Ronda Explorations: Arab Baths and Roman Ruins

I posted last week about the history of Ronda, the town where I’m living right now, and how its history spans pre-Roman Celtic times, through Christians, Moors, and back to Catholic with the Reconquista.  Over the weekend I dove deeper into two of the epochs, Roman and Muslim.  After spending Saturday in Gibraltar buying groceries with writing on the labels that I could actually understand (and getting completely lost in the mountains on the way), I was ready to get back into Spain the next day.

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Sunday we went to the ruins at Acinipo, also known as Old Ronda.  When the Romans were first here, there were two towns close to each other, and Acinipo was a thriving spot.  Situated up on a hill overlooking a valley on one side, with a high cliff on the other, it was a great defensive location.  I had read that there were Roman ruins there, but I figured maybe there was some rubble, and I’d think it was cool, and that would be it.  I had no idea what awaited me as I drove the 20 minutes through the countryside.

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You park in a small lot at the bottom of the hill, and walk through a fence.  There’s no entry fee, and there were only 4 other cars in the lot when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon.  You can see piles of stones around, and the outline of a tall building at the top, but as you walk up the hill you start to get a sense of the scale of the place.  The piles of rubble are where homes had been.  They were situated in a grid, with important buildings around the edges.  On one side there were thermal baths, and you can still see some of the pipes that ran the hot water underneath the floor.  At the top there’s a huge theater, which would have held probably at least 500 people.  You can stand on the stage and look out, imagining the crowds of people who would have sat there watching gladiator shows and other entertainment.

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Along the way you pass stone foundations showing the outlines of the rooms of homes, and you walk along the same grid layout on a path that had been worn through the centuries.  Acinipo was abandoned when the Goths arrived as Rome fell.  They thought that Ronda had better defenses and relocated everyone the 20km across the valley, up another hill, through another valley, and along the deep gorge into the city.  As I looked around at the rubble, it was easy to imagine families being forced to leave their homes, gathering the possessions they had. and hauling everything along the steep roads down into the deep valley.  Their home was never rebuilt – all the future settlement and fortifications were completed around Ronda.  The buildings that remain have been there, waiting to be noticed, for two millennia.

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It is awe inspiring and humbling to stand on the stage looking out at the amphitheater audience that was built by Roman slaves, sweating under the hot Andalusian sun two thousand years ago.

There is no cost to enter, but the hours are limited – Wednesday through Sunday from 9 to 2:30.

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Moving a millenium forward, Ronda has Arab baths in the very oldest part of the city, near the Arab Bridge, by the river.  It was the Christians’ ability to control this water supply that led to the thirsty surrender of the Muslim city to the Catholic forces.  By the main city gate there was a bath house.  Bath houses in Muslim cities were always situated near the main gate.  Generally the location would make it easier to transport the water, and additionally it meant that travelers could bathe before going further into the city, something that the Muslim religion values highly.

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These baths were built between the 13th and 14th century, during the Nasrid period of the kingdom of Granada, as the Christian forces were starting to gain momentum, and the kingdom tried to concentrate all their forces in a smaller, more powerful area.  Ronda itself was expanding past the original walls, and new ones were built near the bridge.  These baths are considered to be one of the best preserved on the Iberian Peninsula.

The baths include four rooms, some of which are underground.

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In the reception room and changing rooms the guests would receive a towel and change their clothes.

They would then move to the hot room, which was beside an oven and woodshed.  The water was hot enough that when it was on the ground it would evaporate, and create a steam room or sauna.

The warm room had a large pool, and spaces for massages or other treatments with perfumes.  You could also relax on a cushion and have a conversation with friends.  The water running underneath the floor, having passed under the hot room, would keep the room comfortably warm.

Then you would finish up in the cold room, which had two pools on either side of the room.

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There are gardens now which offer wonderful views up to the city.  You can also look at the remains of the water wheel and see how the water was supplied through a small aqueduct from the river to the baths.  The cost to enter is €3 and they don’t close for siesta, so you can visit all day.

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