Into the Old Town, the Moorish Labyrinth...
After crossing the bridge, make a left on Calle Santo Domingo. This route will make a loop through the old city, passing its most significant monuments. A block ahead on the left is the Casa del Rey Moro (Moorish King’s Home), a decidedly unadorned 18th-century home built on the remains of a Moorish palace. The Jardines de Forestier around it do much to embellish the setting. These gardens were designed in 1912 by the French landscaper Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also took credit for Sevilla’s Parque de María Louisa and Barcelona’s Montjüic. The gardens preserve ample views of the Tajo gorge parting the mountain a few feet away.
From here you can descend the 365 steps to La Mina de Agua at the foot of the gorge. This winding, once secret passage was carved in the stone by the Moors in the 14th century as a way of bringing water up from the river to the city. Using skin jugs known as zagues, Spanish slaves were put to the task. An elaborate system was devised to defend this precious water supply in the event of attack by the Christians. A tower was constructed to monitor the river and mine and to serve as a hidden escape route. The Terraza de la Conquista below it served as a monitoring point and as a first line of defense; the Sala de Armas was supplied with weapons and cauldrons ready to dump boiling oil and water over the edge of the gorge. The Moors of Ronda ultimately capitulated to the Christians in 1485 because the latter managed to... you guessed it, block the city’s water source.
Continuing to the end of the street, the Puente Viejo, the old bridge built by the Arabs, can be reached, along with the remains of the 13th-century Baños Árabes. At this point, a right leads down Calle Marqués de Salvatierra where, at the end of the street, you’ll notice the Alminar de San Sebastián. This 14th-century Mudéjar minaret is all that remains of an Arabic mosque that once occupied the site. At the intersection with Calle Armiñan make a left and then the first right into the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent. Have a seat in the small garden in the center of the plaza and listen for the bells to chime in the tower of the Iglesia de Sta María La Mayor. This structure was also a mosque before King Fernando el Católico converted it into a church in the 15th century. The minaret, along with the inner mirhab, or prayer niche, are all that survive from the 13th-century mosque. If you venture around behind the church you will encounter the Palacio de Moctezuma with its Museo Peinado. The vanguard painter behind the museum, Joaquín Peinado, was born in Ronda in 1898. His occasionally abstract and geometrical depictions of still lives and the naked form are on display in this renovated palace. Across the plaza is the Ayuntamiento, or town hall, a 20th-century peach-colored restoration with a long, flat façade composed of two levels of windowed arches.
Facing away from the Ayuntamiento, follow the second street to the left of the church through the Plaza Mondragón and the Palacio Mondragón (open Mon.-Fri. 10 am-6 pm, Sat. and Sun. 10 am-3 pm; entry 2i). This palace dates to 1491 and is one of Ronda’s most impressive in ornamentation. Inside, the original Moorish elements are maintained from the days when the palace belonged to the Moorish king Abb el Malik, son of the Sultan of Morocco. There are three Mudéjar courtyards surrounded by brick arches and adorned with mosaic tiles, numerous Moorish- inspired keyhole entryways, gardens and ceilings of intricate wood marquetry. After having defeated the Moors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella returned to Ronda and stayed in this palace. The outer façade with its two brick towers was rebuilt in the 18th century. It is now occupied by a museum devoted to Ronda and the surrounding areas of the serranía.
Just past the palace are steps that lead to a hiking trail down to the river at the base of the gorge. Look for the sign “El Morabito, Muebles, Decaracíon, Café” and, from there, follow the occasionally stepped but mostly dirt path down. It takes 15 minutes to reach the bottom, and don’t wear dancing shoes. Halfway along you can stop at the remains of a Moorish defensive wall and train your camera up toward the city of Ronda on the cliff, with the gorge and Puente Nuevo creating a nice backdrop to the right. Back up top, at the Plaza María Auxiliadora with its mirador overlooking the valley, follow the Calle Tenorio a few blocks and return to the Puente Nuevo.
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