There is still fog underneath the Puente Nuevo bridge, and the air is fresh, but from the east the sun sends warm light beams to “La Ciudad”. The waiters around the Plaza de España straighten tables and chairs, wipe off the dew of the parasols. The officer of the Policia Municipal has placed himself in front of the National Parador, waiting for traffic.
A scent of thyme rises from the valley and mingles with the taste of fresh coffee. The first locals who do not want to sit in the Churreria appear on the plaza. They have wrapped their churros in paper, have taken an already dried chair and now they wait for their café con leche. The mountains of the Sierra de Las Nieves in the south east look as if they were covered with snow. The fog has almost disappeared and the Tajo shows of all its terrible beauty in its deep cut in the rock. A typical spring day in Ronda at the Plaza de España.
One should take the time to go into one of the churrerias, either in the Carrera Espinell or in Calle Nuevo, get the churros wrapped up and walk to the square and eat it here with a cup Café con Leche and watch as everything slowly comes alive. As quickly as the cafes filling up with people, tourist buses arrive and the policeman slowly begins to give whistle signals. The sun warms the surrounding buildings, streets and alleys. Silence gives way in a slow, almost imperceptible process of hustle and bustle. Voices, car horns, the whistle of the policeman, the rattle of motor bikes, dogs barking, laughing, or frightened shrieks from the bridge, which reveals the yawning maw of the Tajo.
At this point 525 years ago King Ferdinand of Spain placed part of his artillery to get back Ronda from the Moorish ruler Hamet el Zegrer ‘. There was no house here, no road and no bridge. Only La Ciudad, on the other side of the Tajo. Ronda a beautiful, old city, where the Phoenicians settled, then the Romans, then again the Iberians and finally came the Moors.
And the Spanish king knew that he could take it, that he could win it back. He knew that his arms were wide ranging enough to bombard the city from this point. He also knew that only the deputy head of the Moorish city was here to conduct the defense .
Spies of Ferdinand whispered month ago about a upcoming attack on Malaga and there was no time to loose for the Moorish ruler Hamet el Zegrer’s. The Port of Malaga was the lifeline for Madinat Runda, as the Moors called Ronda. So he left with his men, the walls of the old fort and only a small number of his warriors stayed back to defend Ronda.
On the other the south side of the town in the nowadays called San Francisco District where the roads from the Costa del Sol and Algeciras meet just in front of the city gate “Puerta de Almocabar” Ferdinand stationed the rest of the artillery and bombed the city gate tower. It is precisely this gate the Spanish King rode through after seven days of siege. And he took possession of what was lost a good seven hundred years earlier.
Hamet el Zegrer exclaimed, when he heard of the fall of the city:” O my beloved Madinat Runda, you unfortunate, why did I leave you so careless through Almocabar.
The Muslim population was driven out of town and Ronda was shared among the nobles who had participated in the conquest. Almost all the buildings built after the reconquest are preserved in addition to most of the older Arab buildings.
On the other side of the Tajo where nowadays the police officer with his whistle tries to bring order in to the traffic El Mercadillo (the little market) established during the decades after the reconquest of Ronda. The trade tariffs, taxes and other charges for merchants and traders were high, (the crown needed money after the recapture)and so traders settled here outside the old city walls and provided goods in the following centuries and Ronda became an important market town in the region.
On the square in front of the Parador National buses from Malaga, Marbella, Estepona, from Jaen and Fuengirola arrive. German pensioners climb out of the Malaga bus and they stay at first dazzled by the sun and then strive to be in groups on the bridge. The newspaper-reading locals in the cafes on the Plaza de Espana have disappeared. They are off to their daily activities since a while now. Some tourists have now settled and they blink, with sunburned faces, in the now bright light of day. The first antique shops across the Tajo in the Calle Armiñán, Calle Tenorio and Calle Santo Domingo open their doors. The Rio Guadalevin river, about 450 feet below the bridge flows slowly and its water surface glistens in the sun.
The bridge with its brick arch was designed in the late 18th century by an architect named Martin Aldehuela. Legend has it that he fell into the deep gorge when he tried to fetch his hat . Another story says he was so impressed by its design that he said, he never would be able to design something similar in his life and he jumped in despair over this situation into the depth. Whatever may have caused Martin Aldehuelas death, he gave the world this stunning and unique monument. Located in the western cliff of El Mercadillo buildings are build into the dizzying height of the gorge wall. In the past this buildings served as a prison but now there are restaurants and cafes. Hemmingway wrote in his “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” that occasionally prisoners were thrown from the old walls alive into their certain death.
The sun is high, and it gets hot. In front of the Palacio de Mondragon, in the south of La Ciudad, in front of the Palacio del Marques de Salvatierra and in front of the Casa del Rey Moro tourists gather. They want to visit before the siesta starts,. Siesta starts at one and lasts till five in the afternoon. So there is still time to visit one or another building. The Casa del Rey Moro, “The House of the Moorish king,” is not accessible to the public. But from the garden of the house an underground staircase leads down to the river and it still can be seen from the other side of the Tajo.. The stages were carved into the rocks by Christian slaves and they were intended for water supply in times of siege. The house was once owned by a Moorish Emir who drunk his wine out of the skulls of his decapitated enemies.
Tourist with straw hats and baseball caps on their heads stroll down Calle Armiñán slowly wlking back to the Tajo. They may have visited the old city gate or Santa Maria Mayor, the local church wich stands on the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, probably the most picturesque place of Ronda just above the Ayuntamiento, the town administration. In the times of the Moorish occupation it was Moshe for the Friday prayer. It is a blend of Moorish architecture, gothic architecture and the Renaissance. The bell tower was just placed on the former minaret.
Back at the Plaza de Espana, one fled now under the umbrellas and fanning fresh air to oneself with one of the fans from the souvenir shops. Or one went to the Plaza de Socorro and now sits in one of the tapa bars eating a little something to an iced sherry, a “Fino,”wich is the served into frozen glasses.
Who wants to spend a little more and wants a real lunch, goes to Pedro Romero, opposite the Plaza de Toros. Amid all the great matadors, the actors and writers who greet the guests from hundreds of photographs at the walls of this establishment,one could ask for Jamon Cerrano de Pata Negra. This means Cerrano ham from the black pig. Well it is the best air-dried ham one could ever have. Hemmingway has dined here, Orson Wales as well and matadors like Bel Monte and El Cordobes, famous bull breeders and painters have their signatures left on the pictures on the walls. The restaurant is well run and food and wine well above average.
On the opposite side of the road the Plaza de Torro glost in the sun. However, some of the tourists found their way into the museum to see all the lights suits, the trophies, the prepared bull heads and then the Maestranza itself. According to legend, in the early eighteenth century some nobles practised the bullfight here which was done from the horse back in those days. During one of this games one of the hidalgos was thrown from his horse and as he lay on the floor there was a carpenter who had been watching the game. He jumped with his hat into the arena and distracted the bull from the fallen man. But he did not finish yet he presented some artful figures with the bull , who followed his figures with his hat. The bull fight, as we see it today was invented. The carpenter was knighted and two generations later, they put the rules in writing. And they are still in place today. But there is only one style like the strict style from Ronda. A strict ballet. A drama choreographed with no frills and burlesque, quite the contrary to the styles of Seville or Cordoba. Death defeated by the light, the grace, the grace and courage of a man. The Maestranza Ronda is known as the most beautiful and oldest bullring in Spain and it is true, built entirely of wood, with playful embellishments and columns, it is now 235 years the centre of the district and thus centre of Mercadillo and the whole town.
Between one and five clock clock, it is quiet at this time of year in Ronda. The shops are closed , except for a few souvenir shops and you can enjoy a glass of sherry in a shady bar or spend the afternoon siesta under one of the pine trees in the park at the Mirador El Campillo, the vantage point next to the Plaza de Toros. You can see from here across the country, the olive groves, the fields and the Sierra.
The sun is in the west and the roads are getting busier again. Likewise the small park. Some tourists cross the Avenida Poet Rilke, to take a look at the Reina Victoria Hotel, where Rainer Maria Rilke was staying for some time. The enthusiasm for the German poet is reflected not only in the naming of the avenue. You can find Rilke in restaurants, bars and even a driving school has borrowed the famous name.
The poet stayed here at the Hotel Reina Victoria from 9. December 1912 to February 17, 1913. The hotel is a british Victorian style house and was used by the british for officers from Gibraltar.
Although Rilke was not in good health, he wrote some beautiful poems and “The Sixth Elegy” here. To Anton Kippenberg, he wrote on December 18, 1912: “…… wonderful that I’ve found Ronda, where everything you wish for is summed: The most Spanish village, fantastic and very uphill build on two huge steep mountain ranges, the narrow deep Guadiaro gorge cuts the two ranges and the strong clean air…” In another letter he stated that it was probably the wrong time of year to get to Ronda. He will probably have experienced at first hand how cold it can be in winter in these mountains. Even icy roads in the months of December and January are not uncommon.
It’s getting cooler now and the shadows getting longer. Many of the tourists go back to their buses to be driven back the coast. The sun will set in about two hours behind the Plaza de Torro and the night will be again cool and fresh. A good evening for a look at the bar “Las Bridas” if flamenco is offered in the most Spanish city in Spain, the dance that Rilke inspired the lines:
As in the hand a sulphur match, first white,
stretches flicking tongues on every side
before it bursts in flame–: so in the circle
of close watchers, hot, bright, and eager
her round dance begins to flicker and fan out.
And all at once it is entirely flame.
With a glance she sets her hair ablaze
and whirls suddenly with daring art
her whole dress into this fiery rapture,
out of which, like startled snakes,
her bare arms stretch, alive and clacking.
And then: as if the fire grew tight to her,
she gathers it all up and casts it off
disdainfully, with imperious demeanour
and looks: It lies there raging on the ground
and keeps on flaming and does not give up–.
But triumphant, self-assured, and with a
sweet greeting smile she lifts her face
and stamps it out with little furious feet.