San Sebastian Minaret in Ronda

San Sebastian Minaret (Alminar de San Sebastián)

For nearly 700 years Ronda was an Islamic city, and during this time is believed to have had 7 or 8 mosques, none of which exist today, except for the Minaret of San Sebastian which was converted into a bell tower after the adjacent mosque was reconsecrated a Christian church. It was here in 1485 that Ferdinand II is believed to have ordered a mass to offer thanks for the capture of Ronda.

The mosque wasn’t particularly large, but being the closest to the central mosque frequented by the city’s rulers and elite families, the mosque in Plaza Abul Beka probably served as the main mosque for merchants and middle ranking families of the city.

Originally the mosque minaret was built from locally quarried stone slabs, this is the bottom level with the horse-shoe arch entrance leading to an office or storage room. From two side it appears the stonework is incomplete, as if the structure had been destroyed, and then rebuilt using brick. However, archeologists now believe that an event much less destructive may have been the cause – money.

It appears that the minaret couldn’t be completed in stone, and the original builders switched to brick for the top of the first level, and all of the second level upto the line of green glazed bricks between the second and third levels.

We now believe the minaret was a two level structure with an open patio on the third level where the muezzin (Islamic priest) would call the faithful to prayer. It is possible that during the hot summer months a canopy or umbrella may have been erected, but certainly there is no evidence that the minaret ever had a built-in third level.

Of course to serve as a bell tower the third level would need to have a roof built with supporting beams to carry the weight of cast-iron bells. Fortunately the church elders weren’t insensitive to the original design, and the roof of the third level was built following mudejar principles.

Some historians have speculated the church tower may have been altered by Moriscos (Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity), and who would not want to destroy all remnants of their former city.

Coincidentally, the church was utterly destroyed in the 1600s during the Morisco uprisings that led to their expulsion to North Africa. It is possible the minaret was purposely left standing as a permanent reminder to Moriscos of all they had lost.

In 1931 the Minaret of San Sebastian was declared a national monument of historic importance.