the forest park.

When you reach the next intersection you’ll see a sign pointing to the Hotel Molino de Arco. You could detour here and travel back through the Llano de la Cruz to Arriate or to Ronda Viejo and then onto Acinipo, however for this Ronda walk we are going to continue straight ahead.

Very soon you’ll pass the municipal riding school and some other stables, and immeditately after that the intersection with the Ronda-Sevilla highway. You’ll know you’ve reached the highway because on the right is a large sign showing the route of the GR-7 walk as it crosses the Serranía de Ronda.

Turn left, but avoid the highway, instead follow the dirt track for safety reasons, and then enter the park via a wide entrance. You are now at the end of the walk and have two options; the first is to follow the dirt road inside the park past the forest fire service, or take the more scenic approach and walk from the picnic and play area you find across a small fence into the forest proper.

Once in the forest take a moment to enjoy listening to the birds, their song is fantastic and definitely a highlight of this walk. Birdwatchers and nature lovers might find the forest a little pedestrian, but if you don’t have a lot of time, or only fancy a gentle stroll you won’t be disappointed.

To get back to Ronda, continue through the forest and then follow Avenida de la Legion into town. Here are a few photos of the walk, and if you enjoy this walk please return and leave a comment below for other visitors to Ronda.

Map of Route

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Ronda Walk to the Virgen de la Cabeza Cave Church

The cave church outside Ronda, known as the Virgen de la Cabeza, is a 10th century hermitage built sometime around 970-980AD, and is just a short walk out of Ronda. Most people should find this Ronda walk easy to do and gets you out of the city for some of the most spectacular views of the Ronda skyline you could imagine seeing.

We start the walk at the Almocabar Gate in the Barrio de San Francisco and walk along Calle Torrejones, passing the Bodega San francisco and further on the road the restaurant El Predicatorio which are on our right. Around 500m from the old walls of Ronda we encounter a small white roundabout in the street, and 100m further an intersection with a sign pointing to the right for the ‘Ermita Rupuestre Virgen de la Cabeza’.

From here the walk is another 2km, though one of the signs indicates the walk is 2.5km, however it is a gentle walk and by no means challenging. The road very quickly changes from paved to gravel, and remains so until we reach the church.

After a few hundred metres we see to our right the Casa Rua, a ruined manor house, and on closer inspection you’ll see a property with a belfry above the main entrance, moorish guard towers on the two front corners of the building, and to the right past an empty swimming pool you’ll see a three level tower which you can access.

The ruined house is falling apart, in fact the roof has already collapsed, and is VERY dangerous to enter, be warned that the rest of the roof or first floor could collapse at any moment so be sensible and view the house from the outside. the tower to the right is safer, and the views from the secon level are quite spectacular.

Urban legend in Ronda tells that the builder of the Villa Polo, which is the name of the ruined house was a local architect who also held a position of authority within the religious orders but led a secret life as a warlock.

The front patio and tower were reputedly used by his cabal for seances and witchcraft to encourage evil spirits to venture from Ronda to his manor, which by the way forms one of the three point of an equilateral triangle between Ronda’s Puente Nuevo bridge, and the cave church Virgen de la Cabeza. The story might not be true, but are you willing to take that risk?

After leaving the grounds of the Casa Rua we continue along the same road and eventually reach a dead end, and to the right you’ll see a chain between two posts with a very steep track that goes down to the Virgen de la Cabeza. After heavy rainfall the path can be littered with mud and debris but is otherwise passable, though people with heart conditions might consider the return climb is steep and could cause problems.

Around the time the church was built Ronda was a Muslim city under the Caliphate of Córdoba so Christians whilst tolerated, were required to worship outside the city walls. The hermitage started as a home for the monks of the area who would travel to Christian communities to administer mass and hear confessions, and then return to the hermitage where they slept.

Coincidentally, this was a rough time in Al-Andalus and a fairly powerful rebellion of Muslims, Christians, and Jews under the leadership of Omar ibn Hafsun was causing problems for the caliphate. ibn Hafsun was born very near to Ronda in Juzcar, and started his rebellion to protest high taxes and unfair conditions. At one stage ibn Hafsun’s forces controlled Ronda and may have been temporarily abandoned until forces loyal to Córdoba brought Ronda back under control.

To return to Ronda, simply head back on the same road you reached the Virgen de la Cabeza on, or if you’d like to return via the valley below the church to the Puente Nuevo bridge, then follow our instructions for part two of the Virgen de la Cabeza Ronda walk.

Map of Ronda Walk

Map of Route from Ronda to Virgen de la Cabeza

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Ronda Walk to Pilar de Cartajima and Roman Aqueduct

This is one of the walks most people want to do because of the Roman Aqueduct you see at the end of the walk, but is also one of the walks in Ronda rarely undertaken by visitors because very few people know the Roman aqueduct even exists, in fact Roman Ronda was a reality for nearly 700 years.

You’ll start the walk at the old entrance to Ronda, the Almocabar Gate which originally was used to reach the Muslim cemetery outside the city walls. In fact the plaza you walk across at the start is where the cemetery was. During the reconquest Spain’s Christian monarchs attacked Ronda from locations near the plaza.

As you walk across the plaza, look for the middle road of the three you can see leading away from Ronda, this is Calle San Francisco de Asís, and isn’t very long, you’ll know you’re on the right track when you reach the school at the top of the street, Colegio Fernando de los Rios.

Keep going out of Ronda until you cross the motorway then turn right onto a gravel track that runs parallel to the motorway, and at the end you’ll find a gate and a small gravelled street to the left. Turn left and you’ll wander down a street surrounded by olive groves, and at the end, a rather large power pole.

Continue to the left of the power pole along a walking track that runs along a fence. This once again becomes a small gravelled road the winds to the right before it reaches a t-intersection.

At the t-intersection you’ll see a sign pointing to Pilar de Cartejima (1600m). At this point, turning left will take you back to the bridge over the motorway, so we want to go right following the sign for Pilar de Cartejima.

Once you reach the Pilar de Cartejima feel free to drink from the constantly running tap, the water is delicious and quite safe to drink, in fact many Rondeños bring empty bottles here to fill so they have fresh drinking water in their homes.

The Roman Aquaduct isn’t too much further, keep walking past the Pilar de Cartejima along a the gravel track that runs along the river. Soon enough the track ends and becomes a walking track, now keep an eye on the rocks above you and to your right. It won’t be long until you spot the tell tale signs of Roman arches against the rock.

I’m not going to tell you exactly how far you have to walk, that would spoil the surprise, but it isn’t far, the only hint I’ll give is that if you see a bridge over the river to your left and behind a fence you’ve gone too far.

Often people get a little lost looking for the Roman Aqueduct, they can be hard to spot, in fact on my own first walk along this track I probably went about three km too far. That was also the day I ended up with a flat battery on my camera and was cursing not having bought a PowerMonkey to recharge it before heading back to Ronda, oh well, I did get a lot of exercise that day.

This Ronda walk is around 6.8 km, and is considered light up to Pilar de Cartejima and then moderate in sections near the Roman Aquaduct.

The photos below were taken over a couple of excursions to the Pilar de Cartejima. If you like the video more will be coming soon, but please leave a comment here or on YouTube if you’ve attempted this walk and have something to share. Also feel free to ask questions.

Ronda Walk Pilar de Cartajima

Ronda to Pilar de Cartajima and Roman Aquaduct

Ronda's new gate

New Gate at the Entrance to Ronda

Today in Ronda News, the city now has a new gate which will welcome visitors to the city, and is the first gate installed since the middle of the 18th century, although the new gate is fittingly more modern as Ronda breaks the shackles of the past and becomes a modern European city.

Designed and built by the students of the Employment Workshop “Arunda”, the  gates are made of recycled metals salvaged in Ronda and stand four metres high. The gates are located in the park being developed next to Ronda’s Palace of Justice at the end of Avenida de Málaga.

The students are all unemployed people learning a new skill, and this project is described as having been hugely motivational, with most putting in extra hours to see the gates completed to a high standard.

Ronda’s mayor Antonio Marín Lara, and the delegate for Employment Josefa Valley were on hand to congratulate the students for their efforts.

In the coming weeks the new parkland will be completed, and will showcase the gates as well as  a new fountain. It is hoped the area will be a welcoming sight for visitors to the city, as well as an attractive space for residents in surrounding streets to relax.

Limestone Mountains, Juzcar

Nature Activities – Juzcar

Deep in the green Genal Valley, but only a few kilometres from Ronda, lies the tiny village of Júzcar, almost invisible as the valley roads twist and turn along the length of the Genal River. Juzcar is small, and easily walked around in less than 30 minutes, you could blink and miss this little inland Andalucia village, but don’t or you’ll really kick yourself later.

Known as Juzcareños, the population of the county is only a little over two hundred, but the history of Juzcar and the wealth of natural wonders located within her borders make a stay in Juzcar something to be recommended. The Hotel Bandolero is a small boutique hotel with 8 rooms in the village that is comfortable, charming, full of character, and has a great restaurant.

The Genal River snakes it’s way through the valley, with numerous tributaries meandering around the village and creating little pools, eddies, or waterfalls at regular intervals. It is the river that is the heart of the Genal Valley, and from which it takes it’s name. Juzcar is in the higher reaches of the valley, known in Spanish as the Alto Genal, and can be reached from both of the main highways running south from Ronda the Ronda-Jimena road via Alpandeire, or the Ronda-San Pedro highway via Cartajima.

Mountains, Caves, and Rivers near Juzcar

To the north of the village lies Jarastepar, a jurassic limestone peak with outcrops of Upper Cretaceous redbeds that rises 1427m into the heavens, all the more impressive in Juzcar because unlike many of the other Serranía villages, Juzcar is only 600m above sea level. The hills immediately around Juzcar village are green, and filled with chestnut trees, whilst to the south in the valley lie the olive tree orchards.

The road between Juzcar and Cartajima, which is the next village on the way into Ronda, is a terrifying road of narrow sections, tight bends, and fast cars; actually it isn’t that bad but it’s the impression many people have of the road. Take care when approaching traffic that you can stop quickly if the road suddenly narrows.

Limestone Mountains, Juzcar

Limestone Mountains, Juzcar

Looming above and around the road are the massive limestone mountains of the Alto Genal, with some of Andalucía’s most spectacular landscape. The limestone mountains to the north of Juzcar, are every bit as impressive as El Torcal over in the GuadalTeba, but much closer to Ronda, and only a short drive and walk from Juzcar.

One could almost imagine the hills are an alien landscape, they protrude in sharp angular outcrops, but are filled with caves and sinkholes, towering minarets, and other formations that make the Alto Genal a geologically fascinating district. Balancing rocks are found in abundance, and create some interesting shapes. Heavy rain in the distant past washed away all of the top soil and exposed the limestone, which is a soft rock easily sculpted by running water.

Just outside Juzcar village is a small cave entrance known as Cueva de Calderón, hinting at what might be underneath. In fact other than the Hundadero-Gato cave system between Montejaque and Benaojan, the caves in the Alto Genal specifically known as the Sierra del Oreganal between Alpandeire, Juzcar and Cartijima are the most well known and loved by cavers. Potholing is possible, though recommended only for experts, and numerous caves that may have been sanctuaries for paleolithic people surround the valley.

Abseiling and rugged adventure walks in the Genal River and other tributaries such as the Zua River are popular activities in these parts. River rappelling at the Sima del Diablo with 8m and 10m descents can be done with a qualified guide, or alone if you have the experience. Unlike other waterfalls and canyons in Málaga province, the Sima del Diablo is secluded with a thick canopy overhead. The location is dark and moody, more reminiscent of a rain forest than sunny Southern Spain. Further upstream you’ll also encounter the Cueva del Moro, the Moor’s Cave.

Legend tells that when the area was first settled a Moor discovered a cave with a natural spring with the sweetest tasting water in the world, and plugging the river in three places with trees and branches he was able to divert the water to each of the three villages where he had a girlfriend, Juzcar, Pandeire, and Baltasar. Later when he married, the village priest decreed that his dam should be destroyed so that only his bride could taste the beautiful water.

Walks From Juzcar

There are a number of countryside walks around Juzcar ranging from 45 minutes to 1hr 15mins, and most can be extended to several hours if that appeals. All of these walks are only suitable for people who can walk, and are comfortable on flights of steps because they require walking off-road on rocky terrain with occasional steeps slopes.

Starting with a walk to Farajan, a nearby village and the walk is only 45 minutes or 2.8kms, with a difficulty level of medium. The walk starts near Juzcar’s cemetery, and leads on the road to Faraján and Alpandeire for about 1km before going off-road to Faraján. Vegetation along the side of the road will be olive, holm oaks, and wild sumac. This walking route takes you past the Fuente de Trujillo, and the spring which marks the beginning of the River Zua.

The second walk from Juzcar goes to Cartajima, and is 2.85kms, and should take around an hour. This is described as a low difficulty walk, suitable for a relaxing day out in the countryside, perhaps enjoying lunch or tapas in Cartajima before returning to your hotel in Juzcar. You’ll pass Juzcar’s ruined tin factory, the el Romeral dolmen from neolithic times, a copse on ancient oaks, and the fuente de las calenturas, so named because the water is so cold people who drink from it often come down with a fever (calentura).

Our third walk from Juzcar goes to Pujerra, another of the Genal Valley villages. This walk is suitable for walking or cycling, and is 3.6kms or around 1hr 15mins, and is described as being a medium difficulty. The walk departs on the Cartajina road, but quickly goes off-road into a small forest of holm and oaks. At the bottom of the valley we cross the Genal river near a small chestnut forest, and then pass the old flour mills that until the mid 20th century provided most of the employment in Juzcar.

Juzcar Birdwatching

Bee-eater near Juzcar

Bee-eater near Juzcar

The entire Serranía de Ronda is a birdwatchers paradise, but Juzcar is special, not for the huge variety of birds to be seen, but for the range of terrain within the county. From the mountains descend the raptors, soaring high above looking for food, whilst down in the forest and riverbed smaller birds pick and fuss.

The forests surrounding Juzcar are filled with pine and chestnut trees, creating a leaf covered forest floor that teams with worms, grubs and insects. This is a bird’s heaven, plentiful food and cover from the watching eyes of birds of prey above. The trees and mountain cliffs provide wonderful nesting locations, one never has to walk very far during the nesting season if birdwatching is your passion.

Here’s our list of ten common birds you’ll see during the year in Juzcar;

English Name Latin Name Spanish Name
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Buitre Leonado
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus Culebrera Europea
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Busardo Ratonero
Booted Eagle Aquila pennata Aguililla Calzada
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa Perdiz Roja
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo Buho Real
Bee-eater Merops apiaster Abejaruco Europeo
Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius Roquero Solitario
Western Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli Mosquitero sombrío
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus Escribano Soteño
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History of Juzcar

The Serranía de Ronda was extensively populated by neolithic and then bronze age people and Juzcar is no exception. A stone structure that could have been a defensive tower on the boundary between Juzcar and Farajan, is proof of ancient peoples living and working in the district. Very little evidence of their activities has been found, though the area has not been excavated to any great extent.

In Roman times, whilst Acinipo and Arunda were thriving, we believe the area around Juzcar was mostly unoccupied but may have possessed a local iron mine. In fact the name Juzcar, terminating in -ar is highly suggestive that Arab invaders in 711 AD encountered either Romanised Iberians or Visigothic people who would have adopted Roman customs.

The Berber settlers typically kept the pre-existing name when they established their new settlements. Thus Juzcar may have been a Roman mine with attached villa, that by the early 8th century could have been a small hamlet. Historically, we know that many of the villages of the Serranía were considered to be Mozarab villages. Mozarabs were Christians who adopted the Arab language as their own, and some of the customs of their Muslim neighbours, but never converted to the Islamic faith.

These people were tolerated, but never truly accepted, and were often removed from their homes in the village and forced to live further away on the outskirts or even in the countryside, and it is from this community that the Christian rebel Omar ibn Hafsun (also known as Omar ben Hafsun) is believed to have been descended.

Omar ibn Hafsun’s was a rebel during the reign of the Caliphate at Córdoba who at his height controlled a significant amount of territory in Andalusia. He is believed to have been born in 850AD on an outlying farm or defensive hamlet known as Torrichela which may have been located a few kilometres north of Juzcar, however his story is very confused, and some think he was actually born further away at the coast. What is certain is that the good people of Juzcar and Parauta claim him as their own.

juzcar-omaribnhafsunAfter Omar ibn Hafsun’s death in 917 AD, his kingdom centred at Bobastro in central Málaga province was administered by his sons, but eventually fell to the Caliphate’s forces in 928 AD. Juzcar and most other Mozarab strongholds found it increasingly difficult to remain Christian after this time, and almost impossible 100 years later when the Almoravid and Almohad empires invaded Al-Andalus, all Mozarabs being required to convert to Islam or face the consequences. In those days, the consequences could simply be higher taxes and restrictive practices, or in some cases being arrested on trumped up charges and executed or sold into slavery.

Prior to the Christian conquest Juzcar was known for it’s silk which was hand made by local artisans, some of whom were Jewish and lived as free men. Jews were generally accepted in Islamic Spain, though their lives weren’t always comfortable. Juzcar’s Christian population was small, and consisted almost exclusively to be slaves.

Around the time of the Christian reconquest in 1485, Juzcar and this valley was Moorish and Islamic, but was quickly evacuated as Moors were compelled to leave the area to make way for Christian settlers from the north, and nothing of Juzcar’s Moorish past survives. Some historians relate that Juzcar was selected by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to be a slave village. In essence the entire population would be rounded up and sent to work as slaves in the royal factories.

Santa Catalina Church at Sunrise

Santa Catalina Church at Sunrise

The neighbouring village of Moclon was spared this calamity, allowing many muslims, known as Moriscos, to stay and attempt to rebuild their lives. Though few were allowed to remain in their own homes as these were allocated to soldiers and supporters of the Catholic monarchs as spoils of war. Sadly these people were pressured to become Christian, and during the inquisition several people from the Genal Valley, including families in Moclon were fined or imprisoned for secretly practising Islam.

Juzcar’s church of Santa Catalina of Siena was built in 1505 in the village square, containing only a single nave, and supposedly on the location of the village mosque that had been destroyed. Moclon’s church was built several years later in 1531, largely owing to Moclon retaining it’s Muslim population. However the times were not peaceful, and in 1568 a Morisco uprising brought war and carnage to Andalucía, and Moclon was not spared. So devastating was the rebellion that hundreds of thousands of Moriscos were forcibly removed from Spain to North Africa.

A legend hailing from Moclon, tells of a bandit Morisco named El Tarajillo who refused to leave and was forced into the mountains for safety or face arrest. To survive he would steal from the rich and give to the poor, an Andalucian Robin Hood, but the story is alas only a legend, believed to have been based on the history of the young Omar ibn Hafsun who was indeed a thief until the age of 19 when he was forced to flee to Morocco after accidentally murdering a noble he was trying to rob. This was of course long before he became king of the Mozarab rebellion, but note the similarity of the names, El Tarajillo, and ibn Hafsun’s bithplace Torrichela. Today there is a pass in the mountains known as the Paso de Tarajillo.

The church in Juzcar has been rebuilt several times, first to increase it’s size when the nearby Moclon village was abandoned in the early 1600s, and then again after Spain’s civil war. Anarchists, communists, and republicans during the civil war would attack church property because the nationalists under Franco were staunch Catholics. The Mudejar style belfry is original, as is part of the arch supporting the tower.

Behind the church, and very much within the village proper, lies the cemetery, a white washed maze of above ground crypts with Christian arches, and towers reminiscent of medieval castles. It sounds strange, but the cemetery in Juzcar is actually one of the most interesting I’ve seen anywhere, and if these things don’t upset you it is well worth a look.

Tin Factory Juzcar

Tin Factory Juzcar

Further away from the village, in the valley below where the Genal River passes, you’ll find the ruined buildings of an old tin mine that was established at Moclon in the 18th century. Back in those days Germany produced the world’s best tin, and in a tale worthy of the best James Bond story, Spanish spies recruited two Swiss engineers named Pedro Menrón and Emerico Dupasquier, and then smuggled them out of Germany in wine barrels to prevent them being arrested.

Knowledge was jealously protected in those days and the German engineers would likely have been executed if they’d been discovered. The tale doesn’t improve, on entering Spain they were whisked to the factory located on a farm outside Juzcar, and given a laboratory and lodgings behind secret doors to prevent word of their presence leaking to German assassins who were on the lookout for the engineers.

Building the tin factory started in 1726, and by 1730 was in full production under the direct control of the king and queen of Spain. On a stone pediment near the factory entrance you can still discern the words “La nunca vista en España REAL FABRICA DE HOJA DE LATA Y SUS ADHERENTES, reinando los siempre invictos monarcas y Católicos Reyes don Felipe V y doña Isabel de Farnesio”. Roughly translated this means “The Never-Before-Seen in Spain Royal Factory For the Manufacture of Tin Sheeting and its By-Products, in the Reign of the Unvanquished Catholic Monarchs Don Felipe V and Doña Isabel de Farnesio”.

The invasion and occupation of Spain in the early 1800s by Napoleonic France changed the Serranía, this once subdued mountain region became a hotbed of rebellion in the struggle for Spanish independence, with many of the villages including Juzcar becoming relatively safe havens for rebels. This wasn’t just a war between France and Spain, it was also a war between afrancesados (Spanish Francophiles) and nationalists.

During May of 1810 the villagers of the Serranía including from Juzcar, but known simply by the pejorative ‘Serranos’, translated as mountain people, attacked and looted Ronda whilst the bulk of the French forces were engaged elsewhere. For this and other actions during the Peninsula War Juzcar was granted the title “Villa muy noble y fidelísima” by the restored Spanish monarchy in 1814.

The remainder of the 19th century, and early 20th century until Franco’s defeat of the republicans were troubled times in Spain. Politically the country struggled to establish a stable government, and civil disobedience or outright rebellion were common. Juzcar’s fortunes waned as the tin factory went into bankruptcy and workers left the village for Ronda or the larger cities. The 1960s saw the final death knell when Juzcar’s remaining flour mills were shutdown for good.

Today Juzcar is little more than a hamlet, with most employment being seasonal in the agriculture industry. However the village is making strides to reinvent itself as a nature tourism destination for the Alto Genal. To stay in the village and discover its history for yourself, make a reservation at the Hotel Bandolero in the village.

Arabic Decoration

Ronda in the Kingdom of Granada

By the middle of the 13th century the Almohads had lost most of their former possessions in Iberia to Castile, all that remained in 1238 was the Kingdom of Granada, of which Ronda was now an important capital. The first Nasrid Sultans of Granada managed to halt the first reconquista of Ferdinand I by promising fealty to Castile, and historical evidence confirms that until 1480 an annual payment of gold was made to the treasury of Castile.

It was during this time that one of Ronda’s most famous poets lived. Abul Beka (also known as Salih ben Sharif al-Rundi), born 1204 and who died in 1285 was a poet and master of Arab-Andalucian culture and history, who wrote some of the Arab world’s most poignant poetry about the futility of war and the great losses to the world of the Muslim cities of Sevilla, Toledo, and Córdoba.

Even today Abul Beka is remembered in Ronda, the square in front of the San Sebastian Minaret is named Plaza de Abul Beka, and a dance school that has won international acclaim for teaching Flamenco and traditional Andalucian dance honours him in its name, the Abul Beka Folk Dance Association.

Despite the official peace, war was an almost constant irritant in the region, indeed soldiers from the Kingdom of Granada regularly fought alongside Almohad and then Marinid troops in the Maghreb, as well as the frontier villages of Al-Andaluz. Christian forces continued their attacks in Southern Andalucia as they desperately tried to reach the straits of Gibraltar and prevent further invasions from Africa in support of Moorish Spain.

Whilst part of the Kingdom of Granada, Ronda in fact exercised considerable autonomy. Located close to the frontier with Christian Spain local decisions often had to be made quickly so a system of defences and signalling towers in the Serrania were built. Many of the local villages to the North and West of Ronda are known to have changed hands several times. Further South in Cadiz a new threat to both Christian Spain and Muslim Granada had appeared, an emergent Morocco under the Marinids.

In 1288, sensing that his armies wouldn’t be able to contain those of the Christian Kingdoms to his North, the emir of Granada approached Abu Yaqub Yusuf an-Nasr, the Marinid King of Morocco and cedes Cadíz to the Maronids in return for additional Berber troops in Al-Andalus.

In 1329, Abu Al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Othman (1297-1351), sultan of Morocco invades Granada, capturing Algeciras, and shortly after installs his son Abomelic Abd al-Malik (also known as King Abomelic of Ronda), as king of Ronda, Algeciras and Gibraltar.

Abomelic started an ambitious period of construction and renovation in Ronda, including some of Ronda’s most beautiful Moorish buildings such as the Arab Baths, and the Casa del Gigante. Abomelic successfully engaged the forces of Christian Spain from Ronda, at one point nearly capturing Jerez de la Frontera from Alfonso XI, but in 1388, he was finally defeated on the battlefield and killed by Diego Fernandez Herrera of Jerez, at which point Ronda once again came under the control of the Nasrid dynasty in Granada.

By 1340 Portuguese-Castilian forces are on the march again, inflicting a terrible defeat on Marinid forces at the Battle of Rio Salada, and four years later after a two year siege Algeciras is finally lost. Gibraltar fell to Christian forces in 1462, long after the last of the Marinids had returned to Africa and Ronda was back under the control of Granada.

Arabic Decoration

Ronda’s new palaces and economic growth in a time of war sadly didn’t lead to peace-time prosperity because around 1349 one of the greatest tragedies of the medieval ages, the black death (bubonic plague), appeared as if from nowhere and within months is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Iberia including Alfonso XI and the bulk of his army. Ronda itself was devastated, her citizens decimated. In such a small city with only a single supply of water, it would have been almost impossible to avoid the disease.

One of the survivors of the black death was another of Ronda’s most famous sons, Ibn Abbad al-Rundi (1333-1390) who was born in Ronda to a wealthy and influential family. He studied law in Ronda before leaving for Fez to follow his heart and study sufism. Ibn Abbad quickly established a reputation as one of the leading sufi scholars and is credited with writing a series of “Letters on the Sufi Path”.

Despite endless wars against the Christian north, and frequent small invasions from North Africa, Ronda, the “Rose of the Kingdom of Granada”, remained under Muslim control until 1485, her citizens waking on the morning of the 14th May 1485 to the dreadful site of thousands of Christian soldiers surrounding their fair city.

Espiritu Santo Church

Espiritu Santo

A formidable looking fortress, this is in fact the Holy Spirit Church, and is one of Ronda’s notable churches. It is unique in being part of the original fortified walls of the old city, in fact the church was built on the destroyed foundations of an octagonal tower used by the moors to defend the gate and walls in this part of Ronda.

King Ferdinand ordered it’s construction almost immediately after taking ronda and for a time after it’s completion in 1505 was the main church in Ronda whilst Santa Maria was completed. Owing to the political and military uncertainty of the times it was built in a very severe gothic style more reminiscent of a defensive tower than a church.

Espiritu Santo took 20 years to complete and was consecrated on Whitsunday 1505, also the year Queen Isabel died giving the church a particularly bittersweet celebration at the time, on one hand a celebration of the first completed church in Ronda after the reconquest, and on the other hand a sad day for the newly united Spain.

Iglesia de Espiritu Santo Opening HoursMonday to Saturday 10am till 2pm then4pm till 7pm (10:00 till 14:00 then 16:00 till 19:00)

GPS Location
Latitude: 36.735230 (36° 44′ 6.83” N)
Longitude: -5.164057 (5° 9′ 50.61” W)

Price of Entry
1€ for individuals
0.60€ if part of a group

Skylight in Arab Baths

History of Ronda’s Arab Baths

Whilst in ruins now, the Arab Baths are still the best preserved in Spain and offer a tantalising peek into Moorish life during the 13th to 16th centuries. Be sure to watch the animated short presentation (5 minutes) when you get here. Be aware that the video presentation describes the water tower as a Noria (the modern Spanish word derived from Arabic), however the water pump in Ronda is a chain pump and is more correctly known even today as a Saqiya.

Located just outside the old city walls near the Puente Arabe, the Arab Baths (Baños Arabes) of Ronda are considered the best preserved Moorish baths in Spain, better even than those that survive in Granada. They were originally built sometime in the late 12th or early 13th centuries during the reign of the Almohad dynasty, although tradition seems to favour the reign of Abomelic from the 14th century as the time of their construction.

The exterior of the baths is more or less intact, the Saqiya (water pump tower) still exists, as does the aqueduct. On the top of the Saqiya, and accessed by a ramp from ground level, a donkey turned a wheel that pumped water from the river below and along the aqueduct at the side wall of the baths. As you enter the gates into the bath compound look to the far front right corner of the compound and you’ll see a tower with a connecting wall, at the top of which is a channel for water, and beside which is the ramp.

A wide well was sunk inside the tower and then connected to the confluence of the two rivers, the rio Guadalevín and arroyo de las Culebras. Within the tower two large wheels and a rope belt would pull the water from the well to the top of the tower in a series of large terracotta buckets (canjilones) that were emptied into a wooden channel that then exited the tower at its top and emptied into the aqueduct adjoining the tower. From the aqueduct the water would run into the baths to be heated and distributed into the hot rooms of the Hammam, the Arabic word for the baths.

The technology used in the Saqiya here in Ronda was invented by an Islamic engineer named Abu al Tz ibn Razaz Al-Jazari (1136-1206), and described in a book he published to great acclaim Kitáb fí ma’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya which roughly translated means the Book of Mechanical Devices. While Al-Jazari never visited Ronda, or indeed Iberia, his achievements were followed with interest throughout the Islamic world, and his book spread far and wide very quickly.

Al-Jazari improved on the traditional Saqiya designs that had been common in the middle eastern nations since pre-Christian times, and also invented the crankshaft which the builders of Ronda’s Arab Baths incorporated, so we know that the baths could not have been built earlier than the late 12th century. Of course an older and more primitive bathhouse may have existed on the same site but we have no evidence of this.

Given that much of Ronda’s defensive capability including the Puente Arabe and the defensive walls above it were built by the Almohads, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest the Baños Arabes were built in the same time. Almohad influence in Al-Andaluz started to wane after 1212 when they lost a decisive battle to Christian Spain at Las Navas de Tolosa near Jaén, around the same time Ronda had become an important trading and cultural city.

Islam requires cleanliness of it’s adherents, even more so when entering a city of importance such as Ronda, so most Islamic historians believe a bathhouse would have been built alongside the new entrance to the city. Whilst the Arab Baths in Ronda may have been expanded or extensively renovated during the time of Abomelik, it is reasonable to believe a bathhouse at the entrance to the city would

To make things easier for the donkey powering the pump, a flywheel was used comprising a weight on the drawbar behind the donkey which would rotate the vertical shaft leading to the Saqiya’s crankshaft. The purpose of the flywheel was to reduce load on the animal and provide a smoother rotation thus also minimising jerky movements on the donkey’s spine. The flywheel was an invention of a prominent Islamic Andalucían scholar named Abu Abdallah Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Bassal, one of the court scholars in Toledo who published a seminal work on agronomy Diwan al-filaha.

Inside Ronda's Bullring

Plaza de Toros (Bullring)

bullring-ronda
The Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Ronda occupies a very special place in modern Spanish culture and history as the home of the Rondeño style of bullfighting and also of the Real Maestranza De Caballería De Ronda. The bullring was built entirely of stone in the 18th century, during the golden years of Pedro Romero’s reign as champion bullfighter.

Home to the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, Spain’s oldest and most noble order of horsemanship, an order that traces its heritage back to 1485, and the year the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Moors in Ronda, thus bringing the city back under Christian rule after 773 years of Islamic rule.

Many tourist guides will tell you the Ronda bullring is the oldest and largest in Spain, in fact the story is confusing. Our little bullring only has seating for 5,000 spectators, hardly the largest in the world, but the rueda, which is the large round circle of sand, is the largest in the world at 66m, making it 6m larger than Spain’s biggest bullring, the Plaza Toros Las Ventas in Madrid.

The bullring in Sevilla is considered older having commenced construction in 1761, and was completed in 1785, compared to Ronda’s commencement in 1779 and completion in 1784, though purists agree Ronda’s bullring should be entitled to the crown since it was first to stage a corrida. However, in May of 1784 during the first inaugural corrida to be held in Ronda’s Plaza de Toros, part of the stand collapsed forcing its closure until repairs could be made.

The second inaugural corrida occurred on May 19th 1785 and featured Pedro Romero and his greatest rival in the ring Pepe Hillo, by all accounts a day to be remembered in Ronda as one of one of bullfightings greatest moments. All of Ronda’s most noble families were in attendance, and the town was bedecked in flags while in the streets a great party was going on.

Los Enganches in Ronda's Bullring

Ronda’s bullring, whilst perhaps not the oldest in Spain is definitely the oldest bullring constructed entirely of stone, most others being constructed with a combination of stone and brick. Our bullring, designed by José Martín de Aldehuela is unique in having all of the seating under cover. The stands were constructed in two levels of seating of 5 raised rows per level and 136 Tuscan sandstone columns forming 68 arches provide support for the top level of seating and the roof of the Plaza de Toros.

The main entrance to the bullring, completed in 1788, four years after the rueda and seating was constructed, was designed and built by a Rondeño, and master stonemason, Juan Lamas. The design features two tall tuscan columns with the royal shield of Spain at the top centre surrounded by baroque edging. The main door is large enough for horses and carriages to enter the rueda, and above the door is a central balcony featuring wrought iron metalwork with imagery that evokes the culture of bullfighting.

In 1923, when the original Espinel theatre was constructed in Plaza Blas Infante, the main entrance of the Plaza de Toros was relocated to Virgen de la Paz, where it still stands today across the street from the Restaurante Pedro Romero.

In the 1980s the old Espinel theatre was demolished and a new theatre built in Alameda Park. In July 2009, when the car park next to the Plaza de Toros finally closed, a competition to design new gardens that suit the era was organised. At the same time, historians in Ronda suggested moving the entrance back to it’s original location.

During the Feria Goyesca held in the second week of September, an event created by Ronda’s bullfighting maestro Antonio Ordoñez, a bullfight in honour of Pedro Romero is held, often including members of the Ordoñez family, Ronda’s second bullfighting dynasty. The bullfighters and their assistants all wear costumes reminiscent of those worn by characters appearing in Goya’s paintings, whilst the ladies delight in showing themselves off in the most gorgeous dresses.

The museum in Ronda’s Plaza de Toros, the Museo Taurino, contains many of the most important outfits and bullfighting regalia from the last two centuries, as well as an extensive collection of weapons used by the Real Maestranza during Spain’s many wars.

Ronda Bullring Opening Times

January to February 10am till 6pm (10:00 till 18:00)
March 10am till 7pm (10:00 till 19:00)
April to September* 10am till 8pm (10:00 till 20:00)
October 10am till 7pm (10:00 till 19:00)
November to December 10am till 6pm (10:00 till 18:00)

*Except during the feria in the first week of September

GPS Location
Latitude: 36.742065 (36° 44′ 31.43” N)
Longitude: -5.167544 (5° 10′ 3.16” W)

Price of Entry
6.50€ individual
8.00€ individual with audio-guide

For group bookings, please phone the ticket office +34 952 874 132 or send an email taquilla@realmaestranza.org

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