Ronda, a worthy World Heritage Site?

“I searched all over for the city of dreams and at last I found Ronda….. in Spain nothing is more unexpected than this wild mountain city.”                                           Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Our heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage is irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration and as such should be protected.

Since 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have identified places of special cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding universal value to humanity. To date almost a thousand World Heritage Sites have been recognized by UNESCO, such as the Taj Mahal, the great wall of China, Egypt’s pyramids, Timbuktu and Stonehenge, to mention a few. These sites belong to all people, present and future, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. UNESCO encourages member states to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

Spain has 44 Patrimonio Mundial or World Heritage Sites, with Andalucía holding six, including the Alhambra and the historical centre of Cordoba. Last year Ronda was proposed. It is unclear whether UNESCO has a similar backlog of applicants as the canonization of saints in the Catholic Church, which at least in the past could take centuries. What is clear is that creating these sites is vital to encourage preservation on a global level. For a city like Ronda, that struggles with government budget cuts, while trying to restore all its historical sites, the denomination would be an essential help for the preservation of this city’s most unique cultural and natural history.

Ronda is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. It somehow manages to merge more than 2000 years of history with a bustling 21-century town, while keeping its magical air. Where else do you find the main auto thoroughfare through town as a bridge from 1790’s, mounted over a dramatic hundred-meter gorge?

Here is how Rilke once described his cuidad soñada or city of dreams: “The spectacle of this city, sitting on the bulk of two rocks rent asunder by a pickaxe and separated by the narrow, deep gorge of the river, corresponds very well to the image of that city revealed in dreams. The spectacle of this city is indescribable and around it lies a spacious valley with cultivated plots of land, holly and olive groves. And there in the distance, as if it had recovered all its strength, the pure mountains rise, range after range, forming the most splendid background.”

Ronda has been settled since Neolithic times. Celts, Phoenicians, Romans and Visigoth rulers have passed through. Arunda as the Romans called it received the title of city at the time of Julius Caesar. For more than 700 years, Hisn Ar-Rundah or the Castle of Rundah was under Moorish rule. The best-preserved Arab baths on the Iberian continent are part of Ronda’s heritage from this era. Abú al Fidá (1273-1331) 
described Ronda as an “…elegant and lofty city in which the clouds serve as a turban, and its towers as a sword belt.”

In more recent history, Ronda became the place of infamous thieves (Bandoleros), bullfighters (Ronda boasts the oldest ‘plaza de toros’ in Spain from 1784) and romantic travelers. Many a famous artist, painter, writer and poet have passed through our city gates, such as Washington Irwin, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges and Ernest Hemingway. Hemmingway once said of Ronda, “The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is a romantic background”. Ronda made a noted impression on John F. Kennedy and decades later on Michelle Obama. But none so much as honorary Ronda citizen Orson Welles, who chose to be buried here.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are often recognized for their cultural or their natural heritage, though for Ronda it is really a combination of both. Looking at the UNESCO’s Selection Criteria, I can see Ronda falling under at last the following:

(i)  to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

(ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

(viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

Ronda’s bid for Patrimonio Mundial has over 30 000 Facebook supporters, but this is not a popularity contest. Regardless of how many heritage sites Spain has, Ronda in it’s own right ought to be on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, as a place of special cultural and natural heritage of outstanding value to humanity!

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