If you have acrophobia—more commonly known as the fear of heights—you can pretty much cross Ronda Spain off your vacation bucket-list. Why? Because this otherwise charming Spanish town will give you the heebie-jeebies so bad, you may never sleep soundly again.
What is Acrophobia?
Acrophobia is the fear of heights—or, to be more specific, the fear of falling from them. Sufferers will go to great lengths to avoid going to great heights. (Bada-boom! Hey, is this thing on?) They are disinclined to board airplanes, ride elevators, or climb ladders. Worse, Acrophobia can lead to debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and a roof littered with Frisbees®.
Ronda Spain is your typical Spanish town. Or is it?
The town of Ronda is located on the coincidentally named Ronda Plateau in the province of Málaga. The province of Málaga is located in Andalusia, which is slightly northeast of Africa. And Africa is a song by the Los Angeles rock band, Toto.
At an elevation of 2,500 feet, the Ronda Plateau’s climate is slightly cooler than sea-level areas, yet its nonetheless warm and temperate. The Mediterranean summers are warm and dry, while the winters are cooler and wetter. Not surprisingly, the area popular with European tourists seeking to escape their own shitty weather.
Honestly, for such a supposedly hot tourist destination, Ronda Spain doesn’t make a great first impression. Rolling up on this tiny Andalusian village isn’t much different from approaching any other mountain town in Spain.
Nothing all that unusual ever jumps out at you, initially, yet first impressions can be deceiving. Press southward into the city center, and you’ll quickly discover that Ronda Spain harbors a dark and terrifying secret. One known only to the thousands of tourists who visit each year.
There’s something very wrong with Ronda.
Ronda is one of the oldest settlements in Spain, dating back to the 6th Century BCE. It was one of the final settlements made at the end of the Celtic Iron Age expansion. Probably because the Celts were tired of schlepping all that heavy iron around.
In the 8th Century, Berber tribes illegally emigrated from Africa and replaced the local Celtic population using a technique later called “colonization.” Yet, Ronda flourished as an independent Berber kingdom. It developed into a cosmopolitan cultural center, complete with mosques, palaces, and weekly yoga classes for Seniors.
Walk around Ronda’s “Old Town” and things start to get a little more interesting. Stroll past the famous bull-fighting ring (more about that later), and you’ll see the luxurious Hotel Catalonia Ronda, located along the town’s main pedestrian shopping street.
Looking to the South, you’ll see a lot of other buildings that look like they might be residences for the tiny town’s 35,000 current inhabitants. And you’d be right.
Yet something about those structures is odd. They look somehow distant, further away than you’d expect. There’s an inexplicable gap between you and them. As you walk closer, you realize that the hotel is built on the banks of a river or something.
A river “or something” runs through Ronda Spain, indeed.
Most civilizations have historically been built along naturally occurring water sources such as oceans, lakes, and rivers. In that regard, Ronda Spain isn’t unusual. It, too, was built beside a waterway. Specifically, the Guadalevín River aka, the “River of Milk” (a metaphorical name, thankfully).
For eons, the Rio Guadalevín has eroded its way down through the Ronda Plateau’s featureless flatness, effectively cleaving the plateau—where the town of Ronda would one day be built—in twain.
On the north side of the river is the Old Town’s bullfighting ring, shopping, restaurants, and a hotel or two. On the south side is Ronda’s New Town, zoned mostly for residential. Though there are reportedly fortresses, parks, and promenades over there, too.
Crossing the Guadalevín river without getting wet.
Getting from one side of the river to the other would’ve been relatively easy in its early days. Heck, you could’ve walked through its shallow water, if needed. Yet, by the time humans finally settled the area around 500 BCE, that task was far more challenging. Why? Because, while the river isn’t any deeper today, time and erosion have made the crossing slightly more complicated. Now, it involves an additional activity.
Namely, rappelling down the 390-foot-deep El Tajo canyon. In a word, yikes.
Don’t look down. No, seriously, El Tajo Canyon is scary deep.
Ronda Spain was built on either side of a ravine so steep that, if you fell, you’d have time to scream, take a breath, and scream again before becoming goop on a rock.
This geographic gash in the Ronda plateau is carved so deeply into the Spanish landscape that you’d think it was created by an alien’s crashing spaceship, or a superhero who got punched by an alien.
El Tajo Canyon was carved by the Río Guadalevín over millennia. It was undoubtedly a serious deterrent to foreign armies thinking of invading the town.
Attacking Ronda via El Tajo Canyon would make your troops sitting ducks for archers, oil-pourers, and anyone with a rudimentary understanding of gravity. It’d be a suicide mission for anyone who didn’t have a division of Abrams M1 tanks or a few fire-breathing dragons.
The town’s inherent defensibility made Ronda Spain a magnet for scofflaws, rebels, guerrilla fighters, and Hollywood celebrities.
Famous people liked Ronda Spain a lot.
The town’s fame was spread far and wide by its close association with American Europhiles. Film director, Orson Welles, spent so much time in Ronda that, between alternating gulps of wine and gasps of air, he insisted on having his booze-soaked ashes buried there. Hopefully somewhere inflammable.
Likewise, the author and serial groom, Ernest Hemingway, considered Ronda a great place to go for a honeymoon or four. Here’s how Ernest described the place using what I’m guessing are…I want to say, sentences?
But Hemingway didn’t think Ronda’s canyon and cliffside were only a good location for honeymooning. He also thought they were a good place for murder.
In “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” one of Hemingway’s lesser known novels, the author writes about the execution of Nationalist sympathizers by shoving them off cliffs. Hemingway based his account, allegedly, on killings that took place in Ronda Spain.
Now, I don’t know if that story’s true or not. Yet I can certainly attest that it took all the strength I could muster not to hip-check one gawking tourist into El Tajo Canyon for repeatedly saying, “Wow…just wow,” over and over again.
I mean, we all get it, bro, we’re very high up—wait until you see the Grand Canyon.
The town of Ronda did not brook an uncooperative brook.
Beyond its terrifying 390-foot high crevice, Ronda is also notable for the Puente Nuevo. This “New Bridge” was built to connect the two sides of the town at plateau level. Prior to its construction, folks could only stare across the chasm at each other and wave.
Centuries earlier, the Ancient Romans had built a bridge across the river called, Puente Romano. Like most old Roman stuff, it still survives intact to this day. But they built it down by the river itself and, as the town of Ronda expanded, the need to bridge the two upper halves became more pressing.
So, in the 1730s, the town council decided to build a more ambitious bridge than Puente Romano. Construction went along swimmingly until 1741 when it entirely collapsed, killing about 50 of Ronda’s residents. Awkward.
Over the next 18 years, the town kinda just swept up the rubble, buried the bodies, and tried to forget the whole incident. Yet the problem still remained.
In 1759, they tried erecting the bridge again—this time with a competent architect—and were ultimately successful. Unfortunately, frequent construction delays meant that Puente Nuevo took a full 34 years to finally complete.
Ronda’s New Bridge design wisely incorporated “structural integrity” this time as well as some more dubious “upgrades.” For one, they added a square chamber within the bridge’s middle arch to hold and torture prisoners during the Spanish Civil War.
I assume the threat of “We’ll drop you onto those hard rocks way down there,” was a very persuasive method of getting prisoners to talk.
Additionally, the room could be repurposed for pouring hot oil down on invaders stupid enough to attack from the south without any fire-breathing dragons.
Ronda is home to Spain’s oldest bullfighting ring.
Modern bullfighting was practically invented in Ronda in the late 18th century, presumably by a drunk farmer who got a little too amorous with a bull’s girlfriend. “Hey, why’s that bull chasing Billy-Bob around the pasture? And how come Billy-Bob isn’t wearing any pants…?”
Yet, despite being one of the premiere showcases for the sport, actual “fights” only happen here once a year. The single-event Plaza de Toros is, in effect, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of Spanish bull-fighting. I mean, assuming you don’t count the recent addition of the Verizon 200 and Pennzoil 150 races. Which I most certainly don’t.
“Feria Goyesca de Pedro Romero” is Ronda’s best known festival and it takes place in the first week of September each year. Its main attraction is “Corrida Goyesca,” the annual bullfight held in the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, Spain’s oldest bullfighting ring.
The town has been hosting this event here for over 60 years, ostensibly to attract the lucrative anti-bovine crowd. It’s reportedly quite the party. The town closes roads surrounding its center, so that bars can pour wine for the drunken hordes poured into 18th Century Goyesque costumes.
Regrettably, we visited Ronda during the off-season (May), so there weren’t any street parties going on. Instead, we just visited the town’s impressive, Neoclassical bullfighting ring. Built in 1784, the bullring’s architect was José Martin de Aldehuela. The same guy who designed the second Puente Nuevo bridge—you remember, the one that didn’t kill anybody? Yeah, that one.
What’s wrong with bullfighting in Spain.
Personally, I don’t see the valor in bull “fighting” as it’s not much of a fair fight. It would seem more accurate to call the sport “bull-annoying” or “bull-murdering.”
Now, I have no problem with Man Vs. Beast contests of domination, but it has to be consensual. You can’t expect an animal to give its all when it doesn’t want to be fighting in the first place. If the bull stood to take home the prize money, he might be more inclined to go the distance.
Also, it should be mano-a-mano—none of this having teammates sneak up behind him and stab him in his hindquarters bullshit—that’s just cheating. Instead, toss the Toreador a knife and have him go nine rounds with the business end of the bull’s horns. Now, THAT, I’d pay to see.
So, should you visit Ronda Spain?
Spain is a big country, with lots of towns and cities to visit—should one of them be Ronda? Well, if heights don’t bother you, then sure.
Ronda is a delightful European town with scenic vistas, romantic plazas, and historic treasures. It’s perfect for killing time and, because wine is so cheap there, a lot of brain cells, too.
However, if the thought of falling almost 400 feet to a brutal death, dashed upon the rocks of a river terrify you, give you vertigo, or make you puke a lot, maybe take a pass on Ronda Spain.
In that case, you might want to consider going somewhere at sea-level, like Barcelona.