ITS little wonder Spain’s once infamous bandoleros decided to call the southern town of Ronda home: perched on an unusual outcrop of rock in a basin surrounded by plains in turn ringed by rugged mountain ranges, it was ideal territory for bandits intent on ambushing unwary wealthy travellers, and relieving them of a little of their good fortune.
One of the country’s oldest towns with its origins associated with the Paleolithic era’s Cave of Pileta, Ronda is today a living relic of Andalusian stone-age art, but such is often lost on visitors more interested in tales of the bandits who roamed the region from as early as the Ninth Century.
Despite its early association with the Iberians and Bastulo Celts, followed by Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Moors and Muslims before being re-claimed by the Catholic Monarchs, most locals more happily oblige visitors and talk about those bandoleros who holed up in the surrounding Andalusian sierras, ravines, caves and hidden valleys than they do about ethnic and Paleolithic history.
During the Ninth Century these bandits were the centre of widespread opposition to Cordoban rule, and were still active as late as the early part of the 20th Century.
But it was in the 19th century that they really came to prominence, preying on the rich and becoming folk heroes. The most famous was El Tempranillo who at the age of 22 claimed “The king may reign Spain, but in the sierra I do,” and demanded an ounce of gold for each vehicle that crossed his domain.
As part of the Andalusian folklore the bandoleros were both hated as murderous gangs of cut-throats, and loved for the way they emerged from their lairs to rob the rich and powerful, or simply extract payment for safe passage, passing their “winnings” to the poor and powerless – kind of Spanish equivalents to Robin Hood.
But far from regarding themselves as romantic, the bandoleros were merely trying to survive in a society whose blatant social injustice nurtured banditry; most were driven by misfortune into a life of crime and living on the periphery of society, and their story is told in one of Ronda’s most popular tourist attractions, the Museo del Bandolero (Bandits Museum)
The town also boasts one of the oldest bullrings in Spain that dates from 1785. It was here that the legendary matador, Pedro Romero climbed down from his horse to fight a bull on foot, and so set the pattern for contemporary Spanish bullfighting. His costumes can be admired in another of Rondo’s variety of museums that are dedicated to such things as hunting, the arts and Ronda’s history, while the 16th century Mondragon Palace and the Moorish King’s House are also worth visiting.
And during the Feria de Pedro Romero in the second week of every September, bullfighters in replica century-old costumes draw enthusiasts from all over Spain.
Ronda is also famous for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the River Guadalevín through its centre; the 18th century Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) that straddles the 100m chasm below, offers unparalleled views out to the Serranía de Ronda mountains.
The town’s historic quarter with a medieval layout reminiscent of the Arab age, is scattered to the south of the river, while the more modern town that emerged after the 16th century, lays is to the north.
Several other bridges unite the two halves of one of the most interesting towns on the route of the Whitewashed Villages, in the heart of the Ronda hills, only a few kilometres from the Costa del Sol.
A day touring through these quaint villages is highly rewarding but is made more enjoyable with a bit of research in some of Ronda’s interesting museums and palaces.
(Visiting Ronda and its neighbouring Whitewashed Villages is part of a 10-day Moorish Spain to Marrakech journey by train and ferry with Adventure World operator Explore Worldwide. The itinerary begins in Malaga in Andalusian Spain and travels to Ronda, Tangiers, Fes, Rabat and Marrakech.
The cost of $1265 includes all train, ferry and road transport, overnight hotel accommodation and breakfast and daily sightseeing tours through Moorish Spain, Tangiers and other Moroccan cities. For more details phone 1300-302-591 or visit www.adventureworld.com.au )