Part One – Da-do-Ron-Ron-Ron, Da-do-Ron-da
It’s been 3 years since we last took an international flight – 3 years in which the world turned topsy-turvy in so many ways. But we decided it was time to escape winter’s grip and jet off to (hopefully) warmer climes once again. It’s been almost a quarter of a century since we last visited Andalucia in Southern Spain and we thought that, for now at least, a three hour flight was preferable to going long haul to the other side of the World.
So, we left Birmingham airport on a cold and rather overcast day and hopped over the Channel, down through France and into Spain, where the weather started clearing. By the time we landed in Malaga the weather was sunny and a warm 18 C.
We picked up our hire car, popped into the local Lidl for some basic supplies and headed off to the city of Ronda, an hour and a quarter from Malaga.
The area around Ronda was settled thousands of years ago but it became more prominent in the Roman era when the City of Acinipo, which means ‘amongst the vineyards‘, was established a few kilometres away. At that time a castle was built at ‘Arunda’ and as the Roman Empire declined so Arunda, or Ronda as it became known, slowly gained prominence.
The reason for this is pretty easy to see as you wander around the outer parts of the city because ‘old’ Ronda occupies a spectacular site, perched high above the surrounding plain. It is one of the few cities in the world which has a gorge running through it and the ‘El Tajo’ ravine, 200 mtrs deep in places, made the city impregnable before the era of the canon.
When the Moors from the Muslim world invaded Spain in the eighth century they recognised the unique geographic location of ‘Madinat Runda’ and developed it as a fortress town. If you wander down the narrow streets of the ‘new town’ you reach what was the original road leading into the city. This road went all the way to Granada, which was one of the great cities of the Arab world.
Next to what was the original entrance to the ‘medina’ or city, and outside the city walls is the impressive Arab baths. Modelled on a design perfected by the Romans, these baths were a sanitary facility for those about to enter the citadel or the nearby mosque but, just as importantly, as a place for meetings and commerce.
The baths were built partially underground to conserve the heat generated by furnaces which were continuously fed with firewood. Water was drawn up from the adjacent river by ‘donkey power’. The donkey trotted round in a circle attached to a pulley which enabled a clever arrangement of clay receptacles to be lowered into the water and brought to the surface to be tipped into an aqueduct and thence to a storage pond.
Hot steam would be channeled under the floor of the hot room, or al-bayt al-wastami, a medieval sauna. There was, of course, a cold room for cooling down and a warm room for massages or just for resting.
The baths, although lacking their original decoration and furnishings, have been restored very well and the domed roofs of the rooms, with their beautifully patterned light wells give a real sense of what it was like 1300 years ago.
From the baths you can enter the city via what was once the main gateway, the Puerta de la Cijara. This would have been protected by a fortress but that has sadly been destroyed. However, if you carry on along the road, you can get a fantastic view of the ancient walls, the Murallas de Levante, of the muslim city. Here you can appreciate just how difficult it would have been for any invaders to take the city by storm.
In fact, it was only in 1485 that the city came under Christian rule after a seven day siege. The moors were eventually ejected from Spain, Ronda being one of the last places to fall to the crusading armies.
La Cuidad, or old Ronda was still protected by its deep gorge but by the eighteenth century, with Spain relatively settled, it was outgrowing its small space. A new bridge, the Puente Nuevo, was built to span El Tajo and it is this which draws the crowds. And pretty impressive it is too.
From the bridge you can walk along the top of the ridge with views down into the river and valley below and to the distant mountains. Or you can wander into town for a well earned rest, some tapas and some excellent local wines.