By the middle of the 13th century the Almohads had lost most of their former possessions in Iberia to Castile, all that remained in 1238 was the Kingdom of Granada, of which Ronda was now an important capital. The first Nasrid Sultans of Granada managed to halt the first reconquista of Ferdinand I by promising fealty to Castile, and historical evidence confirms that until 1480 an annual payment of gold was made to the treasury of Castile.
It was during this time that one of Ronda’s most famous poets lived. Abul Beka (also known as Salih ben Sharif al-Rundi), born 1204 and who died in 1285 was a poet and master of Arab-Andalucian culture and history, who wrote some of the Arab world’s most poignant poetry about the futility of war and the great losses to the world of the Muslim cities of Sevilla, Toledo, and Córdoba.
Even today Abul Beka is remembered in Ronda, the square in front of the San Sebastian Minaret is named Plaza de Abul Beka, and a dance school that has won international acclaim for teaching Flamenco and traditional Andalucian dance honours him in its name, the Abul Beka Folk Dance Association.
Despite the official peace, war was an almost constant irritant in the region, indeed soldiers from the Kingdom of Granada regularly fought alongside Almohad and then Marinid troops in the Maghreb, as well as the frontier villages of Al-Andaluz. Christian forces continued their attacks in Southern Andalucia as they desperately tried to reach the straits of Gibraltar and prevent further invasions from Africa in support of Moorish Spain.
Whilst part of the Kingdom of Granada, Ronda in fact exercised considerable autonomy. Located close to the frontier with Christian Spain local decisions often had to be made quickly so a system of defences and signalling towers in the Serrania were built. Many of the local villages to the North and West of Ronda are known to have changed hands several times. Further South in Cadiz a new threat to both Christian Spain and Muslim Granada had appeared, an emergent Morocco under the Marinids.
In 1288, sensing that his armies wouldn’t be able to contain those of the Christian Kingdoms to his North, the emir of Granada approached Abu Yaqub Yusuf an-Nasr, the Marinid King of Morocco and cedes Cadíz to the Maronids in return for additional Berber troops in Al-Andalus.
In 1329, Abu Al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Othman (1297-1351), sultan of Morocco invades Granada, capturing Algeciras, and shortly after installs his son Abomelic Abd al-Malik (also known as King Abomelic of Ronda), as king of Ronda, Algeciras and Gibraltar.
Abomelic started an ambitious period of construction and renovation in Ronda, including some of Ronda’s most beautiful Moorish buildings such as the Arab Baths, and the Casa del Gigante. Abomelic successfully engaged the forces of Christian Spain from Ronda, at one point nearly capturing Jerez de la Frontera from Alfonso XI, but in 1388, he was finally defeated on the battlefield and killed by Diego Fernandez Herrera of Jerez, at which point Ronda once again came under the control of the Nasrid dynasty in Granada.
By 1340 Portuguese-Castilian forces are on the march again, inflicting a terrible defeat on Marinid forces at the Battle of Rio Salada, and four years later after a two year siege Algeciras is finally lost. Gibraltar fell to Christian forces in 1462, long after the last of the Marinids had returned to Africa and Ronda was back under the control of Granada.
Ronda’s new palaces and economic growth in a time of war sadly didn’t lead to peace-time prosperity because around 1349 one of the greatest tragedies of the medieval ages, the black death (bubonic plague), appeared as if from nowhere and within months is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Iberia including Alfonso XI and the bulk of his army. Ronda itself was devastated, her citizens decimated. In such a small city with only a single supply of water, it would have been almost impossible to avoid the disease.
One of the survivors of the black death was another of Ronda’s most famous sons, Ibn Abbad al-Rundi (1333-1390) who was born in Ronda to a wealthy and influential family. He studied law in Ronda before leaving for Fez to follow his heart and study sufism. Ibn Abbad quickly established a reputation as one of the leading sufi scholars and is credited with writing a series of “Letters on the Sufi Path”.
Despite endless wars against the Christian north, and frequent small invasions from North Africa, Ronda, the “Rose of the Kingdom of Granada”, remained under Muslim control until 1485, her citizens waking on the morning of the 14th May 1485 to the dreadful site of thousands of Christian soldiers surrounding their fair city.