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RONDA: Between Legend and Reality in Spain
by

Arnie Greenberg

About half way between Seville and Granada is the once isolated, hilltop town of Ronda, a center for bullfighters and bandits. It is located in a mountainous region, the Serrania, a moist and wooded region dotted with white towns, mostly with Arabic origins.

I had been told that the vision of Ronda would be magical and breathtaking, but I was not ready for what I saw. It is much more than that. It is Spain’s “Dream City”.

Consider a city high above a gorge that grew mainly after the Arab control of the 8th century. Consider a city connected on two sides by a centuries-old 100-meter high bridge. Consider the site of the first bullring, the Plaza de Toros Maestranza, a city with excellent hotels, Arab baths, mosaics, parks, museums, craft shops for every taste, on a spot second to none, and you have modern Ronda.

I entered on the road from southern Marbella and parked on the grounds of the Queen Victoria Hotel, one of the most picturesque building sites of the city. Built in 1906 by British Engineers, the gardens and the view say it all. This was the place to stop for visitors from all nations who wanted to see, “the city on the cliff” (“El Tajo”). Even the Czech poet Rainer Maria Rilke stayed here. It still draws people who know Spain and her vistas.

One can get to Ronda by bus or train. You’re more flexible in a car but you might consider a tour with a guide for a fist visit.

The walk into the city was short and worthwhile. Our first stop was the Alameda del Tajo, a park at the edge of the precipitous heights. It was the perfect place to relax but my excitement for the city was taking over. I was amused to find Orson Wells Avenue at the end. It was in Ronda that Wells, a man widely traveled, asked to be buried. That has to say something for its beauty.

The 18th Century bullring next to the Tourist Office bespoke of the start of modern bullfighting, a tragic story of a collapsed grandstand and the names of the two matadors who revolutionized bullfighting, Pedro Romero and Pepe Hillo. Pedro Romero is said to have killed 5,000 bulls during his career. Today, the ring is open to visitors interested in architecture as well as a bullfight museum. While I am not an aficionado, I did walk around the empty ring to get a matador’s eye view of the sun-baked arena. This ring has the dubious honor of being the oldest in Spain and statues of the famous Antonio Ordonez is still covered with flowers as a sign of respect by visitors. Built by decree of Phillip II, the institution organized and encouraged games and bullfighting on horseback, which had been long practiced by nobility.

I was directed to Blas Infante, the special viewpoint where one can see the entire city and then to the Puento Nuevo, the new bridge, built in the eighteenth century across the narrowest part of the gorge. A walk across the bridge raises ones spirits. The story of the bridge’s 1740 collapsed brings butterflies to one’s stomach. Fifty people died but the new, stronger bridge was completed in 1793. It is the best-known landmark in Ronda.

Before crossing the bridge, I entered the state run Hotel for Tourism. This solid and modern structure sits at one end of the bridge. A view from your room is one of the most spectacular imaginable, as you look almost straight down into the gorge. Even the swimming pool is only feet from the edge.

Across the bridge there is a center for explanation of the bridge. On the streets, venders and musicians add to the feeling of Spain at its best. Add to that a Calle Nueva, Ronda’s pedestrian mall across from the Plaza de Espana, where some of the shops maintain their true historical appearance.

I continued my walk along the edge of the cliff in a circle to the Arab Baths. This is the most valuable relic of the city’s Arab past and one of the best preserved in the city. According to Islamic custom visitors had to purify themselves before entering the city. It was constructed at an entrance to the city and close to a good supply of water. The baths stood at a junction of the Culebras stream and the Guadalevin River below the gorge. These baths, now a protected site, were built at the end of the 13th century. It was only rediscovered and reconstructed in the 20th century.

One can visit the hot room, the wood storage area and the boiler room where large quantities of water produced hot air, which was conveyed via underground ducts to heat the floors. This under floor system was Roman and is called ‘hipocausum’. Even the remains of the waterwheel and the aqueduct can still be seen.

I marveled at the ancient walls. Where there were once many gateways, only two remain, The Gateway of the Wind and The Gateway of Christ or The Windmills Gateway were an important part of the defense of the city. A hydroelectric plant as their power source recently replaced the windmills.

There were other things of interest like the Fountain of Eight Spouts, dating back to the early 18th century and the Gardens of the Moorish King, now a National Historical Site.

I especially enjoyed the Moorish quarter and the Moorish King’s House. Hardly a king’s house, it derived its name from the ceramic wall tiles on the façade.

I saw lush gardens, Moorish patios, so typical in southern Spain, museums containing funeral icons and a bronze cast sword from the 17th century. This is the only one of its kind ever-discovered in Europe.

I had finally seen Ronda, the Roman city of Arunda and the Moslem Medina with its intricate streets and inviting architecture, not to forget the view, which is a must for Spanish visitors. You will not regret the rather steep climb as the (A-376) road from the coast winds its way along the Grande Rio Guadaiza.

Back on the main street at Virgen De La Paz, 24, I discovered the solid white inviting Hotel Maestranza, deriving its name from the bullring it faces. This historical 4* fifty-four room hotel is a wonderful find in the middle of this historic city. Even the dining facilities combine taste with tradition. It is on the site of the last residence of Pedro Romero, the world’s first bullfighter.

The friendly atmosphere and the well-trained staff particularly impressed me, as I toured the hotel. It is one of the three hotels I recommend but I will let you decide by location and price.

Ronda is special, historical and spectacular. Even Hemingway wrote of her charms. No visit to southern Spain is complete without it. Take the time to visit the sites slowly, with a guidebook or a guide.

 

Hotel Maestranza: Email: reserves@hotelmaestranza.com

Next door you will find their Sun & Shade Restaurant, SOL Y SOMBRA at No. 26. Here one can savor Spanish, Andalusian and typical dishes of Ronda.        

Ronda State Hotel for Tourism: Espana square, Phone: 95 2877500

Hotel Husa Queen Victoria: Phone: 95 2871240

The city’s two Tourist offices are :

Paseo de Blas Infante, Phone : 95 2187119

Fax : 95 2187147

Plaza de Espana, Phone: 952 871272

The Spain country code is 34.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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