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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
We wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town, where we find colorful tiles on the walls and balconies with mini-gardens.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I walk down to and across the Puente Viejo or old bridge, built in the 17th century.
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.