Tag Archives: Arab Baths

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Things To Do in Ronda During Your Stay

Ronda is one of the oldest towns in Europe, people have lived in the district for more than 30,000 years, and Ronda has been occupied for 9,000 years.

If you’re planning to visit Ronda here are the top things to do to help you enjoy your holiday. Ronda is a small city, and almost everything is within 500m of the Puento Nuevo bridge. Tourist office maps are printed in Spanish, English, German, French, Dutch, and Italian.

1. The Bullring (Plaza de Toros), considered to be the most historically important bullring in Spain, and home to the Ronda style with a matador on foot instead of horseback. The building can only seat 5000 people but has the largest central sand surface, known as the rueda, in the world. The structure is entirely built from locally quarried stone, then plastered and whitewashed. Read more.

2. The New Bridge (Puente Nuevo), the largest of Ronda’s several bridges that cross the impressive Tajo gorge that separates the city in two. The bridge is 98 meters tall with a tall central arch, and a room under the road that has been a hotel, a bar, a prison, and is now a small museum. Read more.

3. The Arab Baths are considered the most complete in Spain even though they are ruins, and offer a tantalizing glimpse into medievel Islamic times. Visitors are able to see the pump tower on which a donkey turned a crank that fed cold water to the baths. The water was heated and distributed in three rooms, a hot room for sweating out impurities, a warm room for massages and soaking, and a cold room to cool down. Read more.

4. The Mondragon Palace is a 13th century palace that archeologists believe was the home of Ronda’s Islamic King Abomelik when Ronda was the capital city of a large kingdom in Al-Andalus. The palace is home to the city museum with displays from the paleolithic, neolithic, Roman, Moorish, and Christian eras. Read more.

5. The medieval walls, with numerous gates and Islamic arches, high defensive towers and long stretches of impregnable stone wall that surround the old city and would take at least an hour to walk around. The most impressive sections are located at Almocabar in the Barrio San Francisco, Calle Goleta, and near the ruined flour mills in the Tajo gorge. Read more.

6. The Water Mine, a dark and scary escent to the Islamic era fortress carved into the gorge below the Casa del Rey Moro. Known as the Water Mine because for hundreds of years it operated as the only source of water into the city, with slaves chained to the steps to pass water bags upwards. Read more.

7. Visit the Santa Maria la Mayor church to see Ronda’s largest church, and also home to many of the Easter floats used in processions during Holy Week. The church was built on the foundations of an Islamic mosque, part of which is still visible in a small alcove as you enter. Read more.

8. Walk to the bottom of the gorge, though not for the faint hearted because this is a steep descent, but completely worth it to get that perfect photo of the bridge. Follow Calle Tenorio to the end and after the plaza take the walking track to the old Arab gate. If you wish, you can go through the gate and walk down and then under the Puente Nuevo.

9. Enjoy local tapas at one of the many outdoor bars in Ronda, with popular places being Plaza Socorro, Calle Nuevo, the Plaza in front of the Almocabar Gate, or Plaza Duquesa de Parcent.

10. Stroll through the old town at sunset as the tourists leave and Rondeños reclaim their city. This is the time when the real Ronda comes alive, with children playing in the plazas, families preparing their evening meal, and the sites and smells change completely.

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Ronda’s Main Attractions to Remain Open at Night

For the rest of September and all of October 2010, but possibly to be extended through the winter months, some of Ronda’s main attractions such as the Arab Baths, the Giant’s House, and the Mondragon Palace will remain open from 9pm until midnight to encourage visitors to the city to stay for a night or an extra night knowing that they can relax and not rush to see everything.

Entitled “Noches de embrujo nazarí en Ronda”, which can be loosely translated as An Evening of Moorish Enchantment, the focus will be on promoting the Nazari period when Andalusian architecture and art had reached it’s true golden age in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Arab Baths are considered Spain’s most complete Nazari public bath house, whilst the garden of the Mondragon Palace, and the patio of the Casa del Gigante (Giant’s House) are amongst the best examples of courtyard design known in Andalucia.

The event is being coordinated with the support of several local hotels and restaurants whose guests will be offered free entry to the monuments. Participants include the Parador Hotel, Montelirio, Maestranza, Don Miguel, Acinipo and EnfrenteArte, and the well known restaurants del Escudero and Jerez.

Speaking to Ronda Today, the director of the Parador Hotel Gonzalo Fernandez described this initiative as hugely important since overnight stays in Ronda have been falling, primarily due to visitors perception that Ronda is closed for business after 8pm. Significantly, the six hotels and two restaurants will foot the bill for the extra staff required to keep the three most important municipal attractions open during these extra three hours.

In addition to late night openings, the councillor for Tourism Francisco Cañestro is also planning to announce more art exhibitions on a world class level for Ronda. At present the Peinado Museum is hosting a collection of Picasso sketches owned by the Unicaja bank. November also see the inaugural year of the new International Political Film Festival which is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the city during a traditionally quiet season.

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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.

The Arab Baths in Ronda are considered the most complete baths and in original state, but have been all but impossible to enjoy by people with disabilities, in addition the gardens and water wheel have been inaccessible to all visitors for many years.

Recent accessibility renovations have opened a new entrance to the Baths nearer to the Puente Arabe which will be opened on demand for tour groups and people with disabilities, though access to the gardens and water wheel is also now provided from a side entrance to the Baths that was previously locked.

Taking their que from the ruins at Acinipo, the gardens have pieces of ruined achitecture such as columns, drains, and lintels scattered around, whilst bark has been spread to give the gardens a zen-like appearance. Gently sloping paths have been created, the intention being to create a small oasis from which to admire the medieval walls of the city.

Visitors to the Arab Baths will now be able to appreciate the engineering triumphs of Moorish Rondeños who created the water wheel and aqueduct to feed the baths with water from the rio Guadalevin and the Arroyo de las Culebras. Whilst the chain mechanism is long gone, the tower remains in excellent condition.

The re-opening ceremony was also attended by the mayor of Ronda Antonio Marín Lara, several councillors, and the leader of the municipal opposition María Paz Fernandez.

Maribel Morales, Charlotte Wilmot, and Remedios Ruiz

Ronda tourism gets accessibility, and a film festival

Ronda was recently represented at an international travel exposition, la Feria Internacional de Turismo (Fitur) in Madrid by the mayor Antonio Marín Lara and councillor for tourism Maribel Morales along with Alfredo Carrasco of CIT, and a small group of officials from the office of tourism and local business people.

Invited to participate by the Costa del Sol Tourism Board, Ronda representated the entire Serranía, including local villages such as Benaojan, Gaucín, Setenil, Grazalema, and displayed information about the three natural parks surrounding the Serranía.

The Serranía de Ronda is often under-represented within the travel industry, and is considered by many travel operators to be an inland Costa del Sol daytrip, a mindset the official tourism offices in Ronda are keen to dispel.

Major projects announced at this years Fitur were the accessibility of Ronda program, and further strengthening of the twinning relationship with the city of Cuenca in Castilla-La Mancha.

Over the next few months significants parts of the main tourist walk in Ronda, including streets in the old town, will be upgraded to make it convenient for people with limited mobility to enjoy the sites of Ronda. Unfortunately the cost and difficulty of making monuments such as the Mondragon Palace accessible isn’t possible.

However Ronda Today has learned the Arab Baths will soon be accessible to people in wheelchairs, a major step forward (pardon the pun) given the significance of Ronda’s Arab Baths in Western Europe. As well, the historically important Acinipo ruined city will soon also be more accessible to people of limited mobility.

Ronda’s twinning with Cuenca is to receive a major boost under an EU program. 300,000€ of European money has been allocated to encourage closer working between Ronda and Cuenca which both share a similar topology with an older city, gorge, and hanging houses.

Expertise in attracting tourists to Ronda will be studied by officials from Cuenca, a program Ronda tourism hopes they will be able to export to other cities.

At Fitur, Ronda’s mayor Marín Lara also announced the creation of a new film festival, the political film festival of Ronda, to be held annually in the city and will be a grade two festival, equivalent to the Berlin Film Festival.

This marks a significant development in the media industry in Ronda, which is also home to the Business Media School. Ronda’s political film festival in 2010 is scheduled to run from 27th November to 4th December, and has the financial backing of the Ministry of Culture in Madrid.

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Costa del Sol Day Trips to Ronda

Spain, and in particular the Costa del Sol, is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations, and from Marbella, Puerto Banus, Benalmadena, Torremolinos, Mijas Costa, Fuengirola, San Pedro, Málaga or Estepona Ronda is only a short drive, between 45 minutes and 1hr 15minutes away, and is rated one of THE must-see destinations in Spain.

Aside from the small and compact size of the city of Ronda, everywhere can be reached on foot in less than 30 minutes walking, Ronda has also been home to people spanning 30,000-40,000 years, most of whom have left their mark in the form of nearby cave paintings, bronze age burial chambers, a ruined Roman city, and the Moorish quarter.

Ronda makes a perfect weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Costa del Sol, in fact Rondeños have a word that describes their lifestyle, tranquila, very peaceful. It certainly describes Ronda well. Here’s a list of monuments you can see if you have 3-4 hours to wander around Ronda.

The Bullring (Plaza de Toros)
Often referred to as Spain’s largest and oldest bullring, it’s real significance is it’s beauty as an architectural wonder, and as the bullring where Pedro Romero, the father of modern bullfighting perfected his art. The museum of bullfighting is located under the seating in the rear of the building.

Ronda’s Plaza de Toros is owned by the Real Maestranza de Caballero de Ronda, and is an exceptional building that is open to the public. It contains 136 tuscan columns that hold the stands, and the entire plaza is built from rock quarried locally.

Yes, if you really want to, you can pretend to be a bull and run around the rueda, nobody will laugh, we’ve all done it.

The Puente Nuevo
Universally recognizable, the Puente Nuevo is one of Spain’s most photographed monuments and stands 98 metres above the tajo gorge. It’s a truly impressive site, all the more so because the rocks used to build the bridge were quarried from below on the river bed, and then hoisted into position using an innovative system of pulleys.

The bridge featured in Ernest Hemingway’s award winning novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, though we’ll leave it to your imagination to decide if his story was true.

Mondragon Palace
Originally built when Ronda was an independent kingdom, the Mondragon Palace isn’t much to look at from outside, but inside contains the Municipal Museum of Ronda and some beautiful original courtyards and terraces.

It was from here that the Catholic Kings accepted the surrender of the last Muslim governor of Ronda in 1485, but since then the palace has reverted to more peaceful uses, in fact being a popular wedding venue for Rondeños and visitors alike.

Moorish King’s House and Gardens
Back in the early 20th century before war descended on Spain the Duquesa de Parcent owned several houses in the Moorish Quarter, the largest of them being her own residence which became known as the Casa del Rey Moro, the Moorish King’s House, owing to the impressive dungeon and fortress carved into the living rock beneath the palace.

Legend has it that during the Moorish era Christian slaves would be chained to the steps and made to pass jugs of water from the river to the city water tanks above. During the Duquesa’s ownership of the palace the terraced gardens were redesigned by Forestier in the style of French aristocratic gardens of the era.

Arab Baths
Back in Moorish times, public baths were a very popular social setting, and also a mandatory stop for visitors to Ronda who were required to cleanse themselves physically and spiritually in the adjacent Mosque before being allowed to enter the city proper.

The Arab Baths in Ronda have undergone extensive renovations in recent times, including restoration of the gardens and making the baths accessible to mobility challenged people.

Getting to Ronda

Bullring Ronda

Bullring Ronda

Coming to Ronda is easy, there are buses from Málaga several times per day, as well as buses from Torremolinos that pass through Marbella on their way to Ronda. Train services are also quite frequent from Málaga. Of course most people drive to Ronda, either using the San Pedro to Ronda road, or taking the road from Málaga to Coín and then following the signs to Campillos but turning off well before on the road to Ronda.

Arriving in Ronda can be confusing, the city has a ring road that is far out of town, but following the signs for the ‘Centro Cuidad’ on both roads will bring you to a large roundabout with a train line running over it. At this roundabout you’ll enter Ronda on the main dual carriageway through the city known as Avenida de Málaga, and the very end of which you’ll find the huge underground carpark “Parking Martinez Astein”.

From the carpark, exit at Avde de Málaga, and you’ll find yourself standing at the top end of a long pedestrianised street, this is Carrera Espinel, loving known locally as La Bola. Walk to the very end of this street (around 800m) and you’ll be standing directly opposite Ronda’s famous bullring, the Plaza de Toros.

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.

Arab Baths Ronda

Ronda’s Arab Baths

The Arab Baths, known in Spanish as the Baños Arabes are one of Ronda’s most important tourist attractions, and some argue more important than the unquestionably beautiful Puente Nuevo, or Ronda’s other claim to fame, the Plaza de Toros, home of Ronda’s bullfighting tradition.

Ronda’s Arab Baths are similar to the design perfected by the Romans, except that steam was used to sweat out pollutants from the body rather than soaking in hot water as the Romans used. The Moors of Spain were also Muslim, so religious traditions were important, a Mosque was located next to the baths, and the baths were more than just a sanitary facility; they were also a place where locals and visitors alike would stop to purify and cleanse their bodies before entering the Mosque to purify their souls.

In Moorish times the main entrance to the Medina of Ronda was located next to the Baños Arabes, the Puente Arabe may have been built around the same time as the Arab Baths, along with a high defensive wall which no longer exists though its foundation stones can still be seen. In those times the baths were outside the walls of the city, and set to the side of the main entrance gate, with a small doorway built into the city walls that connected to a passageway leading to the entrance of the baths.

From the main entrance, visitors will find themselves overlooking the roof of Arab Baths, you’ll see short humps embedded in the ground and covered with alien stalks on which rest round glass panels. These are the skylights, and the glass protects the chambers below from rain damage.

The baths were built partially underground to better control the temperature of the building. Hot fires in the furnace room closest to the water entering from the aqueduct would heat the water, and channel hot steam under the floor of the rooms in terracotta channels (atanores) of the rooms, and then exit from chimneys located before it reached the cold rooms.

Entering the baths, descend into the first chamber which these days has no roof, and in Moorish times was the reception area for the baths, though in Arabic known as the al-bayt al-maslaj, the changing room. It has a central pool about two and a half metres across, and a series of brick arches surrounding the pool.

These arches supported a domed ceiling with star shaped skylights, while the pool itself was a drinking fountain and not a bath as we might think. Around the edges of this room were wooden benches for chatting and socialising, and against the back wall a series of screens that formed changing rooms. Toilets were also located in the first chamber.

Architecture of the Arab Baths

Roof of Arab Baths

Beside the first ruined chamber is a doorway which leads into a small room with pools at each end. This was the cold room, al-bayt al-barid, where people could relax and cool down before entering the warm and hot rooms again. Part of the tradition of these baths was to spend several hours here, and cleansing the body several times over.

For many of Ronda’s Moorish citizens a trip to the baths would not have been a daily ritual, but even if it was, this was medieval Ronda’s equivalent of our evening television where people would go to meet friends. Read about the history of Ronda’s Arab Baths.

The next room the largest of the covered chambers, the warm room, al-bayt al-wastami, and which in Moorish times was the warm room where people could relax and enjoy a massage, be pampered with perfumes, or sit in a pool of slightly warm water. This room was warm but not steamy. Mats and cushions were available to use, as well as wooden benches around the walls, and several tables for massage and therapeutic treatments by trained slaves were situated next to some of the columns.

The hot room, al-bayt al-sajun, which today is the room with the animated presentation, is the last room entered by the public, and was the case in Moorish times as well. This room has a pool at one end where water from the aqueduct was splashed over the hot floor creating a very humid and steamy atmosphere in the room.

The woodshed, al-furn, the far room in the Arab Baths and which isn’t open to today’s visitors, is where the water from the aqueduct arrived, and where wood would be unloaded from carts into a storage area. In this room the great fires were stoked in covered ovens with vented openings that kept the fire alive. At the end of this room, and at the back of the hot room, was an opening that allowed staff and slaves to enter and leave the Hammam.

Arab Baths Opening Times

Autumn and Winter
Monday to Friday 10am till 6pm (10:00-18:00)
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 10am till 3pm (10:00-15:00)

Spring and Summer
Monday to Friday 10am till 7pm (10:00-19:00)
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 10am till 3pm (10:00-15:00)

GPS Location
Latitude: 36.738893 (36° 44′ 20.01” N)
Longitude: -5.162914 (5° 9′ 46.49” W)

Price of Entry
3€ per individual
1.50€ if part of a group of 10 or more, and children
Free on Sunday