I’ve been to all but eight states in the United States, and seven of those are along the border with Canada.
Ronda, one of the oldest cities in Spain, is also one of the most dramatic mountain towns. Nestled deep into the mountains, it has this crazy gorge – a dizzying 380 feet deep – that separates the old Moorish city of La Ciudad (dating from the 8th century) from the new city of El Mercadillo (15th century). [Interesting to think that “new” for Spain is before Cristóbol Colón set sail from Spain to discover the Americas.] The gorge features so prominently in the topography of the city that they gave it a name: El Tajo, or The Pit. Uh-huh….
Ronda was a headquarters for bandeleros from the 18th to early 20th centuries, bandits who would prey upon travelers passing through Andalucía. I remember Washington Irving mentioning the notorious bandeleros as he traveled to Granada in his Tales of the Alhambra. I wonder if he was passing through the mountains of Ronda.
We loved the views of this verdant valley from our vantage point in the new city, but crossing the narrow gorge into the old city was spectacular. We crossed on the Puente Nuevo, the New Bridge, built in the 18th century. Its design really accentuates the depth of the gorge as the supports extend to the bottom. Prior to its completion, the citizens of Ronda had a choice of the older Puente Viejo (not surprisingly, the Old Bridge) or the even older Puente Árabe (Arabic Bridge). After viewing El Tajo from the Puente Nuevo, I can’t imagine crossing it from an older bridge. My knees were weak enough as I looked through an opening in the wall to the Guadalevín River below!
Ronda has one of the oldest and most prominent bullrings in Spain, thanks to the Romero family, local matadors who were instrumental in defining the modern style of bullfighting. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, both bullfighting aficionados, spent quite a bit of time in Ronda. In fact, Orson Welles’s remains were buried on bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez’s property in Ronda.
The city was a haven for other artists as well, and not just for the bullring. Many poets and writers, or viajeros románticos (romantic travelers) as they were known to the locals, spent time in Ronda inspired by the beauty around them. I am in complete agreement, as long as I have firm ground underneath my feet.
I’ve read a bit about bullfighting by aficionados, animal rights activists, and people who fall somewhere in between in an effort to understand what really goes on in the ring and why some people think it’s an art. I have to say I still don’t get it. I despise everything about it. How anyone could separate an animal from the comfort of its herd and then torture it until death is just beyond me.
But I have to confess that there’s something powerful about the plaza de toros by virtue of its perfectly round design alone. You can tell by the beautiful condition of this ring that the Zaragozanos love their “sport.”
We drove into the Basque province of Guipúzcoa to see San Sebastián, or Donostia as they call it in the Basque language. It’s really quite the cosmopolitan city; in fact, there’s an international film festival going on there now. It’s a beautiful oceanside city just a hop, skip, and a jump from Biarritz, France.
We did a little shopping, ate a few pintxos (the Basque equivalent of tapas), drank a little txakoli (local white wine), and thoroughly enjoyed just wandering all over the city.
This building, built as a bodega or wine warehouse in the 18th century, is unassuming from the outside. Blends right in with the rest of the neighborhood. But the inside is something else altogether! In the early 20th century they gutted the building and built three brick buildings inside it, each so simple in design yet so striking in comparison to their outer shell. And they placed the inner buildings on 43 unique columns constructed of wood, brick, ceramic, stone, and metal. The collection is intended to represent “the infinity of cultures, architectures, wars, and religions man has gone through over history.” Each is beautiful in its own way.
The three inner buildings house auditoriums, concert halls, art space, restaurants, cafés, and – best of all – a three-floor media center. I used to work in a library that called itself a media center in an effort to sound more grandiose and forward-thinking. We had a few videos and books on tape. But this is a media center in the truest sense of the name. In addition to books, it contains a plethora of films and television, video, and audio recordings to browse through and listen to. The place was packed with people tucked into nooks and crannies and taking advantage of this amazing resource. Can’t blame them. If I lived in Bilbão, this is where I’d be.