Cradle of modern bullfighting
Ranjita Biswas

Often called a ‘white city’, Ronda’s charm has enticed writers and poets for ages to this
Spanish destination

The city seemed to hang, literally, from cliffs. At first glance it would appear impossible but Ronda, one of the oldest Spanish towns, is just that, a city on the precipice from a plateau in Spain’s Andalusia region. It is often called a ‘white city’ because the lime paint-covered houses make an undulating landscape in pristine white. Poet Rainer Rilke called it a "giant of a rock on whose shoulders rests a city whitened and re-whitened with lime."

Ronda is one of the most visited towns in Andalusia today. Its antiquity goes back to many centuries. In fact, plant historians have rediscovered a fir tree there called pinsapo which was there even in the Ice Age. The fir has the unusual property of having the male and female flower in the same plant. Some of the old agricultural crops from the region on the verge of extinction have also been revived and it is now one of the major wine growing areas in Spain.

Situated in the Malaga province in the south, Ronda was called Arunda (surrounded by hills) by early settlers Celts. Indeed Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra Bermeja ranges make it a natural fort, the importance of which inhabitants and kings from the Romans to the Moors readily grasped. A bridge (now called old bridge), built during the Moorish reign, joined two parts of the town. In the Middle Age with the Reconquest by the Christians the main part Madinat came to be known as ‘the city.’ In 18th century a new bridge (Puente Nuevo) was built from where you can now look down the sheer El Tajo gorge with River Guadalevín. The insides of this bridge were once used as a prison for dangerous criminals.

Ronda’s charm enticed writers and poets for ages. Ernest Hemingway who visited it often to watch the bullfight wrote in his book Death in the Afternoon: "This is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon …the entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background."

Ronda’s bullring, Plaza de Toros established in 1785, is the oldest continuing bullring in Spain. Hemingway called it the "cradle of modern bullfighting." It was also the venue of the legendary matador rivalry between Pedro Romero, reputed to be greatest matador ever, and Joaqín Rodríguez and Pepe Hillo of Seville. The Romero family introduced the use of the cape, or muleta and a specially designed sword for the kill. Pedro is revered for transforming bullfighting into "an art and a skill in its own right," doing away with horseback riding and introducing the matador on foot, establishing the Ronda school. The annual bullfight Feria Goyesca in September attracts thousands of visitors and descendents of the families are in charge of the event.

Famous filmmaker Orson Welles was a frequent visitor too and his ashes were buried in a well located on the rural property of his friend retired bullfighter Antonio Ordoñez.

Fact File

  • How to get there: Ronda is accessible by road from Malaga and also Seville.
  • Where to stay: Hotels to suit all budgets from luxury to youth hostels. Day trips from Malaga and Seville are popular too.
  • What to do: Explore the city by walking, sample local food.
  • What to eat: Being near the sea excellent seafood is available. For vegetarians, salad with goat cheese, farm fresh vegetables are real treats.
  • What to buy: Ceramic tiles, souvenirs, bullfight memorabilia.

The ring is a perfect circle which can accommodate 5,000 people with a special enclave for the royal family. The bulls are of special Torro Bravo strain and bred specifically for the ring.

The ring has a museum on bullfighting and gives a glimpse of why Spain is so passionate about bullfighting still, though the Catalonia province has abolished it now.

The cobbled paths of old Ronda or La Ciudad have many fine houses with beautiful balconies and colourful potted geraniums. Some of the old private houses like the Casa don Bosco are open to visitors. This house was given to the Silesian order by the owners Granadinos family so that it could be a rest house for old and ill priests.

At the square at the highest part of the city there is the interesting Collegiate Church of Santa Maria which displays the different stages of history Ronda has gone through. Originally there was a Roman altar in memory of Julius Caesar’s victory; at the end of the ninth century the Moors built the main mosque at the site. And then after the Reconquest the Christians built a Gothic church using some of the old material. The Mihrab Arch of the Moors is still there, as also are the balconies, unusual for a church, which was used for the nobility to sit down and enjoy entertainment shows, public events etc.

Lunchtime break gives an opportunity to explore many restaurants lining the main street. Try out bacalao (cod fish) on potato accompanied by glasses of sangria at restaurant Azahar at Hotel Catalonia Reina Victoria. You will not regret it.