Let me be completely clear, my husband abhors dressing up. In all the years I have known him, I have never seen him as much as paint on a fake moustache. To him, Halloween and carnivals are a waste of time, costumes are plain foolish, and the people within them even more so. But when Ronda goes romantic, there is no saying what people will do…
Ronda is admittedly and quintessentially romantic. With its dramatic natural surroundings, the echoes of it’s Arab and Roman ancestry, it’s notorious history of mountain bandits and the favoured site for visiting poets and artists, one can easily fall in love with the place. But of course, that is no reason for my significant other to dress up in a “silly costume”. So what is? The answer is Ronda Romántica.
To understand the tradition of Ronda Romántica we need to go back 500 years, just a few decades after the Moors were expelled from Spain by the conquering Catholic monarchs. The Arabs had established ‘Arunda’ as an important agrarian centre. Known as Los Montes de la Lana (The Mountains of Wool) the region was the biggest producer of sheep and goats in the entire Kingdom of Granada. New nobility and re-population by Spanish brought increased commercial activity here and hence a need for a local livestock fair. Ronda’s Feria de Mayo was established in 1509, making it the second oldest fair in Andalucía. Though the fair’s popularity ebbed during the end of the last century, it was reestablished with great success last year under the name Ronda Romántica.
Like an old-fashioned wedding, Ronda Romántica is a proper 3-day affair, not only inviting the whole town, but also fifty surrounding towns and villages sharing our same history. This popular May Fair celebrates the towns colorful past with parades, markets, period costumes and historical reenactments. Amongst the parades are horses with richly adorned carriages and donkeys pulling simple wooden carts, also decked out in period for the occasion. The entire historic quarter of Ronda is closed off to cars and transformed into a bustling country fair. Thousands of people dress up as 18th and 19th century peasants, nobility, courtesans, Goyescas (the women painted by Francisco de la Goya) and soldiers from the Napoleonic war, including several more or less successful versions of the man himself.
The big crowd pleasers are the historic reenactments. Take the reenactment of the battle of 1814, when, armed with pitchforks and wooden pistols, local peasants fought off the invading French soldiers. Or later at the town hall, when a bandolero (bandit) robs the treasury, gets caught by the police, and in the nick of time is saved from the awaiting gallows by an armada of bandoleros on horseback, disappearing into the sunset to storming applause. During Ronda Romántica we all cheer for the bad guys and even the most docile looking mother has a gun tucked into her skirts. After the figting is over, since this is make-believe after all, the dead, the injured and the victorious alike fraternize over cervezas in the nearest taverna.
The Ronda May Fair is more popular than ever and very much here to say. Though the official organizers are the town hall and tourist office, much of the credit should go to the locals who spend literally months sewing matching historical garments for themselves and their offspring, and to local businesses who decorate their stores and restaurants to create an unique and romantic ambiance.
In all this action we have lost sight of my husband. Where is he, the stoic non-dresser upper? We search along narrow lanes and cobbled plazas, beneath balconies draped with mantillas (embroidered shawls) and bursting with scarlet geraniums, through wooden market stalls serving local fare and the not entirely healthy best-seller ‘Choripan’ (an open-faced grilled chorizo sausage served on a thick slice of peasant bread) We continue through the commotion of dresses-up towns folks parading under the banner of their own village. Finally, we find him walking with his wood-carving fellows under the flag of the San Francisco neighbourhood.
Never in my life did I imagine seeing my spouse dressed up as a bandit, parading the streets while sharing a bota of wine with a vicarious passer-by. But when Ronda goes romantic, my husband joins the bandits…