Most people will have seen a picture of the 'new' bridge across the ravine that divides Ronda in two. It was built because the other two, lower, bridges had a habit of being washed away when the river flooded. Permission was granted for the building of a new bridge in 1542. It was completed in 1733. You think you have problems getting your villa finished? The bridge lasted six years before a design defect was discovered and it collapsed. In 1758 the bridge you see now was started and took twenty nine years to complete. A visit to the bridge museum costs 2 Euros and is worth every centimo.
The outcrop of rock on which Ronda sits has been occupied since Roman times but it was the Moors that established Ronda as a town and it became one of the capitals of the five coras of Al Andalus. Their architectural influence is very obvious in the old part of the town. In 1485 the town was taken by the Christian kings and the Andalucian character took over. Immigrants to the town wanting to start a business found the taxes and customs duties a little onerous so they established their own town on the other side of the gorge. The open-air free market became El Mercadillo and soon attracted permanent residences built in a unique style called 'Enlightenment'. This tradition of free markets lives on in Andalucia, as does the tax avoidance ethos.
On a more cultural note Ronda has a number of fine museums, two in the old part of town are well worth a visit. The Municipal museum is in the Mondragon Palace. The building itself is a wonderful example of Moorish architecture and costs 2 Euros to enter. The second is Museo Tematico Lara, again in the old town. This houses an eclectic private collection of cultural exhibits said to be the most important in Spain.
Nearby is the Museo de Bandolero, the Bandit Museum. This could only exist here, basically it is a celebration of the lives of various highwaymen, smugglers, thieves and vagabonds who lived in the area from the 16th Century right through to the mid 20th Century. The museum manages to portray these rogues as a romantic, chivalrous cross between Robin Hood and Al Capone. The museums' serious message is reserved for two small rooms right at the back. Here there is a brief history, almost a footnote, of the Guardia who were originally established to wipe out these bandits. And they did. Or did they? Maybe the survivors just moved to the Costa del Sol.
What has this untypical history done to the inhabitants of Ronda? Well they are perhaps the most friendly, welcoming group in Andalucia. Visit the tourist information office opposite the bullring. Here a charming young lady with perfect English will give you maps, itineraries and tips on places to see. Also in El Mercadillo are hundreds of restaurants and tapas bars that all welcome you. Ronda is famous for its Rabo de Torro(Oxtail Stew), on the menu everywhere. It is also famous for its range of tapas. Many places offer you a selection for a fixed price but the more adventurous can just choose what they want from the bar itself. For the best value go in the places crowded with Spanish. Hnos. Macias on the street opposite the bullring is recommended. Either way you will not go hungry or break the bank.
One visit is not enough to fully appreciate Ronda, its architecture, its humour, its residents or its 'Enlightenment'. Not mentioned here are the Arabic baths, the Jardines de Cuenca, Puente Viejo, Puente Arabe, Casa del Rey Moro with its water mine and gardens built into the walls of the gorge, the city walls, the Arabic mills in the bottom of the gorge or any of the other dozen or so monuments, churches, fountains and museums.
Ronda has a way of drawing you back for more.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.