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Our Andalucian paradise

My husband and I had lived in Mexico City, LA, Paris, Guadalajara, Oslo, Montreal and Vancouver. On a rainy November night we moved to a small town an hour inland from Malaga. 'Our Andalusian paradise' is about the historical town of Ronda, the mountains that surrounds it, the white villages dotted amongst them, of hikes, donkey trails and excursions around Andalucía and journeys further afield.

The many skeletons and secrets of our Ronda neighbourhood
05 April 2019 @ 08:13

Peak into el campo. Photo ©

When they began to refurbish a ruin a block from our house a couple of weeks back, they found eleven skeletons. Literally. Eleven bodies. The discovery neither shocked nor surprised the construction crew, nor the archaeologist who was called in for the occasion. Actually, skeletons are common in our neighbourhood, not only in closets, but also in the ground.

Neighbourhood square. Photo ©

The discovery wasn’t the first of its kind. Ask any neighbours and they will tell you stories of similar findings, sometimes in their own campo.

La Paqua. Neighbour. Photo ©

These days the authorities are usually called in, though in the past people would often cover up the bones or keep the ancient treasures they had found. Hence, the many Roman column bases one sees surreptitiously placed in closed-off courtyards around the hood. Not that I will squeal on anybody…

Sneak view. Photo ©

In case you wonder, our home is in the historical Barrio San Francisco in Ronda in southern Spain. In this part of the world, one can hardly put a spade to soil without being confronted with the incredible past of the Iberian Peninsula. Celts, Phoenicians, Suevians, Romans, Visigoths, Berbers, Christians and robbers have lived and died in these parts. Everywhere you look there are signs of bygone eras, previous settlements and former empires.

Column bases. Photo ©

I will not force you to sit through a history lesson of Andalucía’s past, but I would like to invite you to take a walk with me through our barrio (neighbourhood) to discover some of its known and not so known former secrets.

Metal gate at 15. Century school. Photo ©


Roman aqueducts and preaching friars

Leaving the barrio. Photo ©

Walking out of our front door, we are literally emerged in history. At the end of our unassuming, narrow street, amongst olive trees and vineyards is what was once a Roman water tower.

View from our street to the campo. Photo ©

At el Predicatorio at the top of our barrio, one can still see remnants of the Roman aqueduct system, which brought water into the municipium of Munda almost 2000 years ago.

Water tower. Photo ©

Today, a lonesome windswept cross tops the ruins, indicating the natural pulpit or predicatorio where the ascetic Capuchin friar Diego José de Cádiz held sermons for his followers in the 18th century.

Predicatorio with view of Ronda. Photo ©


Andalusi necropolis

Almocabar gate  on a winter day with Barrio San Francisco in the background. Photo ©                                             

But let's get back to our home base, Casita 26. Walking the other way to the top of our street, we stand face to face with the old protective town wall, built about a thousand years ago during Ronda’s (then called Runda) 700 years of Islamic rule.

Looking up our street on a rare snowy day. Photo ©

The Almocabar gate dated from around the 13th Century is still there today. The name comes from the Arabic word Al-maqabir which means cemetery, as the Muslims buried their dead just outside the walled-in town. Our neighbourhood is therefore an ancient Andalusi necropolis. Later, when travelling vendors began to be charged for entering the town to sell their wares, those who could not or would not pay the levy started trading outside the town walls. They eventually set up home there, thus beginning the urbanization of our small neighbourhood.

Winter landscape outside town wall. Photo ©

The Christians built their own, larger entrance gate shortly after the re-conquest. Everyone wants to have the last word… Today cars can drive through the same gate where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel rode from our barrio and into Ronda after their victorious battle against the last Moorish governor Hamet el Zegri more than five centuries back.

Almocabar gate with view into Ronda's lower Casco Histórico. Photo ©

I suggest we stop for a coffee at Juan’s, just inside the town gates. We are now in the official Casco Histórico (historic quarter), though as we have come to learn, there is equally rich history outside the town gates. From where we sit, you will notice a narrow street trailing up towards downtown. This street once housed Ronda’s silver and metal smiths. If you squint your eyes, you might be able to imagine how it looked like a few centuries back.


Robbers, armies and nuns

Semana Santa in our barrio. Photo ©

The peace and quiet never lasted long in our little barrio. Shortly after the Christian re-conquest, the Spanish Inquisition began, during which time nobody was safe, especially Muslims, but also Jews and converted Moriscos. Later, during the Napoleonic invasion of the peninsula in the 1800s, much of Ronda’s fortifications were damaged or destroyed. The barrio’s Convento San Francisco barely survived the French armies, only to be attacked again during the Spanish Civil War a century later. Yet, somehow, it is still here.

Convento San Fransisco. Photo ©

If wars and battles weren’t enough, our barrio was often refuge for the famous Bandoleros, or robbers who raided the Serranía de Ronda. Though few were as principled as Robin Hood, some Bandoleros became folk heroes, such as the legendary Pasos Largos.

Rondeños and rondeñas dressed up for Ronda Romántica. Photo ©

Ronda’s old May fair, now renamed Ronda Romántica, is dedicated to its bandoleros. It is not surprising therefore that the procession, with participants from dozens of Serranía villages, starts in our barrio. 

Paquirri with his donkey Paquirra in the Ronda Romántica procession. Photo ©


La Plaza – the heart of our hood

La Plaza San Francisco. Photo ©

Our neighbourhood’s square, Plaza de San Francisco is always bustling with life. Tables of at least half a dozen adjoining restaurants are full of rondeños and visitors alike, while local children play around old men who sit and gossip on one of the square’s many stone benches.

Entrance to Ronda from barrio San Fransisco with old rondeños. Photo ©

Central to the square is a fountain with a statue of St. Francis, from whom the barrio gets its name. It was from this very square that the Marquez of Cádiz gathered his troops before reconquering Ronda on the 20th May in 1485.

As we sit down for an afternoon refreshment, try to imagine how knights on horseback once jostled in this square, while the unfortunate defeated caballeros were quickly brought to the chapel of Our Lady of Grace across the street for their final rites. You can still see the façade of the chapel, allegedly soon to be reformed into a hotel.

Kids laying soccer in front of  Chapel. Photo ©

Imagine as well, the livestock fair and market which was held here until as late as the 1970’s. According to those who lived here then, our barrio had squeaking piglets running about and clucking chickens in every yard. 

Unruly donkey in Plaza San Francisco. Photo ©

Waiting for our tapas to arrive, we have an excellent view of the building site where the skeletons were recently found. According to the archaeologist, the bones were from the last centuries of Islamic rule, based on the placement of the bodies (facing Mecca), and the ceramic pieces found around the site. No tombstones or things of exceptional archaeological value were otherwise discovered, so this time the bones were allowed to rest in peace. 

Andalusi Necropolis. Photo ©

Does living in an ancient necropolis bother us? Not in the least. Wherever we live on this planet, we walk with our own or someone’s ancestors underfoot. To me, it is a great privilege to have our home in a place where so many people and cultures have passed through before us. It is a healthy reminder that regardless of faith and origin, spirits may soar beyond, but this temporary and most finite carcass of ours share the same fate.

Reflections. Photo ©

And here in the square I will leave you, in the heart of our barrio, where past and present meet, and where one can only hope that the Andalusian village life will go on forever and ever more.

Neighbourhood kids practicing for Semana Santa. Photo ©

Like 3


ChristineB said:
05 April 2019 @ 20:43

Thanks for taking us on a trip through time! I was in Ronda several times in 1972 and stayed with Pedro and Teresa and their daughter Pepi, who was about 8 then. I can’t remember the name of the street, but Teresa had a little carnicería and stayed home making chorizo while Pedro took us to the Cueva de la Pileta, which was just a hole , and we could walk in freely. After searching for wild asparagus in the countryside, we actually went to the animal market. Things were so rustic and authentic back then! I live in Madrid and you make me want to revisit Ronda. (I have great photos of me “ toreando” in the old bullring!) Thanks again, great pics!

Dave11 said:
06 April 2019 @ 08:14

Great article - nice read.

anthomo16 said:
06 April 2019 @ 08:40

really enjoyed this - hated history at school but now an old lady find spansh hstory amazing

Getting Older said:
06 April 2019 @ 08:52

Really interesting. When we visited Ronda we visited your barrio and spent some time in the Plaza having tapas and drinks. We also went through the gate a few times. Great to read the history.

huma said:
06 April 2019 @ 09:02

Tremendous blog thanks

toolman2 said:
06 April 2019 @ 11:24

Thank you Karethe for another fascinating article of your home town. My family have previously holidayed in the south of Spain and visited Ronda about twice. It was obvious it had a far greater history than what we were able to see on just two day visits so your submissions to Eye on Spain are a real joy to read. Later this year we intend to move to our Spanish home in Extremadura and ours also is an ancient town which I intend to explore. Not sure that I will go digging for bodies though. Please don't stop writing, I look forward to reading your articles.

cowiz said:
06 April 2019 @ 12:46

Thank you, Karethe for another very interesting article. We saw several places that we have visited before in your photos. It was really nice to learn about the barrio!

marelison said:
06 April 2019 @ 14:47

Great and interesting always. Thank you very much.

Mar Elison

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