andalucía: a day in ronda

Sunday, July 7:  After visiting Teba Castle, we head to the beautiful town of Ronda.  Barry first points out the Church of La Merced, a convent built in 1585 and dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy.   Today the convent belongs to the Barefoot Carmelite community, who conserve the relic of one of Santa Teresa’s hands.  Barry tells us that it’s a closed order, meaning the convent is closed to outsiders and no one ever sees the nuns.  The community has taken to baking lately to raise money.  They are known to sell a sweet anise flat bread.  When people want to buy it, the nuns have a lazy susan so they can remain hidden while conducting the transaction.  They insist that the buyer put his money on the lazy susan; when the nuns get the money behind a wall, they put the bread order on the lazy susan and twirl it back to the customer.

Church of La Merced
Church of La Merced

Ronda is a beautiful town perched along a cliff at the top of the Tajo Gorge.  We wander through a leafy and breezy park, Alameda del Tajo.  From a sheer drop at the end of the park, we find amazing views of the valley below.

a shady and breezy park in Ronda
a shady and breezy park in Ronda
park in Ronda
park in Ronda
amazing view from the cliffs of Ronda
amazing view from the cliffs of Ronda

The landscape is etched with green-black cypresses, groves of silver-green olive trees and vineyards carpeting the rolling hills. Red-roofed farmhouses dot the scene, connected by ribbons of winding roadways. The horizon, beyond forested foothills, is rimmed with angular mountains softened by a soft haze.

view from Ronda
view from the top of the gorge in Ronda
me, Carole and Barry at the top of the gorge in Ronda
me, Carole and Barry at the top of the gorge in Ronda
view of Ronda from the cliff
view of Ronda from the cliff

As we walk deeper into the town, we come upon the spectacular, sheer cliffs of the gorge, El Tajo, and the river, Guadalevin,  that splits the ancient mountain town of Ronda into two sections: the old Moorish area, La Ciudad, and the new town, El Mercadillo. Spanning the gorge is the triple-arched Puente Nuevo, the “new” stone bridge, built in 1751, that links the old and new districts. Its central, skyward-soaring Romanesque arch is framed by gigantic stone foundations.

view from the cliffs of Ronda
view from the cliffs of Rhonda
the new bridge in Ronda
the new bridge in Ronda
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge

It’s this gorge and bridge, along with Ronda’s acclaim as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, that have made it one the most famous and spectacular of the many mountain towns that dot Andalucia.

half of Ronda perched on one side of the gorge
half of Ronda perched on one side of the gorge
Ronda on the cliffs of the Tajo Gorge
Ronda on the cliffs of the Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Ronda
Ronda
the New Bridge in Ronda
the New Bridge in Ronda

Our first stop is at Cafe de Ronda, where we eat a lunch of tapas: artichokes with sardines, quail eggs with olive oil, chorizos, potato salad, white fish croquettes with a bit of ham inside, and a potato and cheese gratin.  The tapas are so enticingly presented, that we dive right in before I remember to take a picture!   🙂

Cafe de Ronda
Cafe de Ronda

We than wander down the narrow streets where we come to the Minaret of San Sebastian, which belonged to a small mosque or oratory, possibly of the 14th century.  After the Christian conquest, it was converted into a church named San Sebastian.  Today the only thing that remains are ruins and the minaret, which was converted to a bell tower.

Alminar de San Sebastian
Alminar de San Sebastian
Alminar de San Sebastian
Alminar de San Sebastian

We wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town, where we find colorful tiles on the walls and balconies with mini-gardens.

Mosaics in Ronda
Mosaics in Ronda
balconies in Ronda
balconies in Ronda

At the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, we find a leafy park and the Iglesia de Santa Maria La Mayor, which stands on the site of Islamic Ronda’s main mosque.  The church’s tower and its galleries date from Islamic times.

Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda
Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda
Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda
Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda

From the plaza I wind through the old town until I find a path that leads down into the gorge, where I can see more amazing views of the valley and a view of Puente Nuevo from down below.  One viewpoint, which someone at the top of the gorge pointed out to us, is blocked off, but I can see there’s a worn path around the gate, so I go around.  As I come back up from the viewpoint, I see a grubby looking man removing the gate.  He doesn’t look like anyone official, so I proceed past him.  He says, in a not-so-friendly voice, “Adios!”   I figure he’s telling me to get out!  When I look back he’s setting up a cardboard sign with an arrow, pointing people to a viewpoint in another direction.  Later Carole and Barry walk down and find him charging a fee to the viewpoint.  It seems he is just a homeless man trying to exploit a money-making opportunity.

view from the walk down the path to the gorge
view from the walk down the path to the gorge
view of the New Bridge from the path
view of the New Bridge from the path
view of the village to the right
view of the village to the right
view of Ronda to the left of the New Bridge
view of Ronda to the left of the New Bridge
the valley below Ronda
the valley below Ronda

It takes me a while to climb back up the steep path, but when I do I meet an Italian girl studying Spanish in Malaga, who is here visiting Ronda for the day.  She walks along with me toward the Palacio Del Rey Moro, a romantically-crumbling 18th century house, and its clifftop gardens.  When the ticket-seller there tells her it’s a steep walk down to the river, she says she’ll go on her merry way.  I wander around the gardens for quite a while, but I don’t go down the 200 steep steps to “la mina,” an Islamic-era stairway cut into the rock right down to the bottom of the gorge.

old door
old door
tiles on a bench at Palacio del Rey Moro
tiles on a bench at Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
bench in the gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
bench in the gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens of Palacio del Rey Moro
gardens of Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
view from gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
view from gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
view of the gorge fromPalacio del Rey Moro
view of the gorge fromPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro

After leaving the palace, I walk down hill for views of the valley below Ronda on the other side of the mountain.  I pass through the Archway of Philip V, probably built in 1742.

view the valley from Ronda
view the valley from Ronda
view from Ronda
view from Ronda
Gateway of Philip V
Archway of Philip V

I walk down to and across the Puente Viejo or old bridge, built in the 17th century.

the Old Bridge
the Old Bridge
building on the edge of the Tajo Gorge
building on the edge of the Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
stopping for some shade and una cerveza
stopping for some shade and una cerveza
una cerveza
una cerveza
wind farms on the way home
wind farms on the way home
reservoir on the way home
reservoir on the way home

When we return in the evening to Mollina, Carole, Barry and I have dinner at La Casa, a restaurant in town recommended by our British hosts.  It’s a mediocre and huge meal of prawns sautéed in lots of butter accompanied by a nondescript salad.  I think I’m going to eat in during the evenings the remainder of our stay.

a morning at castillo de teba & a scotsman’s story of the battle of teba

Sunday, July 7:  On our way to Ronda this morning, we stop at the historic Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors.

on the way to Castillo de Teba
on the way to Castillo de Teba

Estrella Castle, locally known as Castillo de La Estrella or Castillo de Teba, lies on a hill next to the village of Teba in the province of Málaga.

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba

On the way to the castle and from the hilltop fortress, we can see wind farms all around.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to any country that takes advantage of the wind like Spain does.

view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba with a wind farm in the distance
view from Castillo de Teba with a wind farm in the distance

Estrella Castle was probably built somewhere in the 10th century by the Moors. During the 12th and 13th century, under Almohad rule, the castle was strengthened and enlarged.

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba
Scottish thistle
Scottish thistle
flora around Castillo de Teba
flora around Castillo de Teba
more weeds around the castle
more weeds around the castle
view of a reservoir from Castillo de Teba
view of a reservoir from Castillo de Teba

In 1330 Estrella Castle was besieged by the Christian troops of Alfonso XI, King of Castile. When Muhammed IV, Sultan of Granada, reacted by sending an army led by a Berber general, Uthman bin Abi-l-Ulá, to relieve the defenders, the Battle of Teba ensued in the valley below the castle. (Estrella Castle)

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba

Our guide Barry, who is Scottish, dramatically tells us the story of how the Scots played a part in this battle.  Though the battle had no effect on Scottish affairs, it contributed in a small way to the demise of Muslim rule in Spain.

The events which led to that fateful day in August 1330 started on the death-bed of the King of ScotlandRobert the Bruce, in 1329.

Bruce had always dreamed of leading a crusade to the Holy Land. As he lay dying from leprosy, he instructed his beloved friend and second in command Sir James Douglas to remove his heart after death, place it in a casket, and take them on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and bury his heart in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.

Although Sir James Douglas was known in Scotland as Sir James the Good, in England he was referred to as The Black Douglas.

view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba

The Black Douglas took Bruce’s heart, embalmed it, then put it in a casket which he wore round his neck, and set off on the crusade to the Holy Land with a party of 25, made up of knights and noblemen.  In the spring of 1330, they made for Flanders and during their 12 day stay, they attracted more followers from all over Europe.  Their plan was to sail to northwest Spain to visit Santiago de C0mpostela, which had been ordained as a holy town by Pope Alexander III following the discovery of the remains of the Apostle James.

A pilgrimage to Santiago captured the imagination of Christian Europe as it was the 3rd holiest site in Christendom.  At the height of its popularity in the 11th and 12th century, it attracted over half a million pilgrims each year.

view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba

However, before they could set off for Santiago, word reached them that the King of Castile, Alphonso Xl , in his efforts to drive the Moors out of Granada, had laid siege to the Castillo de las Estrella (Castle of the Stars) at Teba which was occupied by the Saracen Army of Mohammed lV, Sultan of Granada. The Black Douglas sent word that they were prepared to join forces with Alphonso and sailed immediately to help, making landfall at Seville and marching the short distance to Teba.

Alphonso, having heard tales of Douglas’s bravery and leadership skills, gave him the right flank of the Castilian Army.

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba

On the morning of the August 25th the Saracen army had assembled below the Castillo de las Estrella. The Castilian trumpets sounded and Douglas, thinking it was a general advance, led his troops forward. The Scottish contingent charged the Saracens and, although not fully supported by the rest of the army, managed to hold them.  Finally the Moors, unable to withstand the furious onslaught, fled.  Douglas, as was his custom, followed them until, finding himself deserted, he turned his horse intending to join the main body.  Just then he observed Sir William St Clair surrounded by a body of Moors who had suddenly rallied. With the few knights who attended him Douglas turned hastily to attempt a rescue.

He soon found himself surrounded and, making one last charge shouting the words “A Bruce, A Bruce,” took the casket containing the heart from around his neck and hurled it into the enemies’ path shouting “Now go in front, as you desired and I’ll follow you or die.” Douglas and a party of his followers were all slain, but they had diverted enough of the enemy forces away from the main thrust to enable the Castilian army to overrun the remainder and capture the Castle.

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba
more Scottish thistle
more Scottish thistle
Barry and Carol at Castillo de Teba
Barry and Carol at Castillo de Teba

It has been speculated that the Moors’ lack of knowledge of European heraldry had a part to play in the death of Douglas. Noblemen on both sides were valued as hostages, but because Douglas did not display the red cross on his tabard that distinguished English knights, but instead had the 3 stars of the Douglas family on his harness and shield, the Moors did not recognize his status or they would probably have spared his life.

Douglas’s body was recovered from the battlefield along with the casket.

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba

The only 2 remaining knights from the Scottish contingent decided that as Douglas’s body would not survive the long sea journey home in the heat of the summer, they would revert to the normal practice at that time which was to boil the body in a cauldron of vinegar until the flesh fell from the bones. The flesh was buried in Teba at an unknown and unmarked spot and his bones returned to Scotland, where they were buried in St Bride’s Kirk in Douglas South Lanarkshire, and the casket was returned to the new king of Scotland, David II, son of Robert the Bruce, who wished it buried in Melrose Abbey.

Thus, the Bruce’s last wish of having his heart buried in Jerusalem was never granted.

crusader inside the museum
crusader inside the museum
windfarm viewed from Castillo de Teba
windfarm viewed from Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba
me at Castillo de Teba
me at Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba
view from Castillo de Teba

Although Teba was a victory for Alphonso, it would take another 60 years to finally drive the Moors from this area, but The Battle of Teba was the decisive action when the Saracen leader realized he could no longer defend his territory, and would have to rely on help from Morocco in future battles to retain Granada. Christian rule was not fully established in Spain until 1492.

Castillo de Teba
Castillo de Teba

Each year on the 25th of August the village organizes what they refer to as El Douglas Dia, when a pipe band from Scotland and Scots from all over the world, join together with the villagers and invited dignitaries to commemorate the Battle of Teba.

Sir James Douglas was only 44 years old when he was cut down, yet in the 26 years he lived in Scotland he had gained a reputation as a fighter for Scottish Independence only bettered by Wallace and Bruce. Somehow the history books overlooked the part he played in Scottish history, but thanks to the villagers of Teba this monument to his final courageous stand is lasting memorial to one of Scotland’s bravest Knights (Spain-info: BRAVEHEART The Battle of Teba).

looking back at Castillo de Teba
looking back at Castillo de Teba

After we leave Teba Castle, we head on to Ronda. We drive through rolling hills of neat patchwork farmland, planted with olive trees, grapevines and sunflowers.

landscape on the drive to Ronda
landscape on the drive to Ronda
landscape on the drive to Ronda
landscape on the drive to Ronda