Project Description

Ronda, one of the most interesting towns on the road of the Pueblos Blancos (white villages), right in the middle of the Sierra de Ronda and just a few kilometers from the Costa del Sol, is part of the province of Malaga and is separated in two by the Tajo del Ronda, a breach deep of over 150 meters. This territory was occupied by the Celts, Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs, and was finally reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs. The old town with Arab reminiscences and medieval layout was declared “cultural point of interest” and extends south of the Guadalevín, while the modern city which has rised from the earth 16th century to the north of this river. Several bridges connect the two halves of Ronda, including the famous Puente Nuevo, the “New Bridge”, a true iconic landmark of the city.

A cliff-side town

To discover this city, I am accompanied by a Japanese friend I met during my language course in Granada – Nozomi. As she also is interested in visiting Ronda, we decide to take a train from Granada to our destination where we will spend a whole day. This is certainly the most direct and cheapest way (~EUR 30.- round trip), as we arrive directly at the edge of the city center and only have to reach the historic part of the city on foot. You can also get to Ronda by bus, but the journey is longer because the road passes through Malaga where it stops several times.

It is still very early when we arrive at Granada train station at around 6:30AM. It is dark and the place is almost deserted. We order a coffee while waiting for the train (very bad coffee and too expensive for what it was), but fortunately, we have something to eat with us, but have planned to enjoy it once in Ronda, later in the morning. We wait patiently on the platform and once the train arrives, we take our seat for a trip around 2:30 before finally reaching Ronda at about 9:15AM. Using a rudimentary map and our sense of direction, we walk towards the edge of the cliff to more easily reach the historic center.

Along the way, we pass in front of the Church of Merced, former convent dating from 1585. It’s Sunday and although a Mass is taking place, we enter in the building and admire the interior before continuing our way. We pass then by a small park, “La Alameda del tajo”, with many trees, benches, fountains, statues and even some cages where birds nest. The place exudes calm and it is very pleasant to visit it so early.

Right after the park, we finally reach the edge of the cliff, on what is in my opinion one of the best views of the area, one among many others. Not a cloud in the sky, the sun is just rising and already the view of the Guadalevín Valley is simply breathtaking! We then follow the dirt road along the cliff, “El Paseo Blas Infante” or “The Blas Infante Promenade” in the name of an Andalusian politician, ideologue and writer. A few minutes later, we arrive to the arena of Ronda, the oldest one in Spain (1785).

It is also considered one of the most beautiful in the world and home to a bullfighting museum, which presents, among several topics, the history of the great dynasties of bullfighters of Ronda: the Romero and the Ordóñez. It’s still early and the place is closed, but I do not intend to pay to visit it (EUR 6.50.-), due to what is happening there regularly. Some call it a tradition, I call it animal torture. Anyway. We enter the premises of the nearby tourist office that has just opened to get a map of the city, more readable than the one we currently have. We return on the Blas Infante Promenade towards the Mirador (viewpoint), impossible to avoid for tourists visiting Ronda.

This is a kiosk made of wood and metal and whose position – on a small stone balcony – allows you to admire a stunning 270° panorama of the valley and part of the old town. We take some pictures and also eat our packed “breakfast”, comfortably seated and in contemplation with the surrounding landscape. Later, we continue our visit, as the best is yet to come!

Thanks to our new map, we now follow a stone paved path that goes around the Parador de Ronda (old town hall) to finally reach the famous Puente Nuevo, the “New Bridge”, a colossal engineering work. Dating from the 18th century, its foundations rest on the base of the precipice, itself impressive as seen from up there. Its height is 98 meters and length is 70 meters. We notice that it is possible to visit the interpretation center within the bridge itself for a few euros. We get down a few steps and visit the small place where some posters and explanatory movies show the construction of the bridge and the challenges faced at the time.

After this visit, we go up the steps, then cross the bridge without forgetting to take some pictures of the surroundings. Hey, look over there – they are people walking  along the river all the way down. We throw an eye on our map and find a path that seems to lead to the foot of the bridge. But to go there, we will have to cross a few streets and alleys in the old town. I’ll see by the way if there is a house for sale in the area. Imagine waking up every day with such a panorama!

This is a mandatory activity to perform when visiting such old cities. Nothing pleases me more than to admire at my pace the architecture and the history of a place. For this, nothing better than getting lost in the streets and lanes, which is not as easy as we think. Yet one quickly feels good here, with such contrasting white facades decoration dressed with black iron grids and decorated here and there with a few flower pots. At the corner of a street, a house draws our attention, San Juan Bosco’s. A sign at the entrance tells us that the building (at least the ground floor) can be visited and so is the garden, offering to tourists a wonderful view for a few euros. Let’s go!

This house is a small modernist palace built in the early 20th century. It is located on the cornice of the ravine, in the heart of historical center of Ronda. The palace belonged to the family of “Granadinos” which was sold as a last will to the Salesian Congregation as a rest home for elderly and sick priests from the religious order. The house retains a beautiful courtyard decorated with evocative Nazarene glazed tiles and a complete collection of regional ceramics. The gardens are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the building, thanks to its decoration and the incredible panoramic view they offer. We finally spend a few minutes inside, where we can admire paintings and tapestries from the 19th century and some beautiful walnut wood furniture.

After having visited the house, we walk a few minutes and quickly find the entrance to the path leading us at the foot of the New Bridge. We slowly walk next to the cliff with other tourists and a group of pilgrims. Once all the way down, the view of the bridge, like embedded between two huge rocks, is amazing. From the bottom, the construction is even more impressive than it seems from up there! The river on our left, we pass under the bridge along a very narrow path that could quickly become dangerous assuming the rock would be wet, which is fortunately not the case today.

At the end of the path, after having climbed on some rocks and pipes (quite chaotic, I’m telling you!), we arrive in front of a large pool which marks the end of the accessible part of the canyon. We see further a cavity from which emerge other tourists: we will have to find access to this place! But meanwhile, we admire the high rocks surrounding us and waving at tourists beckoning us from the deck. We then retrace our way to see more closely the Arc of Christ or “El Arco del Cristo”. This is the ideal place to take beautiful pictures of the New Bridge, or even to practice rock climbing, as evidenced by a few tourists on their way to the top of one big rock.

We go up the road to return to our starting point, then walk south. We then arrive on Mondragon Square, located directly opposite the “Palace of Mondragon” (“El Palacio de Mondragón”), a Mudejar style building from the 15th century which houses today the Municipal Archaeological Museum. It’s a visit I really recommend if you are in Ronda, as the many courtyards of the building and their decorations are quite admirable. The outside courtyard, and the panoramic view associated are also to be mentioned. On the first floor, there is a very interesting archaeological exhibition, from the first traces of dwellings in the vicinity of Ronda until today.

We leave the museum and continue our walk to “Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent” (“Square of the Duchess of Parcent”), once the center of the city during the Muslim era. On the square is situated, among other buildings, the Church of Santa María la Mayor (St. Mary Major), built on the site of the former main mosque, whose mihrab is the only remaining element today. Just opposite the church is the current Ayuntamiento (City Hall).

Well, that’s not all, but we’re starting to get hungry and it is almost 1PM. Before we left Granada, I spotted a small restaurant quite highly rated on Internet, but located further outside the old town. As it is still within walking distance, we continue our way down the promontory to finally find ourselves in front of the old city wall and “Puerta de Almocábar” (Almocabar Gate), one of the ancient walls and gates to the city, built in the 13th century and restructured in the period of Carlos V. This gate is named after the word “Al-maqabir” (cemetery) as being near the main extramural necropolis, according to Islamic custom. It was one of the main gates to the city and allowed to enter the upper quarter and the Muslim Medina. The Church of the Holy Spirit, Gothic building of great homogeneity, is situated just behind this wall.

The restaurant we spotted is still closed, despite the agitation sounds coming from the inside. Also, waiting for the place to open, we climb the surrounding wall and we walk a bit there. A little later, we finally spot a man preparing the restaurant’s terrace. We go there, but we are informed that the restaurant is already full and all the tables are reserved. Disappointed, we take a look around. Fortunately for us, just after the gate is “Plaza Ruedo Alameda” (Ruedo Alameda Square), known for its many bars and restaurants. We tell ourselves that we will certainly find a good and cheap restaurant nearby. And indeed, we sit on a nice table located on the square itself and wait to see what the restaurant’s menu has to offer.

A man arrives after a few minutes and explains us, with a flyer, the concept of the restaurant. Here, at Casa Maria, there is no menu. The dishes are made according to the arrival of fresh products and to individual desires of the cook. “No menu, but then what can we eat?” we asked. “A bit of everything,” we are told. “Okay, let’s have a bit of everything then, with some sangria please!”. And off goes the waiter. After about 15 minutes, plates are coming and let me tell you that we are far from being disappointed when we see this “procession” of exquisite scents and colors, not to mention the quantity: quite enough, even too much!

For twenty euros per person, it is frankly one of the best restaurant I have ever been in and I easily recommend it! In addition at the end of our meal, we receive a bottle of a local red wine as a gift, another good reason to give the Casa Maria an excellent rating! And just to whet your mouth, here’s an overview of our menu.

We then go back from where we came from, and return to the “Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent” (“Place of the Duchess of Parcent”). From there, we go around the Church of Santa María la Mayor, then we head north, passing in particular in front of the Minaret of San Sebastian. This is a small tower that was part of one of the mosques of Ronda and who later served as the bell tower of St. Sebastian church, which doesn’t exist anymore. We follow our map and some signs in the streets along “Calle Marques de Salvatierra” to finally arrive at the “House of the Moorish King”, our next visit.

The House of the Moorish King (Casa del Rey Moro) is a magnificent small palace dating from the 18th century whose interior is quite irregular with many corridors and staircases. After paying EUR 5.- to enter the place, we start our tour through the gardens, accompanied by our “Peacock guide”. Built in 1923 by the French architect Forest on the orders of the Duchess of Parcent, these precious gardens are installed on the terrace, decorated with tiles and with a constant presence of water fountains, small canals and ponds covered with lilies. A beautiful place!

After a tour of the gardens, we enter to the ancient water catchment mine of Arab origin and dating from the 14th century. It is a complex Islamic work that descend the ravine through which flows the Guadalevín river. It was built under the orders of Muslim King Abomelic who used hundred of Christian captives for its excavation. Through a cleft in the rock, a staircase of 236 steps was carved vertically on 60 meters. Once inside, we discover a set of different rooms and halls (sometimes with one or more windows), from simple water tanks to homes, sometimes used as powder room or grain deposit. Once arrived at the bottom, on the platform at the edge of the river, we found ourselves a few meters away from the place we were before when walking below the bridge. Impressive ! We feel so small between these huge rocks! Both ways up and down proved to be a little bit chaotic, as the stone is wet and very slippery in some places due to water infiltration. Watch your steps! Oh, and also note that the Palace itself is currently closed to the public and only the gardens and the “mine” can be visited, which is quite enough!

We now walk down the cobbled stone street to the Arab baths. In doing so, we pass under the Gate of Philip V, one of the main gates of the old town. After the collapse of the first “New Bridge” in 1741, this access to the old town was then very popular until the completion of the current New Bridge in 1793. Once at the bottom of the town, we arrive in front of the Arab baths, obviously closed on Sundays. Well, these are the risks of traveling on weekends, but from what we can see from the outside, we do not necessarily miss much. We then ascend towards the New Bridge by taking the Tannery Bridge and the Old Bridge.

The first is of Arab origin and dates from the 13th century. This was one of the first points of union between the two sides of the “Tajo de Ronda”. It was it which made possible the expansion of the city beyond the rift and access to the River Guadalevín for livestock watering. Over the years, artisans working in the textile and leather industry settled in the area, hence the name of the bridge. The second one, the Old Bridge, has its first historical reference after the reconquest of Ronda by the Catholic Monarchs in the late 15th century, but its origin is controversial. For some, it is of Roman origin and later rebuilt by the Arabs, and for others, it is a Muslim construction.

Just after the Old Bridge, on the left is the beginning of the path leading through the Gardens of Cuenca, an ideal way to go up to the city’s heights through a very nice landscape, not to mention the view from the edge of the cliff ! Once on the heights, you can even see the New Bridge! The place is decorated with trees and benches, and we take quite our time to admire the panorama. Once back next to the New Bridge, we mark a break in the Plaza de España (Spain Square) where we have an icecream. We can definitely feel the tourism aspect in the area just by looking at the prices!

The time to get to the train station for our journey back to Granada approaches, but we still have some time to walk for a while in the streets of the new town, especially in the Plaza del Socorro, one of the most popular square in Ronda with many cafes and restaurants on one side and a beautiful parish church on the other – Socorro Parroquia de Nuestra Señora. And it is finally back on the platform of Ronda’s train station that our trip comes to an end. Our train leaves the city at 5.30PM and arrive about 2:30 later in Granada.

It was simply a beautiful day! The sun was up all day, the different panoramic views kept us busy, Nozomi, myself and our cameras, the food was exquisite and I honestly had such a great time there! Ronda is a must see and spending a night there seems worthwhile to me if you want to enjoy all the wonders offered by the city in a nice rhythm of discovery, without necessarily having to run around. Remember to have lunch at Casa Maria, you will not regret it!