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

Murallas de Levante

Ronda’s Arab Walls and City Gates

Part of the reason Ronda is so important in the history of Andalucia directly relates to how secure the city was from attack, a position that allowed Ronda to develop and be independent, or at least nominally so, and the city walls in combination with the gorge and rio Guadalevin made Ronda impervious from attack until the age of cannon.

Whilst wooden palisades existed to protect neolithic communities and their successors before the constructions of the Roman castle, the reality is that most of the stone walls around Ronda directly owe their construction to the Islamic era, a period that spanned close to 800 years from 712 until 1485.

Given the absolute impregnability of the gorge and cliffs, the actual length of the city walls didn’t need to be terribly great in the first instance, however as the city expanded down towards the Barrio de San Francisco and into the former Jewish Quarter extra walls needed to be built. Consequently, many of the existing walls around Ronda never did join up, in fact they were originally part of separate encircling rings that no longer exist.

The former Jewish Quarter and factory area of Ronda during the Moorish rule of the city no longer exists except for the Arab Baths, a few houses, and the hotel Alavera de los Baños, though it is possible to see where part of the outer wall protecting this district was.

Extending from the Puente Arabe, the original wall snaked between the city houses and factories and the Arab Baths which were always on the outside of the city walls, and then along the edge of the stream until it started turning back toward the fortress on which the church of Espiritu Santo now stands.

A gate used to stand at the city side of the Puente Arabe, this having been the main road to Granada before the new quarter at Padre Jesus was developed in Christian times. As the main entrance to the city, this was considered one of the most critical to defend, and two walls with towers converged at this point.

Puerte de la Cijara

We can still appreciate how solid those gates might have been when we continue up the path at the base of the inner walls, the Murallas de Levante, to the Puerta de la Cijara. Certainly without cannon it would be impossible to attack the gate and walls without terrible loss of life.

Traders and visitors to Ronda in Moorish times would generally enter the city from the Puente Arabe, and the majority would bathe in the Arab Baths, before visiting a small mosque located next to the gates which probably stood where their is now a small chapel. From there visitors would ascend into the city proper through the Puerte de la Cijara.

On the way along the Murallas de Levante, and before you reach the Espritu Santo church is a short track that leads to the left, and under one of the houses of this street you will see one of the most enigmatic arches, the Puerta de los Esparteros. Believe it or not this used to be one of the gates into the city of Ronda during the Moorish times, though as you can see now it merely part of the foundations of someone’s home.

The only traffic that entered through the gates at Almocabar was from the coast, specifically from the Algeciras/Gibraltar direction, or local farmers and traders who needed to go in that direction. Whilst many have speculated these gates must have been the main entrance to the city due to their grandeur, in fact the square in front of the gates was the town cemetery, the “Al-maqabir”.

Almocabar was also the most heavily defended part of the wall and it was here that the Moorish rulers built their biggest fortress, a large octagonal structure that gave them 360 degree control of both sides of the wall for their longbowmen. The Almocabar gate is now two separate gates, the other being the Charles V gate which bears his coat of arms to this day, next to which you can see a watering trough for horses.

Puerta de Almocabar

As Spain developed and Christian rule brought about times of peace, Ronda’s role as a vitally important defensive city has diminished. Whilst the Almocabar gate is impressive, it is now only a monument, so the wall only extends from the beginning of the houses surrounding the Espiritu Santo church to the hotel Jardin de la Muralla.

To the north of Ronda, in the direction of Sevilla, and starting at the Guadlevin below the Puente Nuevo, additional defensive walls and gates were built to give a protected route into the city for the flour mills and their workers. In Moorish times the valley below Ronda was a major wheat growing area, and at least 5 or 6 mills were located along the river to grind the wheat.

Sadly in the early 20th century a rock fall from above destroyed all of the mills, however they were already becoming a relic of the past as 20th century industrial engineering was making them redundant. At least two of the mills can still be seen and appreciated, start by making your way to the Puerta de los Molinos (visible from the Parador Hotel terrace walk, the Puente Nuevo, and the Casa Don Bosco gardens), and then follow the narrow walking track back to the base of the Puente Nuevo.

It is possible to walk under the bridge, but you will also see a small aqueduct running along the edge of the tajo gorge which is still in excellent condition and was used to provide water to the mills for turning their grinding stones. One of the ruined mills still has a domed ceiling and the stones remain in place.

In the days of the mills, the existing walking track from the Plaza Maria Auxiliadora was only useful for workers or travellers entering the city, but the majority of traffic through the Puerta de los Molinos were carts bringing wheat to be ground, so an easier route was built, and of course a new wall had to be built. This particular wall only ever extended as far as the Puerta del Viento, and is called the Murallas de Poniente, though many people only know it because of the rocky point extending into the sky which is jokingly called “El Pene”.

Tourism Office Map of Gates and Walls


View Murallas y puertas árabes in a larger map

Ronda’s Gates and Walls Photos

El Tempranillo by John Lewis

The Romero Dynasty and Ronda’s Bandoleros

Bullfighting and banditry almost go hand in hand in Ronda, or at least they did in the early days when the Romero dynasty first came to prominence. A major part of the culture and history of modern Andalucia, bullfighting shows no signs of diminishing in Southern Spain, in fact both main political parties in the parliament of Andalucia seem determined to protect the art for the enjoyment of future generations.

Banditry on the other hand has had a much longer history, and these days is nothing more than a romantic memory, the last bandits having been shot or arrested by Franco’s Guardia Civil in the middle of the 20th century. Starting in the 9th century during the rise of the Islamic era, banditry was often more about politics and tax avoidance than outright thievery, though of course the objective was always to relieve wealthier people of their precious possessions.

Aristocrats and wealthy officials who had cause to travel between the cities and towns of Al-Andalus, the Taifas, and the Kingdom of Granada were the prize most bandits dreamed of encountering since Spain’s feudal system that existed until the 19th century was not known for being in the least fair to those who had nothing or found themselves at the bottom of society.

The overwhelming majority of the population lived in abject poverty and a man really only had two options for improving their lot, find a job with a landowner as a soldier or perhaps if he was lucky as a herald assisting the lord by keeping his armor in good working order. The second option was to follow the dishonourable path of becoming a bandit, living in the mountains and only coming into town when it was safe to do so.

It was into this feudal society that bullfighting developed primarily as a form of training for knights on horseback, after all a horse that would stand its ground against a bull would also stand its ground in battle, and in those times Spain was not at peace being engaged in wars in Europe, North Africa, and in the Americas.

Some academics have speculated that bullfighting actually began in pre-Roman societies around the Mediterranean, and certainly there are records of young Greek men jumping over charging bulls and practising acrobatics, but the pure art of killing a bull seems to have been more or less developed by noblemen of the medieval era, though not necessarily in Spain.

Francisco Romero became a renowned bullfighter by accident, leaping to the defense of a nobleman who had fallen from his horse in the path of a wounded bull. Francisco defended the stricken nobleman armed only with his wits and a hat, and so impressive was his effort that others soon took up the art of the torero on foot.

Spain's Philip V (Felipe V)

An edict by Philip V of Spain in the 18th century banning noblemen from the cruel and barbaric spectacle of killing a bull set the stage for impoverished young men to finally break free of their roots and become men of substance legally instead of the traditional route of being a bandit. As so often happens in history, the Romero family were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of this new found opportunity.

The most famous of the Romero’s was Pedro Romero Martinez, born the 19th day of November 1754 he was the third in a line of toreros, including his father Juan Romero and brother Joseph Romero, though credit for creating the Ronda style of bullfighting belongs to Pedro’s grandfather Francisco.

Pedro Romero however goes down in history as the true father and master of the Rondeño style since it was he who perfected the craft and laid down the first rules of engagement, and it in his honour that Ronda’s Corrida Goyesca and Pedro Romero Feria is held. One of his most enduring lessons to aspiring toreros is the idea that “whoever wants to be bullfighter has to think that from the waist down there is no movement. Bullfighting is not done with the legs, but with the hands”.

It was Pedro Romero and his arch nemesis Pepe Hillo who were the toreros honoured to open the new Plaza de Toros in Ronda in 1785, an event that even to this day is remembered in Ronda as being one of the defining moments of Ronda’s recent golden age. The Plaza de Toros is owned by the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, the same group of noblemen whose unfortunate member was rescued by Francisco Romero.

The connection between bullfighting and banditry continued with many bandits engaging not just in contraband, but also in the spectacle of the bullfight. It isn’t surprising that toreros and bandits would know each other, in the main they would come from the same barrios, would drink in the same taverns, and probably were fast friends when the constabulary weren’t watching.

One of the main reasons banditry was so hard to eradicate is that each successive bandit leader would be a folk hero for making sure to always attack tax inspectors and other officials since in those times the common man firmly believed he was downtrodden by the landed gentry. History suggests the story was less one sided than they believed it to be, but there you have it, those who feel disadvantaged will always take out their frustrations on those who are better off then them.

El Tempranillo by John Lewis

Without doubt the most famous of the bandoleros was a ruthless murderer named El Tempranillo who seemed to derive pleasure from killing those who couldn’t afford to pay his fees for crossing his territory. El Tempranillo, whose real name was José Maria Hinojosa Cabacho was born in the village of Jauja on the 21st June 1805, to a poor family just before the time of the Spanish War of Independence from France.

During those times French Imperial troops were being harassed at every turn and would often take preventative action that involved what we would now consider mass murder. In any event El Tempranillo was raised in this environment and it is said he killed his first man at the age of thirteen, though history doesn’t record who his victim was.

El Tempranillo led the authorities a merry chase around the mountains which he and his gang knew like the backs of their hands, even going so far as to embarrass the town mayor and officials of Grazalema when he and his posse rode into the village to have his son baptised in the Nuestra Señora de la Aurora church, much to the dispair of the local government who learned after that the village folk had prevented the town hall from sending word of El Tempranillo’s whereabouts.

Despite his reputation for violence, El Tempranillo was also known to be quite charming and popular with the ladies, at one point being quoted as having told a wealthy lady in her carriage that her hand ws so beautiful it had no need for adornments, and then proceeded to remove her rings, before kissing her hand and bidding her a safe journey.

A violent man such as El Tempranillo couldn’t be expected to live a long life, and he didn’t, but it wasn’t the gallows or a firing squad that saw the end of El Tempranillo. Instead he accepted a pardon from King Fernando VII and became head of the Escuadrón Franco de Protección y Seguridad Pública de Andalucía, and it was while chasing another bandit known as El Barbarello that El Tempranillo was mortally wounded, dying in Alameda on the 23rd of September 1833.

It was the control of the Sierras enjoyed by El Tempranillo and his successors that led the Spanish government to establish the Guardia Civil after his death, their taskbeing to find and apprehend or kill bandits who continued to terrorise the nobility and traders on their ways about Andalucia.

Tragabuches

One of the more famous bandits, at least internationally, was the bandolero Tragabuches, a local man born with the name José Ulloa who was a huge fan of Pedro Romero and indeed started his life as a bullfighter, but after discovering his wife in the arms of another man, killed him in hot blood and then fled to the mountains of the Serranía and took up a life of banditry. Whilst his story is true, Bizet’s opera Carmen, which is somewhat based on the life of Tragabuches blurs the truth a bit and has contributed to Tragabuches being better known than he perhaps deserved.

The very last of the great bandits to have survived in the mountains with his gang was Pasos Largos, a man still remembered by Rondeños some of whom to this day remember his death since it was so recent, 1934 to be exact. Pasos Largos was an angry and often violent man who killed out of revenge and spent as much of his life behind bars as he did in the mountains, but finally being killed in a shootout with the Guardia Civil after he refused to surrender to them on charges of poaching, theft, and murder.

These days the bandoleros of the Serranía de Ronda are romanticised and form a part of local culture and history, with many of their names reflected in local businesses, such as El Tempranillo wine, or the restaurant Tragabuches, or the hiking club Pasos Largos and they enjoy as much stature in death as their torero peers, the Romero and the Ordoñez dynasties of Ronda.

Gaucin, Genal Valley

Gaucin in the Genal Valley

Gaucin at the Southern end of the Serranía de Ronda is more than just a village in the middle of nowhere. This attractive white village founded by the Romans, and then expanded and heavily fortified by the Moors who named their village Gauzan, an Aran word meaning strong rock. These days Gaucin is better known as a haven for international artists who flock to the area for the peace and tranquility afforded them.

With a population of 2,000 and a few more scattered outside the village, Gaucin is large enough to have a small town centre, with markets, butchers, fruit shops, clothing, banks, and other miscellaneous traders. In fact many of the residents are able to buy everything they need on a daily basis in the village without having to travel to Ronda or the Costa del Sol.

At 626 metres, Gaucin is also high enough above sea level that the weather is noticeably cooler in summer and winter than the coast, which makes the village almost ideal for many foreign residents who choose to setup home, and then proceed to rip out the modern features of their homes and replace them with traditional wooden beams, tiled floors, and rough painted walls; to the endless amusement of Spanish residents.

For visitors, Gaucin is considered one of the prettiest of the pueblos blancos, malaga’s white villages, with narrow warren-like streets strewn together as if a large ball of twine had been dropped and houses built in the gaps between the string.

This may in fact have been intentional for two reasons. First, the castle above the village, perched on the crest of El Hacho mountain was of strategic importance from Roman and most especially in Moorish times, and narrow winding streets make an attack more difficult as soldiers have to first battle from street to street before reaching the formidable castle defences.

The second reason is more practical and perhaps more believable; narrow streets at odd angles from each other prevent the hot Sahara winds from overly heating the village houses in the summer, and in winter offer some protection against the cold northerly winds. Certainly other Moorish towns without a castle have a similar pattern so it isn’t impossible to assume weather played a bigger role in the town layout.

The castle of Gaucin, named Castillo del Aguila, the Eagle’s Castle, is an impressive structure visible above the village from many miles away, and is open to the public in the mornings and early evening. Great birds of prey such as eagles, vultures, and kestrels have always inhabited the mountains of inland Andalucia, so it is hardly surprising the castle would take its name from the eagles which can still be seen to this day circling the parapets.

Within Gaucin visitors will also see the church of san Sebastian built in 1487, on the ruins of the mosque destroyed when the town was taken by Christian conquerers. As well, Gaucin is home to a large convent built in the mid 1700s though abandoned in 1835 and now used by the town hal for concerts and other local events. Recent renovations have sadly destroyed the historic interior.

However, by far the best reason for visiting Gaucin is not for the monuments of the village, it is instead the streets and people of the village that will appeal. A simple walk around the town centre will impress how friendly the villagers are, whilst those with a penchant for the quaint will absolutely love the cute windows filled with flowers, or the tiled frescos adorning doorways and walls, or the cobbled streets that could tell a thousand stories.

Gaucin isn’t on the way to anywhere, the village is a destination of itself. Some choose to stay, others only pass through, but no visit to Andalucia will truly be complete until the soul of villages like Gaucin has touched your heart.

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Photo Gallery of Las Enganches 2010

This year Ronda Today stayed in the streets of Ronda to photograph the Sunday morning show at the Plaza de Toros on the final day of the Pedro Romero Feria 2010, Las Enganches. See last years article for a video of the carriages being judged inside the bullring, Las Enganches 2009.

Here is a selection of our favourite photos of horses, carriages, beautiful ladies, and gentlemen in traditional riding suits.

Cueva del Gato

Benaojan Walk, Station to the Cueva del Gato

Ronda Today recently caught up with Tony Bishop, the author of a new walking guide entitled “Walking in the Ronda Mountains: 30 half-day walks in Andalucía” due to be published by Editorial La Serranía in October 2010, and we believe will soon become the guide against which all others are judged.

As part of our interview, Tony kindly escorted us along the Guadiaro River from Benaojan Station to the Cueva del Gato, explaining the birds and wildlife we saw through the binoculars he provided. Tony isn’t a professional walking guide, though he enjoys nothing more than to show friends his favourite walking tracks.

The walk we did can be completed in an hour, it is only 3km, though there is a lot to see so Tony recommends 2 hours. The walk is easy and certainly within the capabilities of the majority of walkers, but in the colder months can be muddy.

Birders and keen nature lovers will be enthralled at the fauna and flora of this stretch of river, we saw Barbel in the river, and White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Griffon Vulture, Golden Oriole, Alpine Swift, Melodious Warbler, Grey Heron, and Bee Eater. We also heard Cetti’s Warbler, and Tony regularly catches sight of Iberian Ibex on the rocks above the Cueva del Gato.

Start the walk at the railway station in Benaojan, and cross the line about 100m past the station, then follow the road another 150m till you cross the Guadiaro River. At this point you’ll see a sign pointing to the three walking tracks that lead from here, we’ll take the Ronda direction.

There really isn’t much to the track, just keep following it straight ahead, you can’t miss the cave entrance as you approach it, though at the hotel Molino Quatro Paradas you should continue past the side of the hotel and not up the hill to the carpark.

Whilst the walk is relatively short, it does allow people staying in Ronda or the Guadiaro Valley the opportunity to see some native wildlife, the beautiful limestone mountains of Benaojan, and the cave entrance; the Cueva del Gato which is a popular picnic spot.

After you return, you could stop for a drink on the terrace of the Molino Cuatro Paradas Hotel, but if they’re closed, probably the friendliest barman in Benaojan is Pepe from “Bar STOP”, located directly across the street from the station. Don’t forget to try his wife’s tapas menu, it really is quite authentic and absolutely delicious. Bar STOP is especially known for the Solomillo a la Pimienta.

Between the train dropping you off and the return service, you’ll have 3 hours to explore the river and enjoy a cold drink or tapas, the day isn’t too strenuous, and is perfect for visitors staying in Ronda who have a few hours to get out of the city.

Plaza del Socorro

Andalusia, Plaza del Socorro and Blas Infante

Visitors to Ronda are often confused about why our central plaza features a statue of a semi-naked man with two lions by his side and a couple of pillars behind him. What is their significance, and why do so many people take photos of the fountain?

The answer lies in Andalusian nationalism and one of the most important events in recent Andalusian political history, the Assembly of Ronda in 1918 when the father of Andalusian nationalism, Blas Infante, unfurled the flag and symbols of Andalusia whilst standing on the first floor balcony of the ‘Circulo de Artistas'; the building directly behind the fountain with red CA lettering above the windows.

Andalusians are justifiably proud of their history and heritage, and the establishment of a national movement was widely applauded in the early 20th century, eventually leading to Andalusia being recognised as one of Spain’s national communities, and allowing the Andalusian parliament a lot more autonomy than most regions of Spain.

Whilst it may not be immediately obvious, the statue in the fountain is Hercules, with the pillars of Hercules behind him. He is holding onto two lions that he aims to tame, though taming two lions was never one of the tasks set for Hercules. Blas Infante designed the coat of arms, flag, and symbols of Andalusia, so it is probable the lions have another significance unique to Infante’s ideal of Andalusia.

To fully appreciate the significance of Hercule’s fountain and the history of the plaza, step back a bit and imagine the plaza full of cheering folk looking hopefully up as Blas Infante, a hero in his day presented the symbols to the movers and shakers of early 20th century Andalusia, and joyful Rondeños.

Then take a walk past the bullring to the lookout over the tajo, and there you’ll see a life size statue of Infante himself. Sadly Blas Infante’s success in Andalusia made him a target during the civil war, and when Sevilla fell to Franco’s forces, he and his compatriots were rounded up, driven into the countryside and summarily executed, dealing a terrible blow to Andalusian autonomy.

When Spain regained her democratic foundations in the late 1970s Andalusia missed out on full autonomy until 1.5 million Andalusians took to the streets to demand that the Andalusian nation be treated the same as Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia.

A statue, a fountain, and a balcony in Ronda are still regarded as amongst the most important symbols of Andalusian patrimony, and now you know why.

People Playing Soccer in Main Square, Ronda, Andalucia, Spain
People Playing Soccer in Main Square, Ronda, Andalucia, Spain Framed Photographic Print
21.6874 in. x 17.6874 in.
Buy at AllPosters.com

Plaza Socorro and Blas Infante Photos

Ronda’s Arab Baths Now Accessible for People with Disabilities

Francisco Cañestro Opens the Arab Baths

Yesterday the Councillor for Tourism Francisco Cañestro, and the Junta de Andalucía’s Minister of Tourism, Commerce and Sport, Luciano Alonso Alonso officially reopened the Arab Baths in Ronda after extensive renovations allowing wheelchair access for one of Andalucía’s most important Moorish monuments.

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rondawalk-tajodelabanico16

Walk from Ronda, Tajo del Abanico

The walk to the Tajo del Abanico, named for the cave that looks like a fan (abanico), is a gentle walk measuring 3.8km from the Almocabar gate at the entrance to the medieval walls of Ronda in the Barrio de San Francisco. It is of low difficulty, and takes you to a river valley filled with wildflowers.

We start our walk from Ronda at the Almocabar gate, and exit Ronda on Calle Torrejones, this is the street that runs between the main plaza and the Bodega San Francisco, and after 300m passes a stone tower to your right with a cross on it, known locally as ‘el Predicatorio’ which is the location of a restaruant, and part of the Roman aqueduct that used to supply Arunda with water 2000 years ago.

Reaching a small traffic roundabout, we keep going straight ahead past the bar La Quadra, and turn right at the next roundabout with a pink sign point to the Ermita Virgen de la Cabeza. Around 30m around the corner the road forks, we take the left, a sign should point to the Tajo del Abanico.

Continue on this road veering left at the first intersection, you will see three blue dots and an arrow pointing to the left, and continue to the next intersection where the left fork continues alongside the cliffs to your left, whilst the fork to the right does a complete 180; we continue on the left path.

You’ll pass an abandoned tower and farmhouse which is one of many in these parts, most of them being several hundred years old having been built after the Christian reconquest to provide storage for grain, but no longer used and now falling into ruin.

At the end of the road you’ll come to a large farmhouse on your right with a huge steel cross in the driveway, but to the left of the farmhouse driveway is a small gate which should be closed. Simply pull the handle to open the gate, but please close the gate behind you, the gate keeps the dogs out of the Tajo del Abanico.

The path you travel on is the old Ronda to Algeciras road used during medieval and Roman times, and as you continue you will eventually come to sections where the cobbled stones yet exist. Unfortunately these are medieval in origin, probably 500-1000 years old, and whilst they would have been laid where Roman stones originally stood, none of the Roman road exists anymore.

At one point the path descends to the river, and you’ll need to cross the stones in the water to reach the other side, and it is only by going through that you’ll reach the cave of the fan. The cave has a rather unique history, being the place where Francisco Rosi filmed his bandit sequences for the 1984 film Carmen (by Georges Bizet) starring Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes.

You’ll notice also that the cave isn’t very deep and is breathtakingly beautiful despite this owing to the amazing colours in the rocks and the short stalactites hanging above the entrance. The cave is a favourite location amongst local climbers and you may encounter a small group performing some quite impressive free climbing here.

That concludes the walk, you have two options for returning to Ronda, either continue along the path until you see the current Ronda-Algeciras road, which we don’t advise since the track is degraded, or turn back the way you came.

Route Map Tajo del Abanico

Photos from the walk Ronda to Tajo del Abanico