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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.