The Natural History of

Ronda, Malaga, Spain

 Visited 26 September 2008
Ronda's another great Andalusian town hugging the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean. For its size, it’s incredibly loaded with sites millennia in the making.

Serranía de Ronda

The fun of visiting Ronda from our base in Spain’s Costa del Sol started as soon as we left the toll way that clings to the Mediterranean and started the steep ascent to this historic town about 2400 feet above sea level. This scenic area is called the Serranía de Ronda and it’s part of the set of mountain ranges known as the Baetic Cordillera which start in Morocco and extend into a large portion of southern Spain: Scars left when the African continent crashed into Europe.

These colliding continents left limestone mountains to squeeze Ronda, typically providing views of both mountain and sea. Paleolithic tribes roamed the Serranía de Ronda, leaving behind 20,000-year old red-and-black paintings in the nearby Cueva de La Pileta. Scientists estimate that the worldwide population was about 2000 breeding adults before the Neolithic era –worldwide! – so this was not a crowded place. It still isn’t. But today with the vanishing barriers of the European Union and budget airlines (e.g., Ryan Air), these hills are becoming havens for a different sort of nomad: snowbird Brits crawling their golf courses. We visited in late September 2008 – just as the world financial crisis was beginning to make this area’s nearly omnipresent building cranes an endangered species. A few months after our visit, unemployment in sunny Andalusia hit 22% -- that's double what is was in the great tricities of Detroit/Dearborn/Livonia Michigan. 

The Depression of Ronda

This town of about 35,000 Rondeños rests atop a sloping plateau called the Depression of Ronda (which has nothing to do with the employment rate and everything to do with geology). As we see here, altitude provides it with great natural defenses. 

The Arabs conquered the city (and most of Iberia) very quickly in the early 8th century and Ronda eventually became a mini Moorish kingdom called a “Taifa.” The Christians took a long time besieging this place until winning it back in 1485. (Were the Moors better fighters? Probably not, but the populations they conquered surrendered quickly as they felt – rightly so – that the Moors would be better rulers than the Visigoths.)

El Tajo de Ronda

At left is another view of what you would have to scale with your horse and armor to knock off this town (at least from this approach). This great natural gorge is called “El Tajo de Ronda” or "the Gash." You don’t want to fall into this gap; it’s deeper than a football field is long.

At the bottom of el Tajo (above right), slowly flows the chocolate milk-colored water that much more slowly carved this gorge through Jurassic limestone: The Guadalevín River. Its name means “river of milk” in Arabic. Before flowing into the Mediterranean, it picked up stream and powered several mills grinding flour -- until 1917 when a rock slide destroyed them.

Atop the cliff at left is the old Moorish Ronda called "La Ciudad." Eventually the city overflowed onto the right side (now called El Mercadillo) after the Christians wrestled the city back near the end of their nearly 800-year Reconquista. By mid 16th century, frequent crossings became a requirement of daily life; and residents started pressing for a bridge to be built near here.

Today three bridges cross this gap and it no longer defends Ronda from outsiders who are, in fact, greeted by some of the best bi-lingual tourist signs in the area. Instead, a vertical strip park winds below this Andalusian white town which was once a seasonal home to the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. (It's now Welles’s permanent home as his outsized ashes -- he weighed more than 400 pounds at one point -- were scattered here in the world's oldest bull fighting stadium. Orson ended well.)

Join us on our next page as we explore the three bridges that span el Tajo by clicking here.

Please join us in the following slide show to give Ronda the viewing it deserves by clicking here.

Ronda, Spain

 Next: Ronda's Bridges

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Created on March 15, 2009

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