I stand in the centre of the 18th century Puente Nuevo 'new' bridge in awe of the view below, the 100-metre chasm and the inspiring views beyond of the Serranía de Ronda Mountains. Ronda was a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, who used its steep setting, perched atop a canyon in some of his novels. He reputedly used the gorge for the scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls when Hemingway describes the murder of Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War, mercilessly thrown from the cliffs of El Tajo by Republican forces. Ronda is also where poet Rainer Maria Rilke visited to view the dramatic and deep El Tajo gorge created by the rio Guadalevín which runs through its centre.
Actor and film producer, Orson Welles, spent a year in Ronda in his youth, and is buried on the nearby Ordonez estate, that of a famed bullfighting family. Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Here, renowned bullfighter, Pedro Romero, abandoned the traditional Jerez school of horseback bullfighting in the 18th century to found a new, courageous style in which matadors stood their ground against the bull on foot. The bullring, Plaza de Toros, is converted to a museum.
We are here also to shop, advised earlier that there are beautiful ceramics to be found in shops, and we are not disappointed.
Across the bridge, a cloistered 16th century convent is transformed into an art museum, and old Ronda winds down into cobbled streets hemmed with striking homes such as that of the Casa de Don Bosco and the Palacio Mondragón. The former is lavishly tiled and decorated with views of El Tajo, distant market towns and the Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcenat. The latter was the place for bullfights until the late 18th century.
A cobbled alley to the Mondragón leads one to Ronda's exquisite public space, leafy Plaza Duquesa de Parcenat, which contains a convent, two churches and the arched Ayuntamiento (council) Building. Calle Armiñan takes visitors to the plaza of the workers' barrio, San Francisco, offering superb bars and restaurants.
A town of 35,000, both Ronda's train and bus stations are a comfortable, 15-minute walk from town center and Plaza de España where one finds the local Tourismo (tourist office) as well as many Spanish lodgings.
From a rocky outcrop, I envision Ronda's history, an early Arab stronghold protected by El Tajo, its deep gorge virtually impenetrable until 1485 when Christian invaders conquered the territory yet retaining its Moorish flavour with whitewashed houses, tiled foyers and large, wooden doors.
Spanning the gorge, Puente Nuevo is an 18th century, arched stone bridge that links the Mercadillo (new town) with the historical palaces and mansions of La Ciudad (old town). Beneath the bridge, a path descends to the recently restored Arab Baths, the most complete in all of Spain.
Most tourists encountered here are day-trippers from the Costa del Sol, but it's worth the effort to devote time to wander the maze-like streets, enjoy friendly cafés, and walk the scenic Guadalévin valley. People generally visit by car or bus. Ronda is located about 100 km. from Malaga. A route through the Sierra Bermeja Mountains is quite striking.
As mentioned earlier, we discovered many ceramic bargains here, limited mainly by our ability to carry all of them back to our hotel.
Ronda was first settled by Celts, but its successive Roman and Moorish rulers are portrayed prominently by its architecture. In 1485, Catholic Spain under Queen Isabella and her husband, Ferdinand, seized control. Queen Isabella became patron of Christopher Columbus and is also noted for bringing the Inquisition to Spain, expelling Jews from the Iberian Peninsula and being mother of the first wife of King Henry VIII.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/