Ronda is one of the oldest towns in Spain. Archaeological discoveries made in the old town centre indicate that it dates back to the Neolithic period. However, the first human presence in the area was much earlier than this, as witnessed by the series of findings made in local caves, notably at Cueva de la Pileta, home to some of the finest cave art from Andalusia’ Paleolithic period.
More recent periods in prehistory saw a number of settlements throughout the area, the most significant surviving remains of which include the megalithic necropolises of Dolmen del Chopo and Encinas Borrachas.
This period also saw the consolidation of the two most important towns in the region, Acinipo and Ronda, though their respective zeniths came later: the Roman era in the case of the former, the Middle Ages in that of the latter.
The area is also home to numerous vestiges of the Roman period, which include the remains found in Ronda itself. However, the most significant discovery of all was that of the Roman town of Acinipo (Ronda la Vieja), given its state of conservation and the fact that it features one of the most representative elements of classical urban design: the theatre. In fact, the old town of Arunda is home to a wealth of magnificent remains.
Following the demise of Acinipo and the upheaval that marked the fall of the Roman Empire, attention was turned to Ronda, a town which, despite its diminutive size in the early Middle Ages, would play a key role in all of the historic events that were to unfold in the area.
At the same time, the Islamic period is also worthy of note for the huge influence it had upon the area and the immense cultural legacy it left in its wake, still evident today in the shape of the urban design, cuisine, traditions and agricultural systems that characterise the Ronda area. It was during this era that Ronda confirmed its status as a fully-fledged town, being made the capital of Takurunna, one of the Kuras or provinces into which Al-Andalus was divided and even becoming one of the independent kingdoms known as Taifas following the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba. A stroll through the town reveals a wealth of reminders of this golden period, including the gate known as Puerta de Almocobar, the Murallas de la Cijara walls, the Baths, the Alminar de San Sebastián tower and the Muralla de la Albacara, to name but a few.
However, its most significant role, and the one for which it is best known, came with the arrival of the Nazarî kingdom of Granada, when its proximity to the territory conquered by the Castilians made Ronda and its surrounding area a border enclave of vital importance. The conquest of the town by the Catholic Monarchs in 1485 signalled a huge economic and cultural upheaval that is still evident today in Ronda’s urban design: the creation of new squares, the widening of streets, etc. The Christians subsequently added further buildings to Ronda’s already-rich architectural patrimony: the Palacio de Mondragón, numerous churches, including Santa Marîa la Mayor, Espîritu Santo, Santa Cecilia and Padre Jesús, convents and monasteries such as La Merced and San Francisco, a small temple dedicated to the Virgen de los Dolores and a hermitage dug out of rock and named in honour of the Virgen de la Cabeza. In fact, Ronda could be described as an Arabic location in which Renaissance and Baroque features have been perfectly blended with the underlying mystique of the old town.
Finally, it was the 18th century that proved decisive in determining the role that Ronda would play in modern-day Andalusia. This century saw the building of the monuments that best typify both the aristocracy of the time and present-day Ronda itself: the bridge known as Puente Nuevo and the Plaza de Toros (bullring). However, it also brought the construction of civil buildings such as the Palacio del Marquês de Salvatierra, the Casa Consistorial and the Casa de Juan Bosco. The period between the 18th century and the end of the 19th saw the birth of the romantic image of the town and the surrounding mountain terrain in which the worlds of the highwayman and the bullfighter made such an enormous impression on many famous travellers, as witnessed by the quotes of Rainer Marie Rilke, the sketches of the Scottish artist David Robert, and the words of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Ronda’s urban design, a confusion of narrow, winding, irregular streets, created an at times mysterious location that cried out to be discovered, a town that inspired immense passion in these early illustrious visitors.
The town is essentially divided into two main districts: the town itself, which is older and does not extend very far in a southerly direction, and the Mercadillo district, which is also an old quarter but has been expanded with the introduction of modern buildings. The town stands on a rocky plateau which is abruptly broken by the gorge of the River Guadalevîn known as El Tajo, which is some 160 metres deep. Its cosmopolitan nature means that the local economy is based primarily on services, particularly those related to tourism, though craftsmanship is another important source of income. Other districts such as San Fernando, La Dehesa and El Fuerte are primarily inhabited by people originally from the villages around Ronda who now work in the town. Curiously, El Tajo has in no way broken Ronda’s continuity nor altered its traditional structure, and this is down to the presence of the River Guadalevîn itself, with its three bridges (two of which are of Arabic origin) linking the two halves of the town. It is primarily for this reason that Ronda’s urban development has been a gradual and uninterrupted process.