We celebrated my 60th in Ronda, staying in the beautiful Alavera de los Baños hotel situated in the former Jewish quarter. Down many winding steps from the town centre and next to the Arabic baths, the hotel offers beautiful views of the medieval town walls in one direction and of open countryside in the other. Wrought iron gratings, traditional ceramics, original tile flooring and a lovely Moorish garden make it a wonderful place to relax. The breakfasts are out of this world.
Ronda is famous worldwide for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its centre. The 18th century Puente Nuevo – ‘new’ bridge – straddles the chasm below, and there are unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains.
Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, and we took a look around the empty bullring. We also visited the Casa del Rey Moro and the Banos Arabes, just next door to the hotel.
A serene evening
We spend it drinking wine.
The sun going down,
lays its cheek against the earth to rest.
the breeze lifts the coattails of the hills
the skin of the sky is as smooth as the pelt of the river.
How lucky we are to find this spot for our sojourn
with doves cooing for our greater delight.
Birds sing, branches sigh
and darkness drinks up the red wine of sunset.
– Ashiyin Raiqin by Abu Abdallah Ibn Ghalib Al-Rusafi (d. Malaga, 1177)
Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent many summers in Ronda. Both wrote about Ronda’s beauty and famous bull-fighting traditions. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls describes the murder of Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway allegedly based the account on killings that took place in Ronda at the cliffs of El Tajo. But for me, the most evocative cultural association is with the paintings of David Bomberg. One of the best walks we had while we were there was out past the ruined Hermitage de la Virgen de la Cabeza and the nearby Casa de la Virgen de la Cabeza where Bomberg lived in the 1950s, painting the stunning views of Ronda, El Tajo and the surrounding sierra.
David Bomberg’s Ronda: In the Gorge of the Tajo, with its energetic paintwork. Often penniless during his lifetime and relying on the support of patrons,Bomberg was mesmerised by Spanish towns and the surrounding countryside, which provided the inspiration for some of his most spectacular work. In summer 1934 Bomberg set off with his wife, Lilian, to Cuenca in Spain, then travelled south to Ronda. Bomberg, who later described Ronda as ‘the most interesting of the towns of Southern Spain’, explored the countryside on a donkey, finding suitable vantage points from which to study and paint the town.
And so farwell to Ronda and onwards into the sixties:
Earthbound….hear the wind through the tops of the trees
Earthbound….summer sun nearly ninety degrees
Earthbound….big ol’ moon sinking down……
think I might stick around
With each new day that passes I’m in need of thicker glasses but it’s all O K
Someday I’ll be leaving but I just can’t help believing that it’s not today
Every golden moment I have found
I’ve done my best to run right in the ground…..earthbound
Earthbound….see the sky big and beautiful blue
Earthbound….fallen angels are talkin’ to you
Earthbound….keepin’ close to the ground think I might stick around
The hour is early
The whole world is quiet
A beautiful morning’s about to ignite
I’m ready for danger
I’m ready for fire
I’m ready for something to lift me up higher
Life’s been good, I guess
My ragged old heart’s been blessed
With so much more than meets the eye
I’ve got a past I won’t soon forget
You ain’t seen nothing yet
I’m still learning how to fly…
– lyrics by Rodney Crowell
- David Bomberg in Ronda
- David Bomberg: Wikipedia
- A short documentary of Bomberg’s period in Ronda: Tate