The Plaza de Toros de Ronda is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, and, by virtue of its architecture, character and beauty, is recognised as one of the finest in existence.
Not for nothing is Ronda considered one of the cradles of modern bullfighting. The tradition dates back to the 18th century, when the town still maintained its cavalry traditions in the shape of a company dedicated to the conservation of the equestrian art. The need to defend the area had led Felipe II to found the Real Maestranza de Caballerîa de Ronda in 1572, in order to guarantee a steady supply of skilled riders. To this end, one area of the town was exclusively reserved for equestrian manoeuvres, which, continuing a tradition prevalent in Spain since the Middle Ages, included dexterity exercises involving bulls.
When bullfighters on foot replaced the horseback variety in these bullfighting pursuits in the XVIII century, the Romero family came to the fore in Ronda, for three generations producing the most outstanding bullfighters of the period. The best of these was Pedro Romero (1754-1839), the leading figure in the bullfighting world of the day. When he retired, he had dispatched over 5,000 bulls without receiving a single scratch in return. His personality, a blend of bravery, skill and aesthetic sensibility, earned bullfighting a social dignity and respect that it had hitherto been denied.
This boom in bullfighting lead the Real Maestranza de Caballerîa de Ronda to erect its famous bullring, which was designed by Josê Martîn de Aldehuela, the same architect who built the grandiose Puente Nuevo bridge across the Tajo de Ronda gorge.
It took six years to build and was inaugurated in 1785 with a bullfight in which Pedro Romero and Pepe Illo both performed. Built in monumental style from sandstone, its noble design, featuring a double gallery of arcades and no uncovered seating, is more reminiscent of a cloister than a bullring, bearing similarities to the circular patio of the famous Palacio de Carlos V at the Alhambra in Granada. The arena itself, which is 66 metres in diameter, is surrounded by a passage formed by two stone rings. The two stories of seating consist of five rows of terracing and 136 columns forming 68 Tuscan column arches, with the exception of the Royal Box, which features fluted columns, floral decorative motifs on its pendentives and a frieze adorned with rosettes. The main box is situated above the bullpen, which stood in line with the main faèade until this was moved to Calle San Carlos, now Virgen de la Paz.
The bullring is crowned by a sloping roof with Arabic tiling; inside, it is characterised by an elegance unrivalled by any other bullring.
In the 20th century, a second dynasty of Ronda bullfighters, the Ordóñez family, earned Ronda a further entry into the annals of bullfighting history. The bullfighting style introduced by Cayetano Ordóñez and his son Antonio Ordóñez attracted the interest of such illustrious figures as Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway.
It was Antonio Ordóñez who, in 1954, created the world-famous corrida goyesca, a bullfight in which the costumes and adornments worn by the participants take us back to the age of the genius painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.