Ronda is a mountaintop city in Spain set dramatically above the El Tajo gorge. An incredible stone bridge spans the deep ravine. separating Ronda’s 15th-century ‘new’ town from its old Moorish section.
I had never heard of Ronda until reading through the itinerary for Tauck’s Week in Spain tour. A trip we took this past fall. I briefly described Ronda in an overview of our ten-day Iberian vacation in, See Spectacular Spain in September.
Ronda is built astride a huge gash in the mountains carved out by the Río Guadalevín. It is one of the oldest towns in Spain. Built on two separate cliffs, Ronda is connected by the most famous bridge in Spain. Even though it was built in the 18th century, it is known as “The New Bridge.” Old is really, old in Ronda. Think Caesar old!
Often appearing on lists of not-to-be-missed Spanish towns, Ronda is described as one of the most beautiful and visited cities in all of Andalucía. And, despite arriving with high expectations, Ronda did not disappoint. The views took my breath away. And the strong breeze nearly took my hat too!
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Location, Location, Location
We started our visit with lunch at Parador de Ronda, the former town hall on the ‘new’ side of town. I took the picture above from the opposite side of the gorge. The parador is situated in a spectacular spot in the heart of the city with incredible, unparalleled views of the deep ravine.
‘Parador’ is the name given in Spain to luxury hotels managed by a state-run company and usually located in buildings of historic importance such as fortresses, monasteries and castles; but also new buildings set in nature reserves and areas of outstanding beauty.
In retrospect, my husband and I would have preferred to spend less time on a formal meal in the Parador’s large dining room. Lunch took too long. We would have rather ate al fresco, in one of the many restaurants around the city.
After lunch, we went outside to take in all the amazing views from the parador’s patio, terrace and overlooks. Here is looking out to a valley and olive groves below.
Ronda is usually described as being surrounded by lush river valleys. However, Spain and Portugal were in drought conditions last September. Still, the views were spectacular.
Standing on the parador’s terrace and looking to the opposite side of the gorge, is the old Moorish part of Ronda.
Notice all the white washed buildings sparkling in the Spanish sun? That’s a characteristic of Ronda. It is the largest of Andalucía’s so-called, white towns. Many of these homes have been in the same families for generations.
Bridge too Far?
Let’s take a closer view of the New Bridge, being careful not to lean too far over the fence…
Can you believe that the bridge once served as a prison? Gorgeous to look at but I wouldn’t want to be a resident!
Our walking tour of Ronda began in front of the parador and then proceeded across the bridge. I was standing on the bridge, when I nearly lost my hat to the wind. It’s a long, long drop to the gorge and below! We could hear the river and falls, but couldn’t really see them from above. I understand hiking in the valley below offers equally wondrous views.
The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was actually completed in 1793. It took forty-two years to build.
Here’s the view to the left, at the other end of the bridge. See the people perched on terraces enjoying their lunch?
The gorge narrows and opens up to another beautiful valley and mountains in the distance. Views everywhere!
On the left-hand side of the photo, you can see the Cuenca Gardens situated on the edge of the gorge.
Julius Caesar declared Ronda (then named Acinipo) a city in the first century AD. Like I said, really old.
Later, the Moors invaded. Ronda’s old town dates to Islamic times, when it was an important cultural center; filled with mosques and palaces.
When we crossed the bridge and entered old Ronda, it was siesta time. The streets were nearly empty. We toured one of the white building seen sitting on the edge of the gorge from the parador. Originally a private home, it is now a retreat for priests. Tours help finance the building’s upkeep.
Isn’t the back garden and fountain lovely? And, check out the overlook of the valley.
This is where I took the first picture with the parador perched on the cliff.
Nice digs, huh? I’d like to retreat here!
We continued exploring old Moorish Ronda on foot, seeing Arabic influences in the architecture, and lovely squares and gardens.
There were churches and bodegas,s with people sipping wine along the way too.
Plaza de Toros
We finished our tour of Ronda back across the bridge at Plaza de Toros, a legendary bullring.
The Real Maestranza bullring (real means royal) is the largest, and one of the oldest and most picturesque in Spain. It was built in 1785 by the same architect who built the New Bridge. The double-layered, arched viewing stands can hold up to 5000 spectators.
The History of Bullfighting
We started in the bullfighting museum. The decoration and clothing of bullfighters was reminiscent of paintings by Spain’s famous artist, Goya. No matter what you think of bullfighting, the matador costumes and art are a feast for the eyes.
Our guide had our group entranced. He was very passionate about the history of bullfighting and it’s cultural significance to Spain; especially in Ronda. Some regions of the country have outlawed bullfighting. It’s very controversial.
As our guide explained, bullfighting was originally on horseback for military purposes. In 1572, the king established the Royal Cavalry Order of Ronda for equestrian exercises and keeping horses in good shape. The defensive training fighting bulls became spectacles with knights on horseback.
The rise of bullfighting games, led the Royal Cavalry to build Ronda’s bullring.
Modern bullfighting was invented here later, in the late 18th century. Francisco Romero is credited with giving bullfighting its modern day rules, with the introduction of the cape. His grandson, Pedro became one of Spain’s greatest bullfighters.
Ronda’s fame also spread by its close association with Ernest Hemingway (a lover of bullfighting) and Orson Welles (whose ashes are buried in the town).
Our guide demonstrated how a matador takes small steps — in a straight line — that looks like a balletic dance. Apparently, it isn’t the color red that bulls react to, it’s the movement of the cape. That’s why bulls charge the cape, while the matador mostly maintains his place.
I would have liked to linger in the museum more on our own. But, our bus was waiting to take us on to Granada for the night. There wasn’t even time to visit the gift shop, where I wanted to pick up posters for our sons.
Bullfights, like most sports, has a seasonality to it. We did not see a bullfight while in Spain, nor would we have by choice. But, I came home with a different perspective, and greater appreciation for it’s place in Spain’s history and culture.
Have you ever seen a bullfight? If so, what was it like, and how did you feel afterwards?
Return to Ronda
There was unfortunately a number of other important sites that our half day visit did not allow time for. We’ll have to return someday to see the Arab Baths, Mondragon Palace and museum (once the primary residence of Ferdinand and Isabella), Palace of the Moorish King and gardens, and La Mina — an Islamic staircase of 231 steps cut into the rock leading down the river.
I highly recommend an overnight in Ronda in order to let yourself enjoy long walks around the city, take time to dine with an amazing view, and sip wine in one of many bodegas. I would have loved to have tapas and Sangria at one of these cliff-hugging restaurants.
If you are interesting in traveling to Andalusia, check out 12 Best Things to Do While Visiting Ronda. I’m hoping to return one day and retrace our steps, adding the seven sites we missed. And, I’d stay overnight at the parador.
Ready to pack your packs? Or, have you ever been to Ronda and have tips to share?
If you are interested in traveling to Spain, don’t miss Seductive Seville Entices with Arabic Palace, Flamenco Dance.
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