Magic Places – Ronda

My Dad once gave me a book. Not a birthday or Christmas present. Just a gift. Nice touch old man I thought. The book was Hemingway’s For Whom The Bells Toll, a classic set in the Spanish Civil War on which he personally reported. In the novel Nationalist sympathisers are thrown off the cliff in a village, believed to be the town of Ronda in Andalucia, Southern Spain. I was fascinated; an inland town built on a precipice. I had to see it.

The images conjured up reminded me of the mysterious cities described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan in Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, only to discover Calvino is in fact painting a picture of only one city. So I took a week off University last month (don’t tell on me!) and we flew out to Andalucia to get lost in Seville’s labyrinthine streets, muse on the cliffs of Ronda and party with the students in Granada. And to get some sun!

Ronda was originally settled over 2500 years ago, a city on an outcrop overlooking a vast plain and remained a near-impregnable fortress throughout Andalucia’s varied history. The Moors from North Africa who ruled Andalucia for nearly 750 years built up much of the old town where Hemmingway and Orson Welles among others came to reflect. As the population grew under renewed Spanish rule, a new town developed on a neighbouring outcrop. Transportation was naturally a problem so in the 18th Century, they built a bridge to connect the outcrops.

The bridge took 32 years to complete and must be considered an architectural masterpiece of the era, looming 120 metres above the canyon floor. Looking over it into the ravine is a scary sensation. Legend has it (and Andalucia is full of tall stories) the architect fell from his own bridge trying to etch his name onto the facade. Spreading out from the bridge is a vast plain. Walk over its short expanse to the old town with its quiet cobbled streets, whitewashed homes, the awesome, little bandit museum, its imposing churches and delicate convents and then take the paths down into the ravine to see the underside of the bridge and small farms that dot the plain that stretches to the distant mountains. In the sun, its a simple, re-affirming time.

Ronda is about an hour from Malaga, a direct connection from East Midland’s airport. Try to get there on a weekday to avoid the daytrippers and you’ll be rewarded with the just locals, the quaint shops and the expansive views. One or two days is ample to see this small city numbering only 35,000 but its a weirdly humbling experience. Then you can catch a bus or train for the oranges of Seville, the Alhambra in Granada, one of the wonders of the world, the beaches near Malaga, the churches of Cordoba, the ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada mountains or the wind at Tarifa, perfect if you kite-surf. Andalucia is wild, diverse, historic and ultimately lovely. And 22C in February!


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