There is a town perched in the mountains of Andalucia. It is known for its 130- meter gorge, its famous bridges that connect the old and the new parts of the town. What it is less known for is its Islamic heritage that seeps into many things Rondenos know about life. Ronda was the city where I settled with my kids and lived for nearly two years. We have made friends, home and a life there. I still think nostalgically about weekend afternoons when I gathered the kids in the car and drove around almost every village, looking for old Arab castles and anything that resembles of Islamic heritage. This is what we have found.
Ronda was established well before the Moors arrived but after they have settled on the land in 711, within two years they found this walled city and called it Izna Rand Onda (town of the fortress). It became the capital city of Takurunna district, the taifa that was the governate system after the power began to disintegrate. Each taifa was led by tribes and conflicted opponents. Ronda held its magnificence until the last minutes of Andalus.
The town itself is easy to navigate and as you stroll along the cobbled streets of the old town, you feel as if you are breathing in medieval Andalus for a good reason. The buildings that still stand have been preserved although some are covered with a generous dash of Christianity. When approaching Ronda and its Muslim history, you must arrive from the old Moorish quarter, what is called Barrio San Francisco today. Here you will find a gate that is a central monument of the district, where it is said the cemetery was also placed for Muslims. The barrio today is a lively place with a central plaza for socializing and playing for children. You can just hear the market stall holders bargaining, fighting and just having chats about their lives. Our most memorable lunches happened here, often taking up three or four hours.
From here, just a stone throw’s away is one my favourite monuments, the Banos Arabes, one of the most well-preserved bath (hammam) in Andalucia. It was established in the 13th century and served as a first point for those entering the city. Here, they could wash and socialize before you settled in Ronda as the space provided a perfect place to mingle with the locals. This little video is a great introduction to the history of the hammam:
The Puerta de Almocabar was the official entry gate to the city built later, in the 13th century. It is very close to the Arab Baths and it made sense that the entry gate to the town and the hammam were in such close proximity. The gate is a central monument at the San Francisco district, where it is said the cemetery was also placed for Muslims.
Many of Ronda’s Islamic heritage has been destroyed, like the rest of Andalucia, such as the minaret of San Sebastian, now part of the church on Plaza Abul Beka. It was one of the seven or eight mosques that existed in Ronda for over 700 years, but now only a slight resemblance holds up the minaret.
Another favourite place of mine in Ronda is the Palacio Mondragon. It was home of the king of Ronda, Abd el Malik, or Abomelik,, the son of the Sultan of Morocco, as well as the last Muslim governor Hamel el Zegri. This palace is an oasis of calm and an inspiring place to see what life was like at the time of the Muslim rule.
Probably one of the greatest of Muslim inventors is also linked to Ronda, the first man who drew a flying machine before Leonardo. Ibn Firnas was born here and moved to Cordoba to pursue his dreams serving three emirs in Cordoba. His eccentric life and legacy is an amazing testimony to his talent as a astronomer, chemist, geographer, astrologist and more!
I managed to snap up a book written about his life when I was browsing in a libreria and you can see the Spanish version here, which is also available on Amazon.
and you can listen to my interview with the author here:
I would translate his biography here from Spanish into English if I had time and space, so for a shorter version you can read about Ibn Firnas here: Ibn Firnas, the first up in the sky
One of the secrets of Ronda is a mine, whose story has been changed multiple times, depending on who tells it. The walk there start at the gate adjacent to la Casa del Rey Moro. In spite of its name, this palace was never the home of a Moorish king. It did however belong to various members of the eminent Marquez de Salvatierra family.
For more information you can read ere, it is worth an hour or so to visit, the views are incredible! https://casadelreymoro.org/en/home/
The entrance to the mine is hidden behind shrubbery and most sources agree that La Mina de Agua was constructed during the reign of King Abomelic at the beginning of the 14th Century, and operated in the Late Medieval era. La Mina de Agua is a marvel of medieval Islamic hydraulic engineering. Its function was twofold: to protect and access water, while defending against intruders. In addition, the mine had the added benefit of offering a secret, last-resort escape route from the town. Still virtually intact and unique in all of Spain, the mine is of great historical and patrimonial importance as a key player in the defence of Ronda and its final re-conquest.
The steps down to the gorge are steep, some say they count to 365, one per slave of the Moorish king, we will never know. However, the writing above the mine is :
“And we have created everything from water. And Allah spoke the truth”
The mine is a lovely walk, a great lesson in history and you certainly get one of the best views in town. I used to hide here when I was not sure how to get out of the loneliness that enveloped me living here alone.
Ronda is one of those towns that hardly claims fame, like the giants of Seville, Granada or Cordoba. It sits quietly on the top of the mountains, overlooking almost half the region. It is a place where you go for grounding yourself in the rich and empowering history of Muslims that carved the path to European enlightenment. Ronda is proud and dignified, it carries itself with a delicate force and it holds the spirit of hospitality, gait and tradition wholeheartedly. As I always say, the Spanish have more Arab blood than they dare to admit.