Friday 14 June 2019 – Monday 17 June Ronda – Malaga
The road to Ronda from Gibraltar is winding and steep at times and has limited passing areas but the views of the Guadiario Valley more than make up for it. The Aires where we stayed is a 20-minute pleasant walk into the centre of the Old Town.
Ronda is a mountaintop city about 750 metres above sea level. The Guadalevin River runs through the city, dividing it in two and carving out the steep, 100-metre-deep El Tajo canyon above which the city is perched. The gorge separates the city’s new town from its old town, dating to Moorish rule.
We met our guide at the bullring where our history, culture, traditions, stories and legends began.
Plaza de Toros de Ronda arena is one of the oldest bullrings which still hosts bullfights. It was built in 1785 by Jose Martin Aldehuela- the same architect who built the Puente Nuevo (the New Bridge). It can hold up to 5000 spectators. Francis Romero, born in Ronda in 1695, is credited with giving bullfighting its modern-day rules with the introduction of the cape and the muleta (red cloth fixed to a stick). Today, the bullfights are only held three days in the year during the Feria Goyesca de Pedro Romero festival in September. The rest of the year it is open to the public for tours which are more profitable than the bullfights.
Outside one of the entrances to the bullring are bronze statues of Cayetano Ordonez and son Antonio Ordonez. Ordonez created the Feria Goyesca, a bullfight held the first week of September every year in honour of Pedro Romero, the legendary matador. Before the bullfight there is a procession of horse drawn carriages through the streets of Ronda with everyone dressed in 18th century Goyesque costumes.
Alameda del Tajo is a garden consisting of 5 avenues where there is a selection of mature trees, fountains and pergolas. It is a regular meeting place for locals and is where the most famous viewpoint, or mirador in Ronda is found. It has attracted an obscene nickname, el balcon del f**k, said to derive from the reaction of those who gaze down from it for the first time. There is only a metal fence which stands between the edge and a 300-foot drop into the valley. Apparently, the faint hearted frequently peer briefly over the edge and reel back with a cry of “Ay, f**k!”. The view of the surrounding valleys from here is fantastic.
The Paseo de Blas Infante – In this parkacross from the bullring Orson Wells and Ernest Hemmingway were honoured by statues. The statues are 2.5 metres tall and feature plaques with information about the two men and the town of Ronda. Welles and Hemingway were both bullfighting aficionados with close ties to Ronda. They spent many summers in the town and wrote about its beauty and traditions, and Welles’ ashes are buried at the Ronda country property of the bullfighter Antonio Ordonez.
Welles is best known as the writer, director, and star of the masterpiece Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the best American films ever created.
Hemingway is remembered for such novels as The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls, the latter of which features a climactic scene inspired by real-life events that took place in Ronda during the Spanish Civil War.
Also, in this park are plaques to acknowledge famous bullfighters: Antonio Ordonez, Pedro Romero, Cayetano Ordonez Elnino de La Palma, Francisco Rivera Ordonez and Cayetano Rivera Ordonez. Those with a picture are past immortals and those without a picture are still living. There is a superstition that if they added their picture whilst they are still living it may bring them bad luck.
Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) is Ronda’s new bridge, completed in 1793, after 40 years in construction and after the loss of the lives of 50 builders constructing the span bridging the Tajo gorge. The bridge bisects Ronda into the new town (Mercadillo, ‘little market’) and old (La Ciudad). The views from the bridge of El Tajo gorge are spectacular.
The solid span column interiors on the lower section of the bridge were once used as a prison. According to legend, the prison was a torture chamber and some of the inmates were sometimes dispatched from the balconied windows to the rocks below. Today, the interiors are a museum dedicated to the old prison and bridge.
Puente Viejo (Old bridge) is located150 metres upstream from Puente Nuevo and was built in the 16th century and was the only link between Mercadillo and La Ciudad until 1793 when the new bridge was completed. It was a very steep incline with a hairpin bend to cross from one side to the other. The gate above the bridge, the Arco de Felipe V, from the same time, would have been the only entrance to La Ciudad. You would certainly need good gears and steel nerves to drive this section of road.
Casa del Rey Moro (palace) is an attractive building built in the 18th century. It was said to be the home of the Moorish King, but it was built long after the Moors had been chased out of the area. Inside is a relic of the Moorish occupation: a water mine which requires walking down 300 damp, uneven steps and then back again. Apparently, the Christian captives after cutting the steps into the gorge, had to carry water from the gorge up the steps many times a day.
Viajeros Romanticos is the history of Ronda retold through the use of ceramics. The plaques around the outside have phrases and thoughts alluding to Ronda written by some of the romantic travellers throughout history. It evolved as a result of the First Conferences of ‘Ronda Romantica’ in 2013 which also coincided with the IV Congress of History of Ronda dedicated in that year to Romanticism. It would have taken the local potters a long time as it is very detailed and intricate. The result is very eye catching.
Old Banos de los Arabes (Arab baths) were built in the 13th and 14th century partially underground to better control the temperature of the building. From above you can only see the roof of the baths. They look like short humps embedded in the ground and covered with alien stalks on which rest round glass panels. These are the skylights and the glass protects the chambers below from rain damage.
Minarete de San Sebastian is a small tower built in the 14th century belonging to one of the mosques of Ronda and later used as a bell tower of the extinct Church of Saint Sebastian. From this tower the Almudena (Arab priest) would call the faithful to prayer.
Inglesia de Santa Maria del Mayor is a church built on the ruins of a mosque, which was built on the remains of an earlier Roman temple. The church took over 200 years to build and this is why it has a combination of different artistic styles. At the back is a section that has not been completed. The reason for this is, no tax is paid on an unfinished building until completion.
Cuartel de Milicias Provinciales (City Hall) was originally constructed as a military prison in 1734, but later converted into the town council. Today it houses a police station and several offices.
We finished the end of the guided tour at Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) and headed to Hotel Catalonia Ronda on the advice of the guide to see the best views of the bullring. He was right, the view from the fourth floor is absolutely stunning. You can see the entire ring, its two layers of seating and the Royal Box, as well as a great view over Ronda and the surrounding countryside whilst enjoying a well-earned refreshment.
We left Ronda the next morning via a different, not so steep winding road to Malaga.
Malaga is located in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. We were in Malaga last year and decided to return because we wanted to hike Caminito del Rey a 7.7 kilometre walk from Ardales to Alorain located in the middle of the Province of Málaga (about 60 kms. from Malaga city) and surrounded by the Serranía de Ronda and Antequera. We were unaware that you need to pre-purchase an online ticket at least two months earlier and when we investigated there were no tickets available for the next month at least. We also looked into another option of purchasing a combined train, bus and entrance ticket at the train station. There are 100 tickets available each day which have to be purchased at the train on the day between 6 am and 9.15 am. From where we were camped the logistics of this option were too hard. So, unfortunately, we will have to leave Caminito del Rey for next year.
Last year we visited Gibralfaro castle, the Alcazaba and the Picasso Museum. As we enjoyed Malaga city, we decided to learn more about the history, culture and traditions by going on a free walking tour.
Free Walking Tour
The tour began in Plaza De la Marina which was designed in the mid-19th century when the Muslim walls to the south were demolished.
We were the only people on the tour, so it was a very personalised one. We strolled along the main pedestrian avenue Calle Marques de Larios where all the top brand name shops are located. There are 12 blocks of buildings and the corners are curved. What is beautiful about this street is the look of uniformity, the rooftops are all about the same height and the buildings are painted in pastel colours. The street is about 16 metres wide and the sidewalks are made of marble.
Ave Quiromantica is a bronze statue sculpture located on Calle Bolsa. It has the form that is half pigeon and the other half an open hand with the sculpture resting on a marble base. It was based on a sketch done by the poet Rafael Perez Estrada, to whom the monument is dedicated by the City of Malaga in 2001.
The cathedral is known locally as ‘La Manquita’ (one armed woman) due to its uncompleted second tower. It was built between 1528 and 1782 without the second tower because the funds for this were diverted to help America gain independence from the British. Malaga Cathedral has a very impressive façade and marble stairs leading down to the level of the square separated from the monument by a beautiful gate.
Located in Plaza del Obispo opposite the cathedral is The Bishop’s Palace begun in 1762. The palace is a series of buildings that were joined while being built until it took up the whole block. In the central recess in stone is Virgen de las Angustias (Virgin of Sorrows). Part of this building is the bishop’s residence.
Hospital de Santo Thomas
The hospital was founded in 1505, after the Reconquista. The earthquake of 1884 destroyed a large part of the building. When it was reconstructed the architect designed it with Gothic-Mudejar elements. Its initial use was to serve people without economic resources and eye problems. It is currently closed and unused. It has two coats of arms in which the date of the foundation of the hospital and that of the reconstruction of the building can be read.
Herbolario Esencias de Malaga is a chain of shops that sell teas, plants and flowers recollected, saffron and other herbal ingredients. This is a display of the teas they sell by the scoops. It appears to be very popular way to but different types of tea and the aroma as you walk past is very pleasant.
Café Central Malaga
In 1954, after the Civil War, coffee was very expensive. At that time Jose Prado Crespo, owner of Central Café noticed customers weren’t happy with their coffee so, he decided to work out his customers’ tastes. He came up with 9 denominations of coffee with a certain proportion of milk to help customers decide and then make a sign. He made a poster with two rows, but it didn’t look right he was looking for one more to even it up. He asked his customers and one of his employees (who was a gypsy) gave the solution “do not put it in”. Jose loved jokes so decided to incorporate this into the poster. His poster was made from mosaics and adorned the wall of his café. It is now the way to order coffee in Malaga.
Plaza de la Construction had many names but finally in 1812 it obtained this name. At this square there was once the Town Hall, The Mayor House and the jail. Today many celebrations are held here like New Year’s Eve, and Semana Santa (Easter). This is the reason why the fountain is placed in the corner of the square, to enable celebrations to have room.
On the other side of the square there are five bronze plaques on the ground which represent the front pages of the five newspapers dated 7 December 1978, the day that the Spanish constitution was approved. It is now a pedestrian zone.
Pasaje de Chinitas is a central patio that gives access to Plaza de la Constitution. It is one of the main thoroughfares in the historic centre. The Café de Chinitas that has now disappeared opened its doors here between 1857 and 1937. It was internationally famous, with a little help from references by Federico Garcia Lorca in his poem (El Café de Chinitas) dedicated to the bullfighter Paquiro. La Parrala, Juan Breva and La Nina de los Peines all sang in its theatre, a national benchmark for singing and dancing.
El Pimpi a famous restaurant in Malaga which is 51% owned by Antonio Banderas. It is situated inside an 18th century Malaga mansion house and is one of the longest standing bodega bars in Malaga. The name ‘Pimpi’, was a local Malaga character who used to help the crews and passengers from the ships that arrived at the city’s docks. Before long, they had become the first Malaga tour guides, famous for their service and good humour. No visit to Malaga would be complete without visiting this restaurant. The tapas are to die for, and the atmosphere is great although somewhat chaotic. The décor is also very inviting with plants hanging from the ceiling.
Inside El Pimpi they have an area where you can watch them prepare the Spanish ham. They use three different knives to cut and clean the ham. It is a very intricate process as the ham must be very finely cut and uniform and then displaying must be placed in a single layer. They let it sit at room temperature because this improves the flavour of the ham.
On the wall in El Pimpi are big posters of bullfights and Malaga scenes and a wreath made out of paper collage which was used Holy Week Parade.
Church of the Convent of San Agustin is a 16th century church which consists of three parts: church, school and monk’s residence. It is one of the few integrated religious buildings remaining in Malaga.
Plaza de la Merced is a square presided by the monument to Torrijos and the site of the house (no 15) in which the famous painter Pablo Picasso was born and the park he played in as a child. The building where Picasso was born, is now occupied by the Picasso Casa Natal Museum, which houses a few of his lithographs and has important documents relating to him and artists of his time.
In the middle of the square there is an obelisk which honours the liberal General Torrijos. Torrijos was a general who participated in the failed mutiny in 1817 against the monarchy. He then fled to England with his family. In 1831 he went to Gibraltar and then with 52 companions he tried to land near Malaga but was captured. The king, Fernando VII, ordered them all shot, and this occurred on December 9 on a beach in Malaga. Torrijos and his defenders of freedom are buried under the obelisk. The monument consists of two parts, the first of them with dedications and the second with the names of the deceased. The monument represents the cradle of liberties in Spain. Its construction was funded by donations and raffles. There is a painting by Antonio Gisbert of this event in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
In front of the Picasso Casa Natal Museum in the Plaza de la Merced is a bronze statue of Pablo Picasso. It shows a life size Picasso sitting on a bench with his notebook and pencil.
Roman Theatre was built on the side of a hill in 1A.D., during the time of Augustus Caesar. In the fifth century the theatre was abandoned during the invasion of the German tribes. Later during the time of the Moors, a lot of the material was removed for the construction of the Alcazaba. The site was discovered in 1951. There is an interpretation centre beside the theatre.
Calle Alcazabilla is one of the busiest pedestrian streets of the capital of Malaga and in this building owned by Antonio Banderas is where he lives when he is in Malaga.
At the end of the tour we went in search of a tavern recommended to us by the owner of the campsite where we are staying.
Antigua Casa de Guardia is the oldest tavern in Malaga, founded in 1840. Along the walls are oak casks full of a variety of wines and sherries. The tavern has a long bar, without chairs where one stands while trying the wine. It has a very old-style atmosphere and the wine ranges from 0.90€ to 1.20€
The city of Malaga is filled with a maze of cobblestone streets, and endless shopping (unless it’s siesta time).
We left Malaga and drove to Almeria.