Arab baths in Ronda

Moorish Ronda 711 till 1066

In 711 AD, an Arab prince named Musa Ben Nusayr conquered most of Iberia and parts of southern France for the Ummayad Caliphate. A captain in the Berber army, Zaide Ben Kesadi El Sebseki, realising the importance of Ronda as a fortress managed to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the city in August of that year, and henceforth Ronda was known as Izn-Rand Onda which in the Arabic of the day meant “City of the Castle”, and became capital of the Cora of Takurunna of the Córdoba Emirate.

The Arab and Berber men who invaded Iberia came alone, they brought no families with them, most settled in Iberia with Iberian wives, but their children spoke Arabic and were born into the Muslim faith. Native Iberian peoples were forced to learn Arabic, and those who chose to retain their Christian or Jewish beliefs were known as Mozarabs.

Many converted to Islam and became known as Muwallads. A great many Christian women and children were captured and sold into slavery at the markets in Córdoba, often being taken to Baghdad, Damascus and other parts of the Arab world.

By 750 the muslim world was in upheaval, as the Abbasid revolution unfolded. The last surviving Ummayyad, prince Abd al-Rahman fled to Spain from Baghdad and founded a new Umayyad dynasty in Spain which lasted a further 300 years centered at Córdoba.

Moorish invaders in the 8th century completely changed the landscape and personality of Ronda as the city became an important capital in the Moorish caliphate over Spain. Muslim mosques quickly replaced Roman and Visigothic churches, new technology from the Arab world improved irrigation and farming practices, and the arts and philosophy flourished in this enlightened of provinces, just as the sun had darkened over the rest of Europe.

One of Ronda’s first famous sons was born only 100 years after the Arab conquest, Abbas Ibn Firnas a man with a fascination for science, mathematics, music, astronomy, music, engineering, and who is credited with being the first man to ever fly a glider. He is also credited with a number of important inventions such as a method of making colourless glass, reading lenses, an innovative design for a water clock, and is widely believed to be the first man to successfully build and then fly a glider.

His glider was tested in 875 by gliding from the top of the minaret of the Great Mosque at Córdoba, at the time a centre of enlightenment. Ibn Firnas wasn’t successful in sustaining flight but eyewitnesses described him managing to glide like a bird before crashing. He was 65 at the time, and injured his back in the attempt.

Rebellion and Ronda’s Independence

By the end of the 9th century disaffection amongst the Mozarabs and Muwallads triggered a revolt led by Umar ibn Hafsun (also known as Omar ben Hafsun), an Iberian born Moor, over high taxes and humiliating treatment on the part of the Ummayyad dynasty.

By 885 ibn Hafsun controlled most of Western and Southern Andalucia including Ronda. His capital was at Bobastro, a short ride from Ronda, although some historians believe this was only his spiritual capital, and that Ronda was his military and administrative capital.

The rebellion might have continued for longer than it did, perhaps a peace might even have been arranged, except for ibn Hafsun’s conversion to Christianity and baptism under the name Samuel in 899 AD, an event that immediately caused his Muwallad supporters to abandon the rebellion.

Renewed determination on the part of the Emir in Córdoba to capture and kill ibn Hafsun was swift. Sadly, ibn Hafsun’s rebellion which had previously been a simple matter of economics and political rights, quickly became a struggle between Muslim and Christian as Mozarabs flocked to his cause.

After his conversion a number of Christian chapels, and churches were built within the Serrania de Ronda and parts of Andalucia under ibn Hafsun’s control. Two in particular are worthy of mention, the Iglesia Mozarab at Bobastro, and La Iglesia rupestre Virgen de la Cabeza located just outside Ronda.


The Iglesia Mozarab at Bobastro was founded by ibn Hafsun as a church, convent and bishopric and built before his death in 917. The city and bishopric of Bobastro was completely destroyed in 928, in retaliation for ibn Hafsun’s impertinence. The bodies of ibn Hafsun and his three sons were carried to Córdoba shortly after the rebellion was crushed, and then ritually crucified outside the Mezquita.

Outside Ronda the Iglesia rupestre Virgen de la Cabeza was spared any damage and allowed to remain as shelter for a small hermitage of about 10 monks who continued to provide prayer to the Mozarabs of Ronda. In fact Virgen de la Cabeza is one of the oldest Christian churches in Andalucia, and most likely the oldest Mozarab church.

From 928 till 1015 Ronda enjoyed relative peace under the Umayyad dynasty in Córdoba again, and history tells us the repercussions for being a key city in the rebellion were quickly forgiven. The collapse of the Caliphate saw Ronda achieve independence again, this time as the Muslim Taifa Ronda, a kingdom amongst many in Moorish Spain.

The period saw a local dynasty under Abu Nur Hilal establish itself and led to one of Ronda’s golden periods, now known as Madinat Runda, with new villages founded in the Serrania, the city walls upgraded, and new buildings constructed.

The first Taifa in Ronda lasted from 1039 to 1065, and endured its fair share of political upset. The first emir, a Berber named Abu Nur Hilal banu Abi Qurra banu Dunas al-Yafraní (Abu Nur Hilal), expelled the Umayyad representative in 1039, proclaiming himself ruler.

His first reign was continually harassed by the Taifa of Seville, and in 1053 he was deposed, being held prisoner in Sevilla. For a period of four years Badis banu Hilal, his son, assumed the throne, but willingly allowed his father’s restoration on his escape from Sevilla in 1057.

Abu Nur Hilal’s second period on the throne was short lived, lasting less than a year until his death. He was succeeded by Abu Nars Fatuh, who ruled from 1057 until 1066 after successfully having Abu Nur Hilal’s son and family killed to prevent them assuming power.

Abu Nars Fatuh was himself killed on a trip to Sevilla, on the pretext of securing peace, and his city quickly fell to Sevilla in 1066, coincidentally the year of the Norman conquest of England, however peace wasn’t long secured, war with an emboldened Christian Spain was coming.