the finest trip – Ronda
“Oh, Jake,” says Brett at the end of 1926 novel Fiesta, to, well, Jake, “oh, Jake, we could’ve been so happy together.” They did not, however, find happiness, not even and definitely not at the abrupt end of that gloomy journey in which the American drunk and author Ernest Hemingway lets his protagonists (instead of us) experience a “goddamned sad story”, which ultimately, according to the writer, was merely intended to show “how people perish”. Does Ronda make you melancholy or even depressive?
Of course not (well, not just) …
Still: not only the novelist and professional melancholic Ernest Hemingway, who writes in the above novel about, among other things, the legendary matador from Ronda, Cateyano Ordónez, but also creative luminaries such as the director Orson Welles and the Austrian lyricist Rainer Maria Rilke fell in love with the slightly morbid charm of this unique town built on a rock about two hours away from the coast, world-famous above all for its 120-metre-high bridge, Puente Nuevo, which connects the old town of Ronda with the newer quarter El Mercadillo.
And it’s back again: Depression! Death! Eureka! Jose Martin de Aldehuela, the architect who designed the bridge, died in 1802 – in the year of its completion. And what did he die of? Well, according to the story, he jumped from his own structure, allegedly fearing that, after the Puente Nuevo, he would never again be able to create anything so perfect.
Not far from the gorge, what happens in the bullfighting arena is no less deadly. Ronda, namely, is the cradle of modern bullfighting– and the arena is regarded today as one of the largest and most beautiful in Spain.
Which of course brings us back to Hemingway, who erected a literary monument to the town in his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by having the guerrilla Pilar relate how the inhabitants of Ronda attack Franco supporters and fascists with pitchforks and clubs, eventually driving them out of the town. This is a true story by the way – and who knows when it will come around that today’s Vox voters in Ronda are one day attacked with pitchforks and clubs… well, you can still dream.
It is not only the town itself that comes across as strangely lost in reverie, slightly out of time. Whereas the main features of large sections of the Andalusian coastline are hotels built in the 1960s, a motorway from the 1999s and plastic sheeting from the new millenni-um, there is above all one thing to be found all around Ronda: tranquillity. Pine forests, olive groves, vine-yards and cattle farms, all embedded in a rugged, often inhospitable panorama of hills and valleys – material for romantic pictures in a large format.
Ronda itself of course offers (alongside statues of and streets named after the three international heroes mentioned above) traces of the Gothic-Moor-Chris-tian history of Andalusia. White houses as far as the eye can see, and most of them seem to hover halfway above the abyss. Not for the faint-hearted – but a lively destination with typical bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, where you can buy bullfighting T-shirts with images in which, nicely enough, the animal wins…
“Visit Ronda for a honeymoon or with your girlfriend,” recommends Hemingway in his final appearance in this story. And who knows? If you take your girlfriend along on your honeymoon to Ronda, perhaps, just per-haps, that would be the moment in which the bell tolls quite personally for you…