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Bridges and bullrings: visiting Ronda

Quite a few cities around the world can boast a bridge as their iconic image. London has Tower Bridge, Sydney has the Harbour Bridge and San Francisco, the Golden Gate.

The Puente Nuevo in Ronda must be up there with the best of them. It’s not particularly big…just 66 metres long. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with its dramatic setting. It’s safe to say it’s the most famous bridge in Spain.

Puente Nuevo, probably the most famous bridge in Spain, spanning El Tajo, the gorge of the Rio Guadalevín

It spans El Tajo, the spectacular gorge of the Rio Guadalevín, connecting the old medieval Ronda with the newer settlements on the other side.

It may be called Puente Nuevo – New Bridge – but it’s only really new in comparison with the two other bridges lower down the gorge: the Puente Romano (which despite its name, was probably built by the Moors) and the nearby Puente Viejo – Old Bridge – dating from the 16th century.

Puente Nuevo from the Arco del Cristo viewpoint
Puente Nuevo with spring blossom
Puente Nuevo at night

The Puente Nuevo wasn’t the first attempt to build a bridge on this spot. They had a go in 1734, when an ambitious single span bridge went up. Sadly, it didn’t last long; eight years later it collapsed, taking 50 unfortunate folk with it.

So the next time, they took no chances. The Puente Nuevo would have three much shorter spans and be rooted firmly at the base of the gorge. It took 40 years or so to build the 98 metre high structure, finally opening in 1793. And it’s still carrying traffic more than 200 years later, so it’s clearly stood the test of time rather better than its predecessor.

Down at the base of the bridge, at gorge level
Looking up from the base of the gorge, underneath the Puente Nuevo
Follow the path down from the Plaza Maria de la Auxiliadora for the best views

Where to get the best views

Head down into the gorge on the path from Plaza Maria de la Auxiliadora. Stop at the Arco del Cristo viewpoint for happy snaps, and then there’s a slightly dodgy trail down to the base of the bridge itself. Handrails are clearly for cissies hereabouts; this is not a path for flip flops either. The neck-craning view is definitely worth the scramble though.

The Puente Viejo, built in the 16th century, but superseded by the seriously spectacular Puente Nuevo
Looking down on the Puente Romano and the Baños Arabes

Happily, there’s plenty more to Ronda than just its bridge. The town itself is set in a beautiful bowl of hills and mountains; the views from the Mirador de Ronda near the Parador are simply stunning, especially at sunset.

In the old town, take in the Casa del Rey Moro (the House of the Moorish King, though its unlikely any Moorish king ever lived there) and the Mina de Agua beneath. Literally translated as the Water Mine, its 231 steps lead down to the river Guadalevín and a vital water supply when Ronda was under siege.

Walk on down the steep hill to the Baños Arabes (Arab Baths) near the Puente Viejo. Perhaps the best preserved in Spain, they’re similar in layout to a Roman baths, complete with hypocaust underfloor heating – though apparently the Arab clients preferred steam rooms to bathing Roman-style in warm water.

Inside the Baños Arabes, Ronda, the best preserved example in Spain
Star shaped ceiling vents in the Baños Arabes, Ronda

Standing beneath the vaulted ceiling on a chilly winter’s day, with the cold seeping out of the stonework, it’s not easy to imagine how the steam room must have looked back in the 13th century, even with sunshine streaming through the star-shaped openings in the roof above. 

Looking up to Ronda city walls built by the Moors, who ruled this part of Spain for centuries
On the ramparts of the Moorish walls of Ronda
Looking out onto open countryside from Ronda’s ramparts
Looking through a gateway in the Moorish walls of Ronda

Stroll up the hill to the medieval Arab city walls, with beautiful views over the surrounding countryside, and up into the Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent.

Ronda has to have one of the most elegant town halls (ayuntamientos) in Spain. Across the square is the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor.

Surely one of the most beautiful town halls in Spain?
Santa Maria la Mayor, Ronda

A few streets away is the Palacio Mondragon, originally Moorish, with beautiful Moorish arches and a patio complete with tinkling fountain. The views from the garden perched on top of sheer cliffs are worth the admission price on their own.

Palacio Mondragon now houses Ronda Museum, though strangely for an Arab palace, there’s not much Moorish history on display. Lots about the Romans though. It’s almost as if the Moors were never there. Odd.

Palacio Mondragon, Ronda
A typical Moorish patio, Palacio Mondragon, Ronda
Patio, Palacio Mondragon, Ronda
View from the patio, Palacio Mondragon

Bullfighting in Ronda

Head back across the Puente Nuevo for Ronda’s other main claim to fame. Bullfighting. Corridas are not everyone’s cup of tea, even here in Spain, but Ronda’s bullfighting fiesta every September is internationally famous.

Plaza de Toros, Ronda
The first purpose built bullring in the world
Whether you’re a bullfight fan or not, the Plaza de Toros in Ronda is well worth a look.
Through these doors, the fighting bulls head into the arena.

The Plaza de Toros was the world’s first purpose-built arena, staging its first corrida in 1785;  many of the traditions of the modern bullfight were invented here. Its sandstone arcades are an elegant counterpoint to the bloody ritual acted out on the arena floor.

Fascinating fact

Ronda’s Plaza de Toros attracted the likes of Ernest Hemingway – not a man to knowingly miss a bullfight – and actor/writer/filmmaker Orson Welles. Statues to both men are nearby. Welles liked Ronda so much, he’s spending eternity here; his ashes are buried on the nearby farm of his matador friend Antonio Ordóñez.

Ronda is also home to the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda: the Royal Riding School which started here in 1572, 200 years before the Plaza de Toros was built.

If you’re lucky, you can catch the horses exercising in the indoor school next to the bulllring. Spanish horses were once famed as the finest in Europe. No self-respecting monarch would be seen riding anything else.

Tip – try this rooftop bar!

For a beautiful view over the Plaza de Toros and surrounding countryside, head for the rooftop bar at the Hotel Ronda Catalonia opposite and try a sunset gin tonic. The hotel is a good place to stay too. We did!

Mirador, sunset, Ronda

© Guy Pelham

Want to see more in beautiful Andalucia? Check out these posts:

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