Ronda is the place where to go, if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or for being with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set… Nice promenades, good wine, excellent food, nothing to do…” — Ernest Hemingway
Work has been a grind lately, and I’m studying hard for my next attempt at the ARE on Saturday, so it’s only natural that I’ve been dreaming of getting away. I woke up this morning thinking of the time I spent in Ronda, which is sort of a fairytale of a city, perched on the edge of a high plateau halfway between Seville and Málaga in southern Spain. On one side of a huge gorge lies the old Moorish town, and on the other is the classical Spanish one. Here’s another recycled post from the time I visited.
The first stop on my 20-day journey after my friends left me in Málaga was the town of Ronda, in the same province but about 100 km (62 mi) northwest. This ancient town is built on either side of a deep gorge named “El Tajo.” On one side lies the ancient Arab portion of the town, and on the other is the new, Spanish quarter. The center is dominated the Puente Nuevo, completed in 1793 and rising to 120 meters (394 ft) above the river below.
After three days of interminable rain in Málaga, it was nice to rise above it all. The bus trip itself was magical in its own right. I caught the bus in Málaga on a rainy morning, and sat comfortably in my bus as I watched tourist town after tourist town roll by. The British have taken over the coast of southern Spain, it seems. Not only is there a radio station in English down there, I saw billboards for Marks & Spencer. Strange. Eventually it thinned out, and just as the ocean came out from behind the buildings we turned inland and started a climb into the dark clouds ringing the sierras. We traveled up and up until we reached the barren and mostly empty high sierras, stopping only at a small pueblo here and there that didn’t even have a bus station. After a few hours of this, Ronda emerged out of seemingly nowhere – a busy town in the middle of nowhere, windswept and perched on the edge of a gorge.
After I had checked into my hotel, there was a break in the storm and I used the opportunity to explore. The first stop, of course, was el Puente Nuevo and the edge of El Tajo. Every precipice I looked over threw wind and drops of water up into my face. To stand on the cliff right against the railing was like being on the edge of the world, and from a park near the Plaza de Toros I could see more of a storm sweeping in from across the valley floor below. It was breathtaking, and I wish I could share the whole feeling or the moment here, but I don’t know how. I hope the pictures will suffice.
It certainly seems that Ronda is a town that lends itself to poetry. Several famous people have passed through there, despite – or perhaps because of – its isolated location. Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet, passed through, as did James Joyce. Orson Welles had his ashes scattered in the Plaza de Toros. Ernest Hemingway, apart from what he said above, also claimed it was the second place someone should go to see a bullfight in Spain. And he kinda knew what he was talking about. Ronda, other than simply being beautiful, is credited with being the place to establish the modern rules of bullfighting. It was here that the Andalucíans first fought bulls on foot and codified what evolved into the corrida of today. Hemingway was also right about there being nothing to do – I filled my days by just walking around and eating or drinking. It was more than enough to keep me busy and satisfied. There were a few little museums, but I passed them up, and the only one I was really interested in, La Casa del Rey Moro, was closed when I tried to go.
While I didn’t get to go into the secret mines of the Moorish King’s house, I managed to experience a little of the depths of the gorge when I went off the beaten path to find the Arco de Cristo, which seems to be a part of the old Moorish fortifications. It’s treated just like a lot of history here in Europe – named on a map and otherwise ignored and unexplained. But it gave me the opportunity to look up at the town for once.
Although I can’t agree with the politics of Spanish right-wing intelligentsia superstar José María Pemán, I think he did pretty well describing the feeling you get wandering around:
In Ronda, one of the most impressive gorges on the face of the earth. In Ronda there are many streets that should be marked with a sign for tourists: To chaos. In any stretch of countryside or street which offers itself to the tourist he is told imperiously that this way he will get to the Cathedral, the Museum. But in Ronda there are many streets which take us to ourselves. The gorge has no obligations to the guides. One leans over the edge of it and may find in its depths fear, prophecies, prayers or poems.”
Hundreds of years later, the words of Kurdish sultan-geographer Abú al Fidá still resonate. It wasn’t hard to imagine Ronda as “[an] elegant and lofty city in which the clouds serve as a turban, and its towers as a sword belt.”
Looks like it’s been inspiring people for quite some time now.
Mostly, though, it’s just beautiful. I don’t know about you, but when I first daydreamed about visiting Spain, this was the kind of place that I imagined, a white-washed pueblo in the clouds with a romantic history. That’s Ronda in a nutshell.
This is an edited version of a post from my old website, iankphoto.com. The original was published on February 9, 2010.