Visitors to Ronda find the city to be a wonderful location from which to explore the rest of Andalucia, and the Axarquia coast is within easy distance to spend a day on the beach, visit Nerja Caves, or explore the little towns of the coast.
Nerja is one of the gems of the south coast of Spain, about 40 minutes drive from Malaga, not much more from Malaga airport, and from Ronda only an hour and 15 minutes more. In fact a drive to Nerja to see the sights is easily done in one day, and for those without a car, Nerja is an easy destination by train and then bus.
From Malaga the road to Nerja is a pleasurable drive, the Mediterranean on one side and the Sierra de Almijara mountains on the other, and it is for this reason Nerja is known as the pearl of the Costa Axarquia, though the Costa Tropical with all year round perfect weather is so close to Nerja that it’s easy to understand why Nerja is so popular.
The caves at Nerja are an obvious drawcard, with the world’s largest stalactite, but also cave paintings that are now known to be have been drawn by some of the last surviving Neanderthal folk.
But the town shouldn’t be missed just because the Nerja caves are nearby. Nerja’s town centre is an attractive place to wander around in the old quarter looking at the shops, courtyards of people’s homes, or enjoying the smells of restaurants and bakeries.
The ‘Balcon de Europa’ is here too, the place where in the 19th century royalty from all over Europe would visit, and where now the promenade is filled with cafés, buskers, and stalls. There is a statue of King Alfonso XII in bronze, the town church, and a covered walkway overlooking the cove beach below.
The Balcon de Europa is also where you’ll find the tourism office, though the ton hall is just next to the church, and the entire plaza is only 100 metres long so you shouldn’t have any trouble :)
Outside Nerja on the way to the caves, be sure to stop and admire the El Aguila aqueduct built by Francisco Cantarero Senio to supply water to his sugar factory “Las Mercedes” at the end of the 19th century.
The aqueduct was built in mudejar style, is four stories high with a total of 37 half point arches, and made from brick kilned locally. The aqueduct is still used to this day, though only for irrigation, and has recently been restored to last another 100 years.
Mariano Rajoy´s government on Friday approved by decree a fundamental change to the banking sector with the creation of a ´bad bank´ to take ownership of toxic debts held by Spain´s mortgage banks, notably Bankia, Santander, BBVA, and the various cajas with high debt to assets ratios.
Responding to demands from the ECB and other Eurozone members to clean up Spain´s banking industry, the move is expected to satisfy Eurozone partners and start the process of Spain receiving upto 100 billion Euros of banking sector bailout funds to stabilise the economy.
Speaking after the announcement Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, the deputy Prime Minister, said that this additional decree and the creation of the ´bad bank´was needed to “get credit flowing in the economy” again.
Banks with distressed property assets that are transferred into the ´bad bank´ will walk away with a combination of cash, debt or shares to add to their balance sheets, with the requirement that all banks increase their core capital classed as rock solid to 9% of total assets, a shift from the current 8%.
As well, the government announced that remuneration for senior managers and directors of distressed banks would be capped at 500,000 Euros per year, in an effort to stem protests at former directors of failed banks taking home millions of Euros in compensation at the expense of bank shareholders and depositors.
Olli Rehn, Economics Affairs Commissioner for the EU praised Rajoy´s cabinet for approving the decree stating that the creation of a bad bank sends an important signal to the world financial markets that Spain is determined to clean up and strengthen its banking sector.
With unemployment over 25% across the board and important regions such as Catalonia and Valencia asking for central government bailouts, Rajoy´s cabinet needed to do something to stem the banking sector crisis before tackling local government debt.
The Bank of Spain warned at the same time that capital flight to foreign banks had reached 20% of GDP, with June alone seeing net capital outflow of 56 billion Euros, and an estimated total of 220 billion in the first half of the year. Both the Spanish government and Eurozone will be hoping the creation of the ´bad bank´ will be sufficient to restore some confidence and stem the flow of cash leaving the country´s banks.
In a concession to the Spanish public, the economy minister Luis de Guindos announced that the government´s banking agency (Frob) will be given new teeth to take control of failing banks, and replenish funds in the depositor guarantee scheme which have been completely used in previous bank rescues.
Ronda and the Serrania surround it have been lawless lands for millennia, not even the iron grip of the Almohads could stamp out rebellions and banditry, so it is hardly surprising that capital punishment has been so widely used.
In Ronda, nowhere is this more obvious and chilling than the Temple of Our Lady of Sorrows, also known as the Shrine of the Hanged, with its frightening depictions of condemned men’s eyes bulging as they desperately try to get a last breath while the hangman’s noose crushes their windpipe.
Capital punishment is gruesome business, but under the authority of the church, and with the shields of Ferdinand and Isabella (the Catholic Kings) and their descendent Philip V on either side of the image of the Virgin to lend legitimacy.
The Temple of Our Lady of Sorrows was more than just a reminder to all who pass of its terrible duty, but also a place where the condemned could beg forgiveness for their mortal sins. It was only through beseeching the Church State to intercede on their behalf that they could stand any chance of forgiveness in the afterlife.
Modern day visitors to the temple are rarely told of its past, most of the tour guides make only a passing mention of the condemned, though a cursory examination quickly reveals a dark past.
The temple is nothing more than a roof and two pillars leaning against an adjacent house, but intricately decorated and adorned with the date 1734, the year of it’s construction. Each of the pillars look less like supports and more like statues, a cunning effect intended to frighten the condemned into confessing their sins.
The corners of the temple appear incomplete, descending only to a point around 40cm from the roof, but adding to the illusion that once under the cupola one is completely inside the temple.
Intricately constructed, the cupola is beautiful, almost heavenly, and once again an appeal to the condemned to confess in the hopes of eternal forgiveness. The trick on the mind cannot be understated, the mindset of a person from the 18th century brought to beg forgiveness would be sure to see the connection that in the 21st century we see only as an expression of art.
Interestingly, the images of the hanged men closely resemble the style of statue found at the Palacio de Salvatierra, as well as Aztec temple artwork. This is no coincidence, with the last king of the Aztecs (Moctezuma) having spent his years in exile in Ronda. To this day his descendants are still powerful landowners around Ronda.
For many thousands of years Setenil de las Bodegas has been occupied, possibly for as long as people have been using the Cueva de Pileta, though it wasn´t until the age of the Phoenicians and then Romans that the village was first mentioned in texts.
Always eclipsed by nearby Acinipo, Setenil was nothing more than a warehouse for storing goods that were traded with other parts of Iberia or the rest of the Empire. It was during this time that archeologists believe the caves were first closed off with brick walls to prevent thieves from stealing goods produced in the area.
After the fall of Acinipo (and the Roman Empire) in 495AD, Setenil´s fortunes changed as the village was forced to convert the warehouses into homes.
For many hundreds of years Setenil was a quiet almost ignored village, a mosque was built after the Islamic invasion of Iberia in 711AD, and it wasn´t until the 1200s when Christian advances had taken Cordoba and Sevilla that Setenil finally became an important frontier post.
So critical was its position that 7 separate attempts were made to capture the town, however the castle was built to be impregnable. It stands at the highest point of the village and one of the two towers remains along with the well.
Next to the ruined castle stands the largest church in the village, Our Lady of the Incarnation, built in the last years of the 16th century and completed around 20 years later. It includes a gothic vaulted ceiling and ribbed vaults.
Within the church there is a chasuble, a vestment worn during Mass which was presented to the people of Setenil by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to commemorate the first Mass in the village after the it fell to their armies.
The rest of the castle was demolished by cannon on the 21st September 1484, a momentous occasion in the Christian reconquest of Andalucia, which directly led to the fall of Ronda one year later, and then Granada in 1492.
Also not to be missed in Setenil, and of course the main reason people visit, are the homes, shops, and bars that occupy the caves. Unlike other cave villages, most of Setenil has not been enlarged, the caves have simply been closed in.
Visitors often wonder how safe the people of Setenil feel living under the rock, but villagers will tell you the village has existed for many years so it must be safe, though the truth is they prefer not to think about it.
Within the Serrania we are lucky enough to have three natural parks, Grazalema, Sierra de las Nieves, and Alcornacales, and at El Bosque, a small botanical garden “El Castillejo” devoted exclusively to the local and endemic plant species of these mountains.
Due to the Serrania being both Moediterranean and European, many of the tree species are common throughout Europe, whilst most of the shrubs are generally Mediterranean. Most of the flowers and grasses are either Mediterranean or endemic to the area. Your stroll will take you through several mini ecosystems, each with their own viewing area to sit and appreciate the surroundings.
Sadly many of the endemic species of the area are endangered, and not just in the Serrania, so the botanical gardens now also have preservation areas set aside for plants from the Sierra de Loja and Sierra Bermeja, thus ensuring that qualified botanists are able to track grwoth patterns and grow new seedlings for transplant should this ever be required.
As you wander around pay attention to the signs next to each species, a red dot in the top left corner indicates the species is in danger of extinction, while a yellow dot indicates the species is vulnerable. An orange dot signifies a species that is endemic or peculiar for some reason.
The park has adequate parking, and toilet facilities at the main entrance, which is also where the library and classrooms are located. Take care not to hurt any wildlife you encounter, from insects to lizards and snakes, all of which are a vital part of the ecosystem.
Sometimes you just want to go to the beach, but staying near Ronda means a one hour drive to the coast for the closest beach, however, not too far away at Zahara de la Sierra is La Playita at Arroymolinos, a fresh water pool made into a huge man-made beach.
From June until mid September the little beach is open, and is only a 25 minute drive from Ronda, or 10 minutes from Zahara de la Sierra or Montecorto. Located under Monte Prieto, the views of surrounding mountains make La Playita a truly isolated place, yet just a few minutes from civilization.
Facilities on-site include ample parking, changing rooms with toilets and showers, picnic tables under shady trees, a bar, plenty of room for kids to play, and the pool is nearly 100m wide. Lifeguards also keep an eye on the pool ensuring your day will always be fun.
After a day at the little beach, drive into Zahara for dinner or tapas at one of the village restaurants overlooking the azure waters of the lake.
Directions: From Zahara drive along the lake until you reach marker 5km, you’ll see a sign for the Playita, and then drive through the gate.
The Ronda area is a cyclists delight and challenge, with spectacular views, and treacherous hill climbs as well. In fact the Serrania is a popular training destination for cyclists preparing for long distance road races and triathlons.
For holiday makers we have a choice of route length, from 30km to 130km, some of them relatively easy to complete, and others aimed at professional cyclists who know their capabilities.
Regardless of the route you choose however, you’re absolutely certain to enjoy the views. The Serrania is amazingly diverse within a small area, we have river basins and valleys, rocky mountains, and long stretches of flat windy roads.
Look up as you ride and you’ll see vultures, eagles, and other birds of prey, or keep looking for mountain goats and deer. Almost every turn in the road presents vistas that will take your breath away.
From Ronda, shorter rides will take you to Arriate on a loop that is only 30km, or if you have the energy, take a longer ride to Setenil and Acinipo. Professional cyclists should attempt the run to Grazalema and then across the mountain top to Zahara de la Sierra, or the breathtaking route to Gaucin, perhaps with a detour to Genalguacil.
CycleRonda recommend the following routes (13-54km) from Ronda on a road bike;
2. Setenil-Cuevas del Becerro
3. Faraján-Cartajima in the Genal Valley
4. El Burgo through the Sierra de las Nieves
For Mountain bike enthsiasts these routes (13-40km) are fun;
1. Pilar de Coca
2. Puente de la Ventilla
3. Parchite & Arriate
4. Genal Valley or the Guardiaro River
5. Lifa and El Burgo
Finally, professional cyclists should ask about longer road routes (30-144km);
1. Setenil-Cuevas del Becerro
3. El Burgo-Ardales-El Chorro
6. Grazalema-Ubrique-El Colmenar
8. Atejate-Algatocín-Jimena de la Frontera
Originally part of a Roman citadel, the Alcazaba of Antequera has been an important fortress for and community centre for well over 8000 years as can be appreciated from the Dolmen structures situated just 2km away.
Excavations around the hill containing the fortress show several Roman ruins that are under investigation, including tombs and the Roman baths. During the Visigothic era some of the Roman walls were modified, but little of the Visigothic period remain that is visible to the eye. In the 11th century Antequera became a minor caliphate (taifa) and the beginnings of the current Alcazaba were started, including the overall geometry.
By the 14th century however Christian advances from the North had reduced Al-Andalus to little more than a rump state with Antequera, Ronda, and Almeria defending her borders from encroachment. To this end Antequera assumed an importance beyond her economic value to the Kingdom of Granada, and the Alcazaba was rebuilt and strengthened, including the addition of towers and extensions to protect access to the river below the fortress.
Entering the Alcazaba today the visitor is struck by how large the complex is, though part of this is made up of a church and two small streets of houses with a plaza between them. From the city we pass through the Arco de los Gigantes, which was named after a huge statue of Hercules and two robed figures that supported him. These have since been removed for protection and are now housed in the Municipal Museum.
The ticket office to enter the Alcazaba proper is inside the arch and to the left, and is one of the two information offices in Antequera. After paying your 6 Euros to enter, make your way across the plaza to the right of the arch and enter a smaller gate from where you’ll climb some steps to the next level, which is the top of the wall above the arch, and from which photos down into the city and toward the church can be taken.
From here most visitors seem to be struck by how devoid the Alcazaba is of any structures within the walls. In fact most of the complex appears to be laid out in gardens with just a few ruined walls to remind that this once used to be one of the most important frontier castles of the Kingdom of Granada.
Only when we walk toward the far corner and the Torre de Homenaje do we see signs that within these walls there once existed an army to defend Moorish Spain from the onslaught of the Christian North. Of course the Torre de Homenaje can’t be missed, but it is the deep well with the steel grill that caught my attention.
Why? Quite simply this wasn’t a well. It was in fact the dungeon where prisoners were dumped. Six metres deep, and only three metres in diameter, and completely exposed to the elements probably made this a hell hole. Part of the bottom has been cut out, either to make room for more prisoners, or by prisoners themselves to give them shelter from the sun and rain. Perhaps we’ll never know.
The torre de homenaje (Homage Tower) stands proud behind the dungeon and is one of the largest keeps in Andalucia, and built in two main stages, the lower two thirds built as part of the original Moorish defences, and the upper third which contains a bell and steepled roof named El Papabellotas.
The keep is also known as the 5 cornered tower because it is actually built in an L shape, whilst the bell tower sitting above it is square. It was from the keep that Fernando I of Aragon celebrated his victory over the Moors and the surrender of Antequera to his forces on the 16th September 1410.
So significant was Fernando’s win at Antequera that part of his official titles became Don Fernando of Antequera after he was crowned King of Aragon in 112. To this day the main street in Antequera is still named Calle Infante Don Fernando.
The tower and bell were paid for when a cork forest was sold by the crown to raise the funds needed, hence the name El Papabellotas, and at the time the bell was one of the largest in the world. It was primarily used to mark the time, specifically to call the faithful to Mass, and to help farmers know when to irrigate their fields.
Also not to be missed within the Alcazaba complex are the Torre Blanca, the Roman tomb, and the views through the horseshoe shaped windows of the Torre Blanca.
As part of your ticket you may also have entry to the Collegiate Church (abandoned 1692) which is adjacent the Alcazaba, and for interest this is worth popping your head in, if only to see the float with the seven dragon heads on it, and the grave stone in the floor with the skull and cross bones engraved in it.
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