The oldest part of the town, called La Ciudad, is perched atop the highest point of the rocky outcrop, while at its feet lies the quarter of San Francisco, also known as El Barrio. On the other side of the Tajo gorge is the new part of the town, a bustling commercial area, referred to as El Mercadillo, which sprang up at the very beginning of the sixteenth century when traders decided to set up their stalls outside the town walls to avoid paying taxes.
The old and new parts of the town are beginning to merge into one, a tendency that started in the eighteenth century with the construction of the Puente Nuevo, the new bridge, so called to distinguish it from previous constructions. The original bridge, dating from Roman times, was replaced by the Arab bridge and this in turn by the Puente Viejo, the old bridge, built in the seventeenth century, while the following century saw the construction of the new bridge, something of a misnomer since it is over two hundred years old.
Ronda’s cultural activity is focused in the old part of the town, at the centre of which is the Mondragón Palace, probably the most emblematic and outstanding building in Ronda, used on two occasions by Isabel and Ferdinand. This Mudejar-style palace, dating from the early fourteenth century, has been completely restored and now houses the municipal museum and conference centre, and is the headquarters for the Spanish courses organised by the University of Malaga during the summer.
Its position, crowning a rocky outcrop, converts the whole of Ronda into a natural mirador. The recently opened Parador Hotel, located in a building formerly occupied by the Town Hall, stands alongside the New Bridge and from its windows one can contemplate a spectacular panorama that takes in the 100-metre deep Tajo gorge. There are more breathtaking views, too, from Alameda Gardens, built at the beginning of the nineteenth century and financed, as the story goes, by the fines levied on townspeople found to be behaving improperly.
September has a special significance in Ronda. It is the month when the town celebrates the Pedro Romero Fair with the traditional Goyesque bullfights, one of the most representative aspects of the celebrations and a tradition dating back to the latter nineteenth century.
The year 1954 marked the bicentenary of the birth in Ronda of bullfighter Pedro Romero and to honour the occasion the Town Hall collaborated with Ronda’s Real Maestranza bullring in organising a Goyesque bullfight, much the same as any current day bullfight but with the singular exception that both the bullfighter and his team donned the attire worn in Goya’s day and age. The inspiration for this custom can be attributed to the great friendship that existed between Francisco de Goya and Pedro Romero, motive too for adopting the name Goyesque bullfights and the characteristic dress of the participants.
The Goyesque bullfights have been celebrated regularly since 1957, interrupted only in 1963 due to work being carried out in the bullring. They are still fought exactly as they were at their outset, more than 40 years ago.
Ronda’s bullring (Real Plaza de Toros), the forerunner and oldest of the five Maestranza bullrings, was inaugurated on May 19th, 1785, under the auspices of the Maestranza, an equestrian society responsible for the military and equestrian training of the aristocracy, and is considered the cathedral of bullfighting.
As the cradle of bullfighting, Ronda would be failing if it did not have a bullfighting museum. Its director had already gathered the material which would form the basis of the collection and so on July 22nd 1984, the museum was officially opened. It is divided into several sections: one is dedicated to the Romero dynasty from Ronda, another to the Ordóñez family, one to bullfighting from the 17th to 19th centuries, another to the 20th century, while a further section focuses on contemporary bullfighting, which includes amongst its exhibits the suit of lights worn by Jesulín de Ubrique in his first bullfight with picadors held in the Ronda bullring.
Don’t miss also the Palacio de Salvatierra, built in 1784, the historic gates, and the Arab baths dating back to the 13th century.
Ronda is a town for enjoying the views, a comment repeated to exhaustion, quite true, but the views are really quite exceptional. The Alameda gardens provide one of the many miradors from which to survey the surrounding countryside, a view destined to give you vertigo and make you draw your breath or exclaim in astonishment. It comes as no surprise to learn that the central balcony is jocularly known as the “balcón de c****”, prompted by exclamations heard from people looking down over the edge of the balcony (listen for it when you go – we are not allowed to print the word!) The New Bridge and the Tajo gorge are an obligatory stop on any tour, and the restaurant located alongside the bridge not only offers a chance to savour the local food but has a terrace with views of the gorge and the Mina steps carved out of the rock centuries ago by prisoners.
The new part of the town, near to the bullring, is a warren of streets with bars and restaurants and there is certainly no shortage of places for a “tapa” tour.
The historic part of the town is very picturesque, but the lower side can be a bit of trial with its steeply inclined cobblestone streets, which can have you gasping for breath. Decent footwear is definitely advisable too, since leather soled shoes don’t seem to grip on the cobblestones and you can find yourself slipping down.
How to get there
The fast C-339 highway connects San Pedro Alcántara and the rest of the Costa del Sol with Ronda. There are also buses several times a day from Malaga (Portillo, Ferron Coín and Los Amarillos bus companies) and the Costa del Sol (Portillo bus company) and other cities. There is a full-day excursion to Ronda with various pick-up points along the coast; information is available from travel agencies.
When to go:
Any time is a good for visiting Ronda, although winter is cooler than down on the coast and the wind can be fairly bracing. September is the ideal time, with mild temperatures and the added enticement of the fair. Easter is an interesting time too, for the solemnity of the Holy Week religious processions.