Shrine of our Lady of Sorrows (Templete de la Virgen de los Dolores)

Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows (Templete de la Virgen de los Dolores)

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.

Setenil de las Bodegas

Setenil de Las Bodegas

Setenil Cave Village
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.

Lesen sie mehr über Setenil de las Bodegas

El Bosque Botanical Gardens

El Bosque Botanical Gardens

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.

Playita

La Playita – The Little Beach in the Mountains

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.

Cycle the Mountain Roads of the Serrania de Ronda

Cycling from Ronda and around the Serrania

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;
1. Arriate
2. Setenil-Cuevas del Becerro
3. Faraján-Cartajima in the Genal Valley
4. El Burgo through the Sierra de las Nieves
5. Benaoján-Atajate
6. Acinipo-Setenil

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
2. Faraján-Cartajima
3. El Burgo-Ardales-El Chorro
4. Acinipo-Setenil
5. Zahara-Palomaspas-Grazalema
6. Grazalema-Ubrique-El Colmenar
7. Benaoján-Atajate
8. Atejate-Algatocín-Jimena de la Frontera

Alcazaba in Antequera

Antequera’s Alcazaba Fortress

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.

synagogue-cordoba07

Jewish Synagogue in Cordoba

The only surviving pre-expulsion synagogue in Andalucia, and only of only three in all of Spain, the “Sinagoga de Córdoba” has a special place in the history of Jews, it was in Cordoba that the Jews reached their greatest level of influence and from where some of their greatest minds of the medieval era lived and worked.

Built in 1315 (5075 in the Jewish calendar), the temple replaced others destroyed in various pogroms after the fall of the Cordoba caliphate and during the time of the brutal Almohad and Almoravid reigns of Al-Andalus. The Jewish Quarter of Cordoba at this time was to all intents and purposes an independent city within the walls of Cordoba, even to the extent of being walled off.

The synagogue itself was designed by local architect Ishap (Isaac) Moheb and built in the Mudejar style popular in the time, and contains an entrance courtyard from which one enters a small hallway, and beyond which is the prayer room. A stairway in the eastern side of the hallway leads upstairs to the women’s gallery.

Within the prayer room the Eastern wall contains an alcove for the Shabbat candle holder, and to the right (left of the candle) is an inscription that translated into English reads “Provisional sanctuary and abode for the Testimony completed by Yishaq Moheb, son of Mr Efraim Wadawa, in the year 75. So return, Oh God hasten to return to Jerusalem”

Another inscription must have also existed on the opposite side of the alcove, but sadly this has long since been destroyed. Around the outside of the alcove there is an inscription which from right to top and then left reads “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name: For loving kindness and for thy truth, for thou hast maginified thy word above all thy name. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; That may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.”

Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, the same year the Kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella, during a period in which the ascendancy of the Catholic Church and dogma was renewed with vigour. The synagogue was closed, and Hebrew frescoes on the walls plastered over.

From that time until the 1880s the building was used first as a hospital, and then in 1588 was bought by the shoemakers guild of Cordoba and dedicated to their patron saints St Crispin and St Crispiniano. During the 19th century the original panelled roof was replaced with a barrel vault and new plasterwork, but in 1884 a wall partially collapsed exposing the original Hebrew frescoes again, leading to the discovery by Don Mariano Parraga, a Catholic priest, of the building’s original purpose.

The synagogue was declared a national monument in 1885 and restoration started, wih further work done in 1929 by Felix Hernandez, and in 1977 for the 850th anniversay of the bith in Cordoba of Maimonides, one of the most important Jewish scholars ever to have lived, in whose honour a statue was commissioned which now sits in the plaza in front of the synagogue.

Aside from the Synagogue which is open to the public, Cordoba is also home to a small but comprehensive museum and library decicated to the Jewish past of city in the Casa de Sefarad

Online Shopping from the UK

Online Shopping from the UK for Spain Residents.

We frequently hear from expat women living in Spain that shopping can be difficult, Spanish sizes just aren’t the same as UK sizes, or Northern European ladies aren’t the same shape as Mediterranean women, or perhaps a particular brand is desired and not available in Spain.

In Ronda and other small towns most shopping is limited to small family owned fashion stores, Spanish high street brands such as Zara, or to foreign brands that tailor their range to Spanish sizes. Typically this means that plus sized ladies often struggle to dress fashionably without either visiting Marks and Spencer or BHS on the coast or Gibraltar.

However, it is possible to shop online using a debit or credit card, and in some cases a Paypal account, and have items shipped to Spain to your home address. Most retailers also offer free or cheap delivery if orders exceed a minimum amount, and if shopping for the season or several people in the family, this can amount to paying not much more than visiting a UK high street store and all without the cost of a ticket back home.

We’ve excluded online shopping portals such as Amazon, eBay, Pixmania etc because these companies operate in Spain. If you know of any other UK-based online retailers who deliver to Spain that aren’t included in our list, please let us know.

All information below is accurate as at May 2012. Delivery costs quoted may change in time.

Childrens Clothing
Adams operate an online store with a full selection of clothing, books, toys, swimwear, and baby items. Standard delivery to Spain takes upto 8 working days and is free if order exceeds £50 otherwise £4.99. Payment via card, Paypal, or Amazon payments.

The Kids Window operate a large site covering the majority of their product range priced in Euros in the international site. Spain residents need to click the “Outside UK?” link at the bottom of the page and then select Europe from the options. Delivery charges start from €6.50 with items dispatched in 24 hours. Payment with all major credit cards.

Mothercare‘s website is extensive and offers children’s clothing, footwear, pushchairs, cots, car seats, and maternity wear, and they offer to deliver to Spain from their UK website. Couriers are used so fees start from £14.95 and will be delivered in 3-7 working days. All major credit cards are accepted.

Fashion Clothing
Wallis (womenswear) website offers the complete range of instore items, including blouses, pants, jackets, dresses, skirts, accessories, petite clothing, and shoes. Standard delivery to Spain is £5 or free if order is over £75. Payment by Wallis card, major credit cards, and Paypal.

Topshop offers women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, and make-up on their website. Standard delivery to Spain is £5 or free if order is over £75. Payment by Topshop card, major credit cards, and Paypal.

Dorothy Perkins website covers their entire range of women’s clothing, collections, shoes, accessories, and the magazine. Standard delivery to Spain is £5 or free if order is over £75. Payment by Dorothy Perkins card, major credit cards, and Paypal.

Evans Plus Size online shopping is for women sized 14-32, and includes cothing, lingerie, shoes, and accessories. Standard delivery to Spain is £5 or free if order is over £75. Payment by Evans card, major credit cards, and Paypal.

Miss Selfridge have their complete women’s store online including clothing, accessories, shoes, petites, collections, and going out items. Standard delivery to Spain is £5 or free if order is over £60. Payment by Miss Selfridge card, major credit cards, and Paypal.

Monsoon carry an extensive range of womens clothes and shoes, weddings, children, and mens clothing, as well as accessories. Delivery to Spain costs £3.95 taking 4-7 days. Payment is by major credit card.

Topman men’s fashion provide an extensive range of clothing, shoes, suits, and accessories. Standard delivery to Spain is £5. Payment by Topman card, or major credit cards.

Shoes
Jones Bootmaker offer their range of brand-name shoes including the ever popular Timberland, Birkenstock, Geox, Gabor, Hush Puppies, Sketchers and more online. Delivery to Spain is by Royal Mail and starts at £17.50. Payment by major credit card.

Department Stores
Debenhams, every item on the Debenhams website can be delivered to Spain, with delivery fees starting at £7 and taking 5-6 days. Payment by Debenhams card, and all major credit cards.

Harrods website covers fashion and clothing, shoes, sport, food and wine, and gift hampers. Delivery costs to Spain start from £20 and expect 5-6 days. Payment can be made with a Harrods charge card, and major credit cards. Harrods gift certificates cannot be used in their online shop.

House of Fraser claim to have over 1000 brands catalogued in their online shopping website, including beauty, clothing, shoes, handbags, furniture, electrical, and more. Standard delivery to Spain starts at £6 and takes upto 8 days t deliver. An express service delivered in 3 days starts at £10. Payment via House of Fraser store card, and major credit cards.

Marks and Spencer have stores in Spain, but their complete product range is available from their UK website such as clothing, lingerie, home and furniture, technology, food, and gifts. Delivery charges start at £7.50 with arrival in 6-9 days. Payment by Marks and Spencer cards or gift certificate and major credit cards.

John Lewis have a very large website, covering home and garden, electrical, clothing, beauty, babies and children, toys, and sport. They deliver to peninsula Spain (sorry, no islands) with fees starting at &pound7.50; and between 4 to 7 days to receive the package. Payment by John Lewis card, major credit cards, and Paypal.

Littlewoods have put almost their entire catalog online, including mens and womens fashion, child and baby, sporting goods, home and garden, electrical, entertainment, jewellery, beauty, and toys. Delivery fees are quoted as £5, with occasional free delivery over &pound30; and taking upto 8 days. Payment by major credit cards and Paypal.

Next have their catalog online, but it’s necessary to change location to Spain to see which items are available to delivery amongst clothing, shoes, accessories, sports, and homeware. Delivery is currently free, taking 3 working days via DHL. Payment by credit card.

Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages