The first time we came to Ronda, we were enchanted by the rolling landscape, the Arabian horses living beneath the city walls and the Sierra de Ronda mountains far above. It had been raining steady all day, but suddenly the sun came out and with it appeared not one, but two rainbows. It had to be a sign…
Our little Andalucian mountain town is magical, there is no doubt about that. Heaven knows if we end up living here, but for the next few months, this incredible place will be our home.
So, why Ronda?
1. Our four-legged neighbours: We have been excited to discover that we have some rather large, neighing neighbours. First there are the two gorgeous black horses that live half a block from our house, accompanied by a small flock of sheep. Further on, as we walk through the old town, there are usually another couple of horses and a grey donkey wandering unattended beneath another part of the wall. We also have ample smaller canine and feline neighbours.
And of course there is the odd rooster, whom Jaime likes to call ‘the Mexican alarm clock’, though I suppose the latter don’t really count as four legged…
2. Living on the ‘wrong’ side of the wall: We have recently found out why our 15th century neigbourhood sits just outside the 12th century city wall. Apparently, way back, they used to charge a tax for traders who came to town and entered through the main city gate. Poor traders would put up their wares outside the wall to save the fee, eventually settling and building small dwellings there. (Very Tom-the- builder-ish for anyone who read Follet’s novel) The 13th century gate which we walk through every day is called Almocabar, from the Arab word ‘Al-maqabir’, which means cemetery, because our neighbourhood also used to be the Arab burial ground. Hence, we are proud to say we live in a cemetery turned pauper district!
3. Puento Nuevo – the 7th wonder: The famous Ronda bridge is really one of the worlds’ living wonders… Proposed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, it was started in 1751, took 42 years to build and claimed the lives of some 50 builders. The chamber beneath the main arch was used as a prison and during the Spanish Civil War both sides allegedly used it as a torture chamber, killing opponents by throwing them down to the El Tajo gorge – 98 meter below. (the Spanish have always had a flair for the dramatic and cruel…) What is truly amazing to us is that this bridge still is the ONLY road that gaps the old and ‘new’ part of town, so locals drive and we walk across it’s worn stones daily, not giving it a second thought!
4. The working uniforms: There is something so provincial and sweet about a town where the older women still come outside to sweep their part of the sidewalk in their albornoz and pantuflas, a bathrobe, usually a pastel floral number, and a pair of fuzzy slide-on slippers. I imagine this being my cleaning wardrobe, as well. Just give me a few years…
5. The siesta: Some larger Spanish cities have stopped having siestas, but in Ronda this mid-day break is undisputedly holy. It is annoying for anyone trying to shop or conduct business (stores closes between 2pm and 5pm, or in extreme cases between 1.30pm and 5.30pm!) It is an ineffective use of the employee’s time, who wont finish until after 8pm (unless of course you work in a bank…) Yet, in spite of, or maybe because of this, I love the fact that they still continue this rather irrational tradition, allowing for a well-digested 3 hour lunch.
6. The doors: Older Rondeña houses usually have lovely wooden entrance doors in various degree of disrepair and level of patina. Some have a small opening at eye-level with a wooden cover to check out visitors (like the nuns had in Sound of Music, if anyone other than me recalls the movie). Others have heavy Medieval-looking bolts along the edges, fancy doorknockers, rod iron handles, ancient wood repairs or filigree carvings. They look like the entrance to a fortress or a prison where nobody gets out. Once in a while, a door will be left open and we peak inside, finding a lovely flowering court-yard with a fountain, an old chapel with religious icons or a fallen-down ruin. You never know what you will find on the other side of a Ronda door!
7. The winding trails: Like many Andalucian towns, Ronda is surrounded by winding, dusty trails. Some lead to an abandoned ruin, others to a farm with a lonesome donkey and tree sneering dogs, others still may go from village to village for days. Watching the trails melodically weave their way though the landscape, we cannot help but hum the tune of the ‘Antique Road Show’ while imagining driving along in an old convertible with a grandfather clock sticking out of the back.
8. The nun’s bakery: Right downtown on the road that passes Spain’s oldest bullring and the Alameda park, you find the Convento del la Merced. Here locals will come and buy sweets and cookies baked by the nuns. Since they are cloistered and have a wow of non-contact, you cannot see them, but when you ring the bell, a feeble voice answers from the other side of the wall. You tell her what you want from the display cabinet and she will send the items back to you in a Lazy-Susan sort of roundabout embedded in the wall. You get your goods and send back the money the same way. This may be one of the few transactions where still goods are handed over in good faith -and with blessings- before payment is received.
9. Sweet dippings: Churros con Chocolate is an awfully unhealthy treat that the Spanish love with a passion. It resembles a deep-fried hot donut, only shaped as a long sausage. You can order one or several rounds, depending on how clogged your want your arteries to be.
Here in Ronda we have a few true Churreríeas, in addition to a couple of road-side stands and heaven forbid some places trying to sell more ‘healthy’ salted churros. But if you are going to sin, you might as well go the whole way. Order a giant pile, dip them into thick hot chocolate and stuff yourself, letting the grease run down your chin…
10. Living on the edge: Ronda sits on some crazy cliffs that look like they were drawn by Dr. Seuss himself. My research have not yielded grand results, but it seems that Ronda sits on a narrow peridotite mantle diapir of something called ultramafic rocks that was formed in early Miocene time…
Whatever that means, my laywoman explanation is that Ronda had some major seismic movements in the past that thrust these rocky outcrops into the sky.
Regardless, this living on the edge leads t0 some dramatic views!