Date: Dec, 2014
Location: Ronda, Andalucia, Spain
The area south of the, Puente Nuevo Bridge is known as Old Town Ronda, while New Town covers the northern side. As the name suggests, Old Town is what used to be the original city of Ronda, surrounded by a giant Roman wall, and retains much of its historic charm and architecture.
Remains of prehistoric settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta can be found outside the city. However, the early Celts were the first to settle in the area in the 6th century BC, calling it Arunda. Later Phoenician settlers established themselves nearby to found Acinipo, known locally as Ronda la Vieja. The current Ronda is however of Roman origins, having been founded as a fortified post in the Second Punic War by Scipio Africanus. Ronda received the title of city during the reign of Julius Caesar.
Ronda came under Arab rule in 713, who named it Hisn Ar-Rundah (“Castle of Rundah”) and made it the capital of the Takurunna province during which it was the hometown of the polymath Abbas Ibn Firnas, an inventor, engineer, alleged aviator, physician, Muslim poet, and Andalusian musician.
After the fall of the caliphate of Córdoba, Ronda became the capital of a small kingdom ruled by the Berber Banu Ifran, the taifa of Ronda. During this period Ronda received most of its Islamic architectural heritage. In 1065 the city was conquered by the taifa of Seville led by Abbad II al-Mu’tadid. During this era, both the poet Salih ben Sharif al-Rundi and the Sufi scholar Ibn Abbad al-Rundi were born in Ronda.
The Islamic rule of Ronda ended in 1485, when it was conquered by the Marquis of Cádiz after a brief siege. Most of the city’s old edifices were renewed or adapted to Christian roles. It is believed that there were 8 mosques in the city, none of which survive today except for the Minaret of San Sebastian which was converted into a bell tower after the mosque was converted to a church. The minaret has similarities to some still remaining in northern Africa. The original mosque was small, but located in the center of town and frequented by rulers and elite families. Some historians have speculated the minaret may have been preserved by Moriscos (Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity), and who did not want to destroy all remnants of their city.
The Spanish Inquisitions affected the Muslims living in Spain greatly. Shortly after 1492, when the last outpost of Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula, Granada, was conquered, the Spanish decreed that all Muslims and Jews must either vacate the peninsula without their belongings or convert to Christianity. Many people overtly converted to keep their possessions, while secretly practicing their religion. Muslims who converted only overtly were called Moriscos and required to wear upon their caps and turbans a blue crescent. Traveling without a permit meant a death sentence. This systematic suppression forced the Muslims to seek refuge in mountainous regions of southern Andalusia; Ronda was one such refuge.
On May 25, 1566 Philip II decreed the use of the Arabic language (written or spoken) illegal, doors to homes to remain open on Fridays to verify that no Muslim Friday prayers were conducted, and heavy taxation on Morisco trades. This led to several rebellions, one of them in Ronda under the leadership of Al-Fihrey who defeated the Spanish army sent to suppress them under the leadership of Alfonso de Aguilar. The massacre of the Spaniards prompted Phillip II to order the expulsion of all Moriscos in Ronda to North Africa.
The Church of San Sebastian was destroyed in the 1600s during the Morisco uprisings that led to their expulsion. It is possible the minaret was purposely left standing as a permanent reminder.
In the early 19th century, the Napoleonic invasion and the subsequent Peninsular War caused much suffering in Ronda, whose inhabitants were reduced from 15,600 to 5,000 in three years. Ronda’s area became the base first of guerrilla warriors, then of numerous bandits, whose deeds inspired artists such as Washington Irving, Prosper Mérimée and Gustave Doré.
Ronda was also heavily affected by the Spanish Civil War, after which much of the population emigrated elsewhere. The famous scene in Chapter 10 of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, describing the 1936 execution of Fascist sympathisers in a village who are thrown off a cliff, is considered to be modeled on actual events at the time in Ronda.