The great stone bridge of Ronda
Ronda is an ancient town in Andalusia near the Mediterranean Sea, and has been a settled town since before Roman times. It used to be settled by local tribes, then was settled by Scipio Africanus during the Punic wars. After the Roman Empire crumbled, it was conquered by Visigoths from what is now Germany - till it fell to the African Berbers, who were the start of the Muslim moorish occupation of Spain in the first millennium AD.
The Muslim period of Spain is a most fascinating period - when the Moors and Arabs kept alive the flame of learning and science when Europe was stuck in the dark ages. When the rest of Europe was a disgusting medieval mess, Cordoba and Malaga were bustling metropolises!
I read a book by Louis L’Amour called ‘The walking drum’ about this era, and it had a great effect on me. Louis L’Amour was a writer of cowboy adventures in the old west - six guns and quick draws and all that stuff. But this was the only historical romance he wrote, and it was the only book I had ever read that referred to this fascinating era. I recommend it highly.
The berbers called it Hisn Ar-Rundah ("Castle of Rundah") and it was the home of several learned people - notably the polymath Abbas Ibn Firnas (810–887), an inventor, engineer, alleged aviator, chemist, physician, Muslim poet, and Andalusian musician.
Abbas Ibn Farnas (referred to by westerners as Armen Firman) also had a link to India! He was among the translators of a work called ‘Sind Hind’ - "Great astronomical tables of the Sindhind"; from Sanskrit siddhānta, "system" or "treatise" - which was an astronomical handbook with tables used to calculate celestial positions) brought in the early 770s AD to the court of Caliph al-Mansur in Baghdad from India.
Ibn Farnas was also a pioneer of aviation, long before Leonardo Da Vinci. He studied the flight of birds and created a large cloak with wooden struts and jumped from a tower in Cordoba, intending to glide like a bird. He may not have actually flown - but he landed without injuries, which you gotta admit is pretty cool for 800 AD!
There is a statue of Ibn Firnas outside Baghdad International Airport showing him with his flying cloak, which honours him as a pioneer of aviation.
Obviously the white people don't remember him.
The Islamic domination of the town ended in 1485, when Christian forces conquered the town and very soon they had stamped out all aspects of overt muslim culture from the place.
Over the years it faced various troubles - the Napoleonic invasions and Spanish civil war and all that stuff - but all that is in the past now, and today Ronda is a thriving little town.
The main draw of Ronda today is its proud bullfighting lineage, and it’s amazing stone bridges.
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”
This brave bullfighting tradition has been written about by Ernest Hemingway in ‘For whom the bell tolls’ and also has been celebrated by the famous filmmaker Orson Welles - and the city has named streets after them in appreciation.
In fact it has also named a square after video game maker Kazunori Yamauchi - producer of the Gran Turismo game series - which probably shows that the mayor is a video game freak!
The other famous thing about Ronda are its huge stone bridges. The town is divided in two parts by the deep gorge of the Guadalevin river. In olden days it would have been a huge pain to go from one part to the other, you would have to go all the way down the mountain, ford the river, and then climb all the way back. Doing this time and time would get old real soon!
So the various rulers of the place got busy building bridges - you have the ancient Roman bridge, the ‘Puerto Romano’ ( also known as the Puente Arabe "Arabic Bridge" as the foundation is Roman and was later rebuilt above in the Arabic Period )
Then you have the. Puente Viejo"Old Bridge",( also known as the Puente San Miguel); and 3-Puente Nuevo"New Bridge", span the canyon. The term nuevo is something of a misnomer, as the building of this bridge commenced in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. The Puente Nuevo is the tallest of the bridges, towering 120 m (390 ft) above the canyon floor, and all three serve as some of the city's most impressive features.
The construction of the newest bridge (the one that stands today) was started in 1759 and took 34 years. There is a chamber above the central arch that was used for a variety of purposes, including as a prison. During the 1936–1939 civil war both sides allegedly used the prison as a torture chamber for captured opponents, killing some by throwing them from the windows to the rocks at the bottom of the El Tajo gorge!
The chamber is entered through a square building that was once the guard-house. It now contains an exhibition describing the bridge's history and construction. I spent 2.5 Euro to go there and was rather amused at the fact that they do not mention this throwing of people off the bridge from here. I would have thought that it would be the main attraction!
Apart from the bridges, the whole old town is most scenic - with an ancient church, ancient fort walls, ancient Arab baths and overall the most pleasing look of a medieval town. Because both parts of the town look down on a most scenic gorge, you have great views in all directions.
It turned out that the day I was there was a festival day - the anniversary of the current Pope's coronation - so most official museums and buildings were closed and I couldn’t see them. But that's OK - I felt that the best way to enjoy this place was to walk around aimlessly and soak in the feel of the place.
And it saved me money on the entrance fees too!
The whole old town was lit up for Christmas and it was a pleasure to see the place come alive in the evening. There was even an open air concert - but it got too cold for me, and I scuttled off back to the hotel.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!