It’s still the Moors v Christians

Ronda Travel Blog

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What a romantic notion – a day in the country.
Imagine your shiny red convertible sports car hugging tight to the crumbly edge of a cliff face, winter’s sun doing its best. Your hair is floating about you in gentle ‘designer’ waves and the smiles on both your faces tell a story of adventure and peace.

It’s not exactly how my day in the country went, but in my mind it is damn near close. The car was not an open top sports car but it certainly was comfortable and when the rain hit later in the day, it was wonderfully warm and cosy.
So where did we go? It was a bit of a magical mystery tour south from Sevilla towards the region of Cádiz to a gorgeous white pueblo literally cradled in a clutch of craggy mountains.

Benamahoma means ‘sons of Mahoma’ in Arabic and is one of the famed white towns of Andalucía. Boasting a meager population of about 400, it swells during August for a famous fiesta celebrating the conquest of the Moors by the Christians. Half of the town lads dress as Moors and the other half as Christians (not sure if straws are drawn to determine who gets what). A traditional battle is waged with the obvious result occurring every year. It is yet another colourful event I have added to my calendar!

Wandering through the picturesque streets, we could not resist some of the local delicacies and ended up with a portable picnic - a round of local cured goat’s cheese, a chorizo, some local honey and a seriously large bottle of my favourite sweet moscatel wine. They have been a constant reminder of this cute village in the days following our trip.

The little village sits in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, which has the highest rainfall of any area in all of Spain. This and the rugged limestone mountains (1500m) have created a unique microclimate which supports the rare Spanish fir (Pinsapo) that grows in the Sierra de Pinar close to Grazalema. As a relic from the ‘tertiary’ period the tree was under the threat of extinction and has now been protected. In 1977 this area was declared a "Reserve of the Biosphere" by UNESCO due to the exceptional variety and wealth of its fauna and flora. Although there are plenty of walking trails in the Sierras, some are only accessible with a local guide accompanying, in order to protect the Pinsapo.

We continued on a short distance to the slightly larger village of Grazalema, stopping for a wander and a delicious lunch of local wild mushrooms and the local delicacy, hearty Grazalema soup.

The steep cobbled streets are reminiscent of villages from the 50’s and the architecture is very different from other Andalucian pueblos I have visited. Homes have distinctive red tiled and thickly whitewashed walls. The window frames are low to the ground and encased in intricate wrought iron ‘rejas’. Pretty potted plants spill through them into the streets making wonderful photo ops!

Although we did not visit the 17th Church of San Jose, it is said to house paintings by a disciple of Murillo. I have fallen in love with Murillo’s work since attending the opening night of an exhibition at my nearby Museo de Bellas Artes in Sevilla. Maybe next visit. . .

Grazalema was established in Moorish times by Berber settlers who discovered a striking similarity between the Sierra de Grazalema and the mountains of their homeland. They introduced sheep to graze the lush mountain pastures and produced wool for ponchos and blankets to guard against the wet climate. In 1485 the Duke of Arcos conquered the Moors in Grazalema but the cottage industry of producing woollen blankets (the renowned ‘mantas de Grazalema’) has continued to today.

On leaving the pretty village after our typically late lunch, we continued on, hugging close to the craggy cliffs before descending towards our final destination of Ronda. I was already in overwhelm after a deliciously fun afternoon in the Sierras and now the wonders of Ronda lay ahead of us also.

Ronda is fast becoming a ‘must see’ destination in Andalucia (after Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba). It has retained its historic charm via the original old centre and is a tourist hot-spot for both the spectacular scenery and its fame as the birthplace of ‘modern’ bullfighting.

Firstly, the scenery. The town itself straddles a 100m El Tajo gorge (via the 18th century ‘new’ bridge) and many of the houses occupy a gravity-defying space inset in the stone cliffs. In the distance, the Serranía de Ronda mountains make a beautiful sunset backdrop. The old town cobbled streets still house many of Ronda’s titled families.

Secondly, the picturesque plaza de toros (bullring) is where most people head for to get a glimpse of times gone by in the wonderful museum.

The original form of bullfighting was called the ‘Jerez school’ and matadors fought atop horses. Legendary bullfighter Pedro Romero broke away in the 18th century and founded the style in which matadors stand their ground on foot.
Each year in Ronda there is a spectacular Feria Goyesca in which the fighters and many of the audience dress in the manner of Goya’s sketches of life in the region. Goya was the court painter to King Carlos IV and a keen observer of Spanish culture. His women wore ornate mantillas (the ornate lace head-dresses) and beautiful dresses of the nobility of the time which are now copied in the dress of many women attending the annual Feria Goyesca.

Jose and I wandered the old town, soaking up the represented cultures – roman, moorish, jewish, and catholic. A trip would not be complete without a visit to the plaza de toros. It was a refreshing change to find the entire place open for us to wander at will and see behind the scenes. It was strangely deserted so we had a wonderful opportunity to experience our visit in peace. Just as we left, the rains came down and we were caught (umbrella-less) in a mad dash to cover. A hot chocolate later and we quickly retraced our steps to the car but not without getting pretty wet and chilled.

The result has been a couple of weeks of sniffles and coughs but it was well worth it to spend such a divine day in the pueblos blancos!
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photo by: Pearl510