Continuing our Spanish adventure, Patty and I had decided to drive from Seville to Granada with a stopover in Ronda on the way. The drive across southern Spain was magnificent. Stopping in a small town for a coffee on the way, we somehow managed to get lost enough in the narrow, twisting streets that we were unable to find our way back out of town. We located a friendly police officer who was most helpful and we were soon once again on our way.
Arriving in Ronda, even though it was pouring rain, we were completely smitten by the city which is divided by a very deep gorge (100 meters or approximately 328 feet). The Guadalevin River divides the city in two and has carved out the steep deep El Tajo canyon above which the city perches. Somewhat like an eagle’s aerie, the city balances high above the gorge and affords stunning, far-ranging views over the surrounding countryside. The defensive value in ancient times is apparent.
Three bridges, Puente Romano (“Roman Bridge”, also known as the Puente San Miguel), Puente Viejo (“Old Bridge, also known as the Puente Arabe or “Arab Bridge”) and Puente Nuevo (“New Bridge”), span the canyon. The term “nuevo” is a matter of perspective, as the building of this bridge commenced in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. The Puente Nuevo is the tallest of the bridges, towering 390 feet above the canyon floor. However, all three are impressive features.
The former town hall, which sits next to the Puente Nuevo, is now the Parador de Ronda where we stayed. Spanish paradores are luxury hotel accommodations in castles, palaces, convents, monasteries, fortresses and other historic buildings. The buildings are often part of the heritage of Spain although there are some modern hotels in spectacular locations. The state maintains the buildings, and tries to locate paradores in areas where they are not in competition with the private sector and thus many are in smaller medieval towns and villages. The Parador de Ronda, one of the modern hotels, is magnificent and the service was outstanding.
Thankfully for us, the rain stopped, and we ventured out to several shops to purchase wine, cheese and bread. With only rudimentary Spanish and plenty of hand gestures, we were able to accomplish this mission. Off our room we had a rooftop terrace overlooking the gorge and the many houses overhanging the precipice. So this was the perfect place to enjoy the wine and cheese and a beautiful evening.
Ronda’s layers of history are fascinating. There are remains of prehistoric settlements around the city, including the rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta. Due to the rain and hence apparently unsafe footing as well as an uncertain method of obtaining entrance, we were not able to visit the cave. However, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering the old city, marveling at the old buildings and visiting interesting little shops. Being steeply located, one does have to be prepared for strain on the legs but all the effort was well worth it.
Ronda was first settled by the early Celts in the 6th century BC but the current Ronda is of Roman origins. Founded as a fortified post in the Second Punic War, Ronda received the title of city at the time of Julius Caesar. Coming from an America where something two hundred years old is considered old, being in a city over two thousand years old provides a whole different perspective. Throughout its history, Ronda changed hands a number of times as a result of being conquered, reconquered and conquered again over and over, hence layers of overlapping cultures.
The Plaza de Toros is located in the city center, only a couple of blocks from the Puente Nuevo. Ronda is considered the birthplace of modern bullfighting. In the 16th century, Phillip II established the Real Maestranza de Caballeria, a training facility for developing horsemanship. Stemming from a need for equestrian prowess in battle, horsemanship was a valued skill. Bulls, willing to charge at the mounted horse were used to train both horses and riders.
In the 1700s, it became fashionable to face the bull on foot. In Ronda, Francisco Romero added the sword and cape to the event, and his famous grandson, Pedro, transformed bullfighting into an art and skill, creating the style of bullfighting commonly found today. We visited the bullring, museum, and stables but there was no bullfight at the time we were there. We were quite all right with that.
We were in Ronda for two nights and then had to leave very early to drive to Granada and that proved to be another adventure entirely.