Ronda is located about 100 kilometres west of the city of Málaga, within the autonomous community of Andalusia and has a population is approximately 35,000 inhabitants.
Around the city are remains of prehistoric settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including the rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta. Ronda was however first settled by the early Celts, who, in the 6th century BC, called it Arunda. Later Phoenician settlers established themselves nearby to found Acinipo, known locally as Ronda la Vieja, Arunda or Old Ronda. The current Ronda is however of Roman origins, having been founded as a fortified post in the Second Punic War, by Scipio Africanus. Ronda received the title of city at the time of Julius Caesar.
In the 5th century AD Ronda was conquered by the Suebi, led by Rechila, being reconquered in the following century by the Eastern Roman Empire, under whose rule Acinipo was abandoned. Later the Visigoth king Leovigild captured the city. Ronda was part of the Visigoth realm until 713, when it fell to the Arabs, who named it Hisn Ar-Rundah ("Castle of Rundah") and made it the capital of the Takurunna province.
After the disintegration of the caliphate of Córdoba, Ronda became the capital of a small kingdom ruled by the Berber Banu Ifran, the taifa of Ronda. During this period Ronda received most of its Islamic architectural heritage. In 1065 Ronda was conquered by the taifa of Seville led by Abbad II al-Mu'tadid. The Islamic domination of Ronda ended in 1485, when it was conquered by the Marquis of Cádiz after a brief siege. Subsequently, most of the city's old edifices were renewed or adapted to Christian roles, while numerous others were built in newly created quarters such as Mercadillo and San Francisco. The Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda was founded in the town in 1572, with military finalities.
The Spanish Inquisitions affected the Muslims living in Spain greatly. Shortly after 1492, when the last outpost of Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula, Granada, was conquered, the Spanish decreed that all Muslims and Jews must either vacate the peninsula without their belongings or convert to Christianity. Many people overtly converted to keep their possessions, while secretly practising their religion. Muslims who converted only overtly were called Moriscos. Moriscos were required to wear upon their caps and turbans a blue crescent. Traveling without a permit meant a death sentence. This systematic suppression forced the Muslims to seek refuge in mountainous regions of southern Andalusia; Ronda was one such refuge. On May 25, 1566 Philip II decreed the use of the Arabic language (written or spoken) illegal, doors to homes to remain open on Fridays to verify that no Muslim Friday prayers were conducted, and heavy taxation on Moriscos trades. This led to several rebellions, one of them in Ronda under the leadership of Al-Fihrey. Al-Fihrey's defeated the Spanish army sent to suppress them under the leadership of Alfonso de Aguilar. The massacre of the Spaniards prompted Phillip II to order the expulsion of all Moriscos in Ronda.
In the early 19th century, the Napoleonic invasion and the subsequent Peninsular War caused much suffering in Ronda, whose inhabitants were reduced from 15,600 to 5,000 in three years. Ronda's area became the base first of guerrilla warriors, then of numerous bandits, whose deeds inspired artists such as Washington Irving, Prosper Mérimée and Gustave Doré. In the 19th century the economy of Ronda was mainly based on agricultural activities. In 1918 the city was the seat of the Assembly of Ronda, in which the Andalusian flag, coat of arms and anthem were designed.
Ronda's Romero family—from Francisco, born in 1698, to his son Juan, to his famous grandson Pedro, who died in 1839—played a principal role in the development of modern Spanish bullfighting. In a family responsible for such innovations as the use of the cape, or muleta, and a sword especially designed for the kill, Pedro in particular transformed bullfighting into "an art and a skill in its own right, and not simply ... a clownishly macho preamble to the bull's slaughter."
Ronda was heavily affected by the Spanish Civil War, after which much of the population emigrated elsewhere. The famous scene in Chapter 10 of Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", describing the 1936 execution of Fascist sympathisers in a (fictional) village who are thrown off a cliff, is considered to be modeled on actual events at the time in Ronda.
Iglesia de La Merced
In 1851 the Mercedarian Order moved to this locationfounding a convent dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, although it was not until 1585 that the church was built. The convent was closed down in 1822 and the building was used to house the African Regiment, passing into private hands in 1846. Today it belongs to the Barefoot Carmelite community who preserve the relic of one of Santa Teresa's hands.
The Bull Ring
The "new" bridge (Puente Nuevo) over the gorge
By far the loveliest public space in Ronda, this leafy square boasts an embarrassment of monuments. Its star is the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Mayor, whose exquisite belltower suggests Renaissance twinned with Toytown. This is another church commissioned by the Reyes Catolicos, sited with some purpose on the ruins of a mosque, believed to have been the centre of prayer in the Arabic Medina. Some of the Moorish detail remains, notably part of the mihrab, or prayer niche, but that’s largely obscured by an ornamental retable behind the altar. The church took over 200 years to build, and its three naves and chapels take in both gothic and Renaissance styles. Its greatest flourish, in a church not lacking flourishes, is the elaborate baroque screen of the altar of the Virgin del Mayor Dolor, which probably translates as great sadness but its Spanish curators read as ‘extreme pain’. It is the chief religious site in Ronda, but also fun to be around on the hour, when the quintuple carillon in its fairytale belltower can be heard singing throughout Ronda, ending in a forlorn and, for inhabitants, unintentionally hilarious clunk on its broken fifth bell. It is adjoined by the (usually closed) convents of Charity (Caridad) and the Claristas (the ‘poor Clares’ – ever wonder where Ronda gets all those nuns from?), each with their own private iglesia or chapel. The order of Caridad nuns are famous for baking special biscuits and cakes for Navidad, Christmas, which the enclosed order sells through a ‘turno’, or revolving hatch, in the door.
The Plaza’s collection of impressive buildings is completed by the unusually long and low arched ayuntamiento, or council building. This handsome edifice was originally constructed as a military prison in 1734, but later converted, with some architectural details imported from other buildings in the old city, into the town council. Today it houses a police station, sundry administration offices and, an interesting excuse to brave its doors, a public cafeteria open to all in its sotano, basement. The entrance features Mudejar-style ceiling designs, and the interior is spotted with archaeological finds from the Ciudad and surrounds. Plans to move much of the administration to a new headquarters on the outskirts may see it transformed into a new public space, so the current building should be visited before it is cerrado para reformas.
The town hall
Duquesa de Parcent
Iglesia de Padre Jesús
The old bridge