and the White Villages
While wandering through Ronda, with its medieval ramparts and churches, its Arab bath, its deep water mine and its bridges , you could be forgiven to think that you are exploring one of the cities in Game of Thrones (many of the locations of Game of Thrones are actually located in Spain – Sevilla, Osuna and the Castillo de Almovodar del Rio near Cordoba to name but a few). Perched on top of a cliff, a deep chasm, carrying the Guadalevin River, splits the town into two. Three bridges span this canyon, the Puente Romano or Puente Arabe (its foundations are Roman but the bridge was later rebuilt in the Arabic Period ), the Puente Viejo and the Puente Nuevo. The Puente Nuevo towers 120m above the canyon floor and if you stand on top (and you are anything like me) you might wonder whether it is possible to get to the bottom of the canyon to take some pictures. By visiting the Casa del Rey del Moro this can indeed be achieved. Hidden inside this palace is the so-called Water Mine, which was built in the 14th century to supply the town with water during a time when Ronda was continually fought over by the Moors of Granada and the Christians of Seville. From the palace about 120 steps lead down to the canyon floor via several man-made caves which were hewn in the rock.
After visiting the Casa del Rey del Moro, my partnet and I headed to the Arab Bath (Banos Arabes). Located just outside the old city walls near the Puente Arabe, the Arab Bath of Ronda are considered the best preserved Moorish baths in Spain. They were probably built sometime in the late 12th or early 13th centuries during the reign of the Almohad dynasty (some historians believe that the bath were constructed during the reign of Abomelic from the 14th century ). The exterior of the baths is more or less intact, the Saqiya (water pump tower) still exists, as does the aqueduct. On the top of the Saqiya, and accessed by a ramp from ground level, a donkey turned a wheel that pumped water from the river below and along the aqueduct at the side wall of the baths. A wide well was sunk inside the tower and then connected to the confluence of the two rivers, the rio Guadalevín and arroyo de las Culebras. Within the tower two large wheels and a rope belt would pull the water from the well to the top of the tower in a series of large terracotta buckets (canjilones) that were emptied into a wooden channel that then exited the tower at its top and emptied into the aqueduct adjoining the tower. From the aqueduct the water would run into the baths to be heated and distributed into the hot rooms of the Hammam, the Arabic word for the baths. The technology used in the Saqiya here in Ronda was invented by an Islamic engineer named Abu al Tz ibn Razaz Al-Jazari (1136-1206), and described in a book he published to great acclaim Kitáb fí ma’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya which roughly translated means the Book of Mechanical Devices. While Al-Jazari never visited Ronda, or indeed Iberia, his achievements were followed with interest throughout the Islamic world, and his book spread far and wide very quickly.
The last main stop on our tour of Ronda was the Palacio de Mondragon, nowadays the Municipal Museum of Ronda, which is well worth visiting if you want to know more about the history of this fascinating town. The museum also contains some beautiful and well preserved inner courtyards and small gardens.
After having visited these three sites we ambled along the Arabic walls to the city gates in the south and back past the Plaza Duquesca de Parcent, via the Jardines de Cuenca and back to the Puerto Nuevo – stopping for various coffees, churros and tapas on the way.
The White Villages
While driving around Andalusia we managed to visit a couple of the famed Pueblos Blancos (White Villages), the first one being Arcos de la Fronterra. However, we just got there in time to stick our head into the Basiclia Menor de Santa Maria de la Asuncion, before the church and the whole town shut down for the afternoon (I have to admit I had trouble getting used to the fact that Spain basically shut down between 1pm and 6pm). Having not much else to do we wondered around the cobbled white streets before having a well deserved tappas.
After the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba between 1009 and 1031 Arcos de la Fronterra became an independent Moorish taifa (i.e. a small independent kingdom which was eventually incorporated by the Almoravid dynasty in the 11th and later became part of the Almohad Caliphate. The town became a bulwark of Christianity after king Alfonso X of Castille (1252-1284) expelled the Moors. He was also responsible for the construction of the Basilica, whose ten bells tolled throughout the war with the Moors.
While on our drive to Ronda we passed through Zahara de la Sierra and decided to stop for some tapas and a gander. Originally, the town served as as a Moorish outpost. Due to its position between Ronda and Seville the rocky outcrop at Zahara de la Sierra was the perfect site for the construction of a castle whose main aim was to ward of any attacks by Christian invaders. The town changed hands several times. It was ruled by the Arabs until 1407 after which it became Christian only to be recaptured by the Emirate of Granada in1481. This action of agression gave a pretext to Castile’s war against the Emirate of Granada and the town finally captured by Castilian troops in 1483, after which it remained firmly in Christian hands.