OCTOBER 20-22: Remarkable Ronda Part 1

Posted on Feb 26, 2012 in category

Our drive along Costa del Sol’s freeway which runs parallel with the coast, revealed a phenomenal amount of tourist development.  Although the land grab for tourism began as early as the 1960’s, it was really 1980’s that saw the start of a maniacal splurge of European currencies on apartment blocks and associated businesses to cater for the continent’s ‘climatic immigrants’. In fact, over 15,000 hectares of agricultural land was consumed by this frenzied building feast. Corruption and incompetence at the local government level was common. The only challenge of the drive apart from the ecological observation was the final steep, winding climb to Ronda.

Ronda is perched on either side of a gorge called 'El Tajo’ with the old Moorish township ‘La Ciudad’ on one side and ‘El Mercadillo’ (post A.D.1485) on the other side of the gorge.  Our hotel was the Parador Hotel Ronda, a converted City Hall with spectacular views of the ‘New Bridge’ (replaced the collapsed Roman bridge in A.D.1751-1793) that links the two main districts of Ronda. The Paradores Hotel chain was established by the State to conserve heritage buildings and to promote tourism albeit at the exclusive end of town. See: http://www.paradores-spain.com/?gclid=CIiusp6xu64CFWJKpgod7zapKw



Parador Hotel Ronda (top left) nicely nestled on top of Ronda’s massive 120 metres gorge. Moorish ‘La Ciudad’ is to the right of the New Bridge. Rio Guadiaro flows through the gorge. In 2010 the river became polluted with bacteria, ammonia, nitrogen and sewerage from upstream piggeries. Jamon or cured ham is expensive in more than one way!

For a cool YouTube version (Spanish) on the ‘El Puente Nuove’ see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U3mFcrQLdU&feature=player_embedded

Arriving early at Ronda, we decided to keep ‘The Bomb’ humming along past Ronda and to travel through the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park to the town of Grazalema. Visiting Grazalema on such a beautiful, warm sunny day was special as the town records Spain’s highest rainfall. The Natural Park (declared by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in 1977) looked in great shape with abundant ‘Quercus suber’ trees used for cork production, rare Spanish pine trees and carob trees. Tourism has been managed well in this ‘pueblo blanco’ village. The people are extremely house-proud with most locals passionately caring for and conserving their properties. 75% of properties in Grazalema are owned and permanently lived in by the townspeople compared to 45% on the Costa del Sol. See: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/biosphere-reserves/europe-north-america/spain/grazalema/


Gorgeous Grazalema, a great example of conserving heritage as a ‘pueblo blanco’ (looking north)



Looking south over the town



House-proud in Grazalema!




A water fountain with Visigoth origins. A community laundry is opposite this fountain



Not hard to imagine the big community wash day! There are more basins on the other side. An abundant water supply also assisted the woollen textile industry of Grazalema.



A museum has been established inside the old woollen textile mill of Grazalema. 30,000 arrobas of wool weighing the equivalent of 50 elephants was used by this mill in A.D.1850.



This fountain divided the town into two quarters: ‘big bull penis’ citizens; ‘little bull penis’ citizens. The former lived north of this fountain in the higher section of town and were involved in pastoral and farming livelihoods whilst the latter people south of this fountain worked mainly in the woollen mills. After a delicious lunch of ‘jamon Iberica bellota’  or cured ham in a family run cafe on the Plaza de Espana, we returned to Ronda to enjoy our Parador experience.



A great cafe in the Plaza de Espana (main entrance is bottom right of the photo)



Just to the right of our cafe was another ancient fountain called ‘Fuente Plaza de Espana’ (Visigoth)


Back in Ronda, we checked in to the Parador; then, we quickly set out to explore the area around the gorge. Close by was the bullring of Ronda that developed out of one of Philip II’s flamboyant cavalry exercises in the 16th century. Bullfighters on foot replaced the cavalry as the main act in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ronda had an important role in this transition as some of its matadors introduced more flair into their bullfights. The stone bullring took 6 years to build and opened in A.D.1785. Although only relatively small at 66 metres in diameter for its arena, it is cited as being one of Spain’s most elegant.



Plaza de Toros where Pedro Romero (A.D. 1754-1849) became so famous as a matador that Goya was commissioned to design his outfit, the “traje de luces” (suit of lights). A festival is still held each year in both Romero and Goya’s honour.



The '’New Bridge’ took over 40 years to build opening in A.D.1793. Some 50 people died during the bridge’s construction.



The ‘Convento de Santo Domingo’ near the New Bridge was built in the early 16th century for the Dominican Order, notorious for masterminding the Spanish Inquisition. The building has undergone many restoration projects over time due to fires, encroachment from the New Bridge construction and a type of demolition by neglect for many decades. However, the chapel still has some original features from the Mudejar era.



Frescoes are still evident on the chapel’s cupola although evidence of fire damage is also on display.



Fresco of a fearsome Dominican monk








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