In the Spanish Civil War, a group of fascists was clubbed and flailed as they were forced to run the gauntlet between two rows of townspeople in the plaza on top of a cliff above the river. At the end of the line, the victims, dead or alive, were thrown over the cliff.
Today, 70 years later, we stood in that plaza, and walked alongside that cliff, looking hundreds of metres down to the bottom of the gorge, below the ’New Bridge’ (finished in 1793)
It is a beautiful sight, tall arches, across the narrow wooded El Tajo gorge, joining the two parts of the town of Ronda. There are cottages half way down and winding pathways, leading out to the fertile fields of the high mountain alley. But I find it impossible to see only the charm and not read the sad and brutal history underneath.
In the car coming down the mountain, we listened to the CD which Rosemary bought at the Bandit museum. The Habanera from ‘Carmen’ filled the little Peugeot. The gullies and ravines and barren peaks around us were the setting for the original story- we could just imagine a bandit behind every rock. Disaffected and outlawed men across the ages have found refuge in this massive range of mountains, the Serrania de Ronda, and made their living robbing travellers, and smuggling contraband. Even today the area is known for its lawlessness, and illegal drug and contraband smuggling from Africa to Europe.
This part of Andalucía is famous for the white towns clinging to the hilltops and tucked into valleys. All very picturesque, but mimicked in less attractive way by the strip developments of holiday homes and multi storey apartment complexes all along the coast, and encroaching up the hillsides accompanied by golf courses.
The official name is ‘urbanizaciones- huge complexes of mostly holiday homes, with bars on every window, locks on every door and gateway. There are no little shops or bars, no attempt to create a community, so no heart. Now that the recession is affecting the building trade, many sit unfinished, gaping holes and ugly piles of rock devaluing the otherwise dramtic and magnificent Mediterranean landscape.
What about the bull fighting? It al began in Ronda with a grandfather, father and son each adding to the deadly dance between man and bull, and even starting a College of Bullfighting. We stood beside the oldest bull ring in Spain, but not even a history of 220 years was enough to entice me in.
Beautiful gardens, hypnotic views, fabulous buildings, charming courtyards and doorways and window boxes, dramatic winding roads, and a heavy hearted history- a mix of a day.