The arduous and joyful task of restoring a village ruin

When we bought a ramshackle village house in Ronda nine years back, we had no idea that it would take more than two years to get the building permit from the municipality as well as the regional culture department. That was of course before they threw in an archaeological dig, even though our shack was a mere slender 3×12-meter wedge squeezed between – and sharing exterior walls with – other houses on an impossibly narrow dead-end street.


Mystery. Photo © Karethe Linaae

We knew neither our builder nor his many helpers, who for the most part were hard working and honest village folks. Not surprisingly, we had our share of dramas and tragedies – the gopher who always knocked back a couple of shots of Anís liquor for breakfast and who fell off the ladder and had to take a sick leave so he couldn’t get drunk on our clock for a while. Or the most conscientious bricklayer who drove an hour every morning to get to the worksite, but who didn’t show up one day. Nobody told us anything, but after a while, we heard that he had been found dangling from an oak tree.

Feet. Photo © Karethe Linaae

All in all, the building project went well, and we got our slice of Andalucian paradise – even though the electrician mounted some electric boxes in inaccessible places or at odd heights, and the so-called bombproof micro-cement floor that we had insisted on, had to be redone three times and finally be covered with tiles so that in the end we could have brought in a mosaic-artist from Venice or a flooring specialist from the Norwegian woods to do the job and still had money to spare. Anyhow…

Barely started. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Floor in progress. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Whether a task is performed on the ever-elastic mañana or perhaps not at all, is not always due to the handymen, as deliveries and suppliers can also delay the building process. But even if our patience was tried on more than one occasion, I would have done the whole process again – if nothing else for the cathartic experience.


Ceiling with natural skylights. Photo © Karethe Linaae


I do not regret for a second that we took on the almost impossible task of transforming a crooked and ever so quaint ruin into our present village abode.


View beyond the ruin. Photo © Karethe Linaae

How else would we have been able to witness how they removed the old Arabic-style roof tiles (that are compulsory to use in our historic neighbourhood) one by one, put new tiles underneath, and then covered these with the beautiful old moss-covered terracotta tiles?

Roof tiles with meadow flowers. Photo © Karethe Linaae

How else would we have been able to observe the way that they carefully hollowed out the front door opening in our meter-thick facade, so that the town’s (or perhaps the world’s?) smallest excavator could pass through with millimetres to spare on either side, to miraculously scoop out soil and debris from inside the inordinately narrow property?

Digging deep. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Or how else would we have seen how an enormous cement truck managed to squeeze itself down our appendix of a street to poor cement from a trunk-like contraption into the formerly foundation-free house?

The big guns. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Or how would we have been able to admire the skill it took to configure a custom-designed modern railing-less flight of stairs into the corner nook where the old and crumbling walled-in staircase had been?

Stairway to heaven. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Stairs after. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Or how would we be able to follow our carpenter, the sombre introvert Juan, as he built our wooden doors and windows by hand – from scratch, once we had finally found the rusty antique doornails that I had dreamt about?

Doornail. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It is evident that such transformations take time. A couple of extra mañanas – or a few hundred of them in our case- is only to be expected. But the entire process did wonders for my Spanish, and we got to know virtually every handyman and tinkerer, as well as every lumberyard and slate quarry in the entire Serranía.

So why in heaven’s name would I want to be without such an experience?

With Rafael, the architect. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera




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