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 second 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.