Ronda: How one city is Celtic, Roman, Moorish and Christian all at the same time

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Ronda is the closest big town to where we live, it’s where our Spanish school is located, and where we do most of our shopping (when we don’t want to make the drive to Little England aka Gibraltar).  It’s jam packed with history, and the architecture is a constant reminder that Spain was ruled by the Moors for longer than it’s been Christian (for 700 years until the Reconquista was complete in 1492).  In fact, Ronda was one of the final cities to fall to the Christian forces, in 1485.  Around here, lots of towns end with “de la frontera” after the name.  So Moron de la Frontera, for example.  Which means “on the frontier”.  This area in Andalusia was the frontier in which the forces of Islam and Christianity met to decide how far Islam would spread into Europe.  After 1492, the answer was, “not very far.”  Before then, though, this place was all Islam.

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Ronda is situated on a high gorge, which was chosen by the early Iberian or Bastulo Celts because of the ease of defending it.  But the Celts didn’t do a particularly good job defending it from the Romans, who captured the town and called it Arunda, which means simply, “surrounded by mountains.”    At the same time, the Romans were busy conquering and occupying many towns in Andalusia from which to engage in trade with Phoenicians.  Many of the other towns have disappeared, but Arunda, mentioned by both Pliny the Younger and Ptolemy, grew and prospered.

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After the fall of Rome, things got a bit messy as various Germanic tribes moved in and created havoc.  But then came the Moors, and Ronda really started to take off.  The first invasions began in 711 when the Moors captured Gibraltar, and Ronda was Moorish by 713.  The new conquerers built a castle, and made Ronda the capital of one of the five districts in Andalusia.  By the early 13th century the Christians were battling back to claim Spain, and the Muslim king, Muhammad Ibn al-Alhamar, moved his court to Granada and founded the Nasrid dynasty -the last great dynasty of the Moorish era. Ronda was on the western edge of this kingdom, and it’s this border that was now the “frontier.”

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Ronda fell in 1485 when the water supply was cut, after a week long siege by the Castilian forces of King Ferdinand (the male half of Ferdinand and Isabella).  The victorious army allowed the Muslims to keep their lives, even escorting them to new homes in Seville that were available after their previous occupants – Jews – left in the Inquisition.

As the more modern city developed, three distinct districts evolved.  The first is where I spend most of my time because it’s where our Spanish school is located, right next to the Church of Espiritu Santo (Church of the Holy Spirit) that Ferdinand built in place of the citadel that had occupied that location.  That would be the old town, which has tiny narrow streets, lots of Moorish architecture, and beautiful gardens.  The more modern part, on the other side of the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge – the famous bridge that goes over the gorge) is the area where the bullring is located (Ronda is where bullfighting developed) as well as the high street with most of the shops.  Then there’s Barrio San Francisco, just outside the city gate, which developed as a market to take advantage of lenient tax regulations since they were outside the city.  Now it has a lovely square and some fabulous restaurants and bakeries.

More information:

12 things you Must See in Ronda

Rick Steeves video of Andalusia including Ronda

TripAdvisor’s page on Ronda

 

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