Tag Archives: Spanish Civil War

Travels in Spain, Catalonia – A New State for Europe

Catalonia Ceramic Tile Map

“… Spain, so long obsessed with the unity of authority, will loosen itself one day into a federal state… this redistribution of its powers will prove to be the most distinctly Spanish contribution to the progress of the nation states.” – Jan Morris – ‘Spain

I had been to Catalonia before but on that occasion without knowing as much as I do now I had a lot to learn.  That within the Spanish Constitution it is defined as a ‘Nationality’ and enjoys significant regional autonomy it has its own distinct language and is culturally very different to the Spain of Castile.  There is no mention here of El Cid or Don Quixote but rather of Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dali and in 2012 the Catalan parliament even banned the iconic Spanish sport of bull fighting.

Catalan Flag Palau De La Musica

A bit of quick history – Catalonia was created by Charlemagne as a buffer state to protect the northern Frankish Empire from the threat of further northern expansion by the Moors and like all buffer states that has meant a turbulent history, squeezed between more powerful neighbours, its borders frequently rearranged, dismantled, absorbed and passed back and forth like a baton in a relay race depending upon the prevailing balance of power.

In 1492 Catholic Spain was united through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and the new power based in Madrid favoured Seville and Cadiz over Catalonia for monopoly of the New World trade routes and sea there power gradually declined, later there was conflict with Madrid again during the Thirty Year’s War and then The War of The Spanish Succession when Catalonia seemed to have an unfortunate tendency to back the losing side and then suffer the inevitable consequences when it came to peace and settlement.

During and after the Spanish Civil War  Catalonia was one of the last Republican and Socialist areas to fall to the Nationalists of General Franco and then paid the price through years of recriminations, subjugation and suppression of its language and culture as the fascist government in Madrid set out to stamp the authority of Castile on its troublesome region.

Barcelona Casa Battlo Chimneys

The most recent conflict came  very recently.  A controversial independence referendum was held in October 2017, declared illegal one month later and suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain because it breached the 1978 Constitution. In October, the Court suspended the Catalan Parliament after President Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence.

In response the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Executive Council of Catalonia, dissolving the Parliament of Catalonia. The referendum led to the arrests of several pro-independence politicians and Puigdemont fled into exile in Belgium.

Today the concept of independent Catalonia is not recognized or supported by the European Union or the international community, which regards the region as an integral part of the Kingdom of Spain.

Sagrada Familia Statues

Everywhere in Barcelona there are a lot of buildings draped with the red and gold flag of Catalonia, some already anticipating a successful transition to independence and rather prematurely announcing themselves as ‘A New State for Europe’. Everywhere there are Catalan flags and symbols, Catalan always comes first in guide books and menus, shops don’t sell King Felipe souvenirs, on official guides the flag of Spain is almost always defaced and the away team colours of FC Barcelona are the red and gold of Catalonia.

Here in Barcelona the hotel staff told me that they considered themselves to be Catalan first and Spanish second although they feared that any referendum for independence would ultimately fail because of the inherent conservatism of the older generation and because, whatever the outcome of a vote, Madrid would simply never allow it.

Barcelona Sea Front Symbol of City

I have to conclude that Catalonia certainly doesn’t feel like the classic Spain of Castile but then again Andalusia doesn’t actually feel like the classic Spain of Castile either. I have now visited fifteen of the seventeen Autonomous Communities and I would find it very difficult to choose one that I might then suggest is most representative of the usual English vision and expectation of Spain.  Castile must come close, or perhaps Valencia or even Extremadura, certainly not Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria or the Basque Country and I am yet to travel to La Rioja or Navarre so cannot offer an opinion on these.

As well as history, economics is a major driving force behind the independence movement because Catalonia is one of the most prosperous of the Spanish Communities and although it enjoys considerable autonomy it resents contributing almost 20% of revenues paid to Madrid and feels hard done by in terms of inward investment in their region in return.

It is the sixth largest region, has the sixth largest coastline and is sixth largest by population density (second overall after Andalusia).  If it were to achieve independence it would be the twelfth smallest state in Europe just slightly larger than Belgium but a bit smaller than the Netherlands, it would have ninety of Spain’s five hundred and fifty blue flag beaches (16%) and six of its forty-four World Heritage sites (14%).

This is me with two life size figures dressed in Catalan National Costume…

Catalan National Dress and Independence

A Moment in History – Death of Franco 20th November 1975

The route from Manzanares Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime – the Valle de los Caídos.

The Valley of the Fallen is a shallow green natural basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself during his lifetime out of his own arrogance and conceit.

For almost forty years until his death on 20th November 1975 the Generalíssimo was someone that Spain could not escape from.  He was there in school books, church prayers, statues, plaques, street names and thousands of other reminders of a violent insurrection that led to a vicious civil war.  Now though his face and name are being erased from public view and even the army, where nostalgia for the dictator survived long after his death in 1975, has pledged to remove all plaques, statues and monuments to the regime of a man it once revered.

From the entrance gate there is a five kilometre drive to the monument on a road that passes through lush vegetation of tall pines punctuated by a scattering of oak, ilex and poplar trees and which passes over a couple of elegant stone bridges and at the top is the most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to have been erected in western Europe.  A huge blue-grey granite cross soars one hundred and fifty metres into the sky which on a clear day can be seen from the centre of Madrid and no wonder because it is claimed to be the largest in the World.  Below the cross are a series of arches overlooking a wide featureless concrete esplanade and beyond the galleries is the entrance to the basilica through two modest bronze doors.

Valley of the Fallen

The floor is made of granite and black marble and above it there is an interior dome lined in gold mosaic.  The basilica is longer than St Peter’s in Rome and almost as high and is built to dimensions that matched the mountainous ego of its creator.  Officially it is a war memorial in remembrance of all those who perished in the Spanish civil war and a symbol of forgiveness and peace but the monument has never actually managed to achieve this worthy status because it was built partly by using Republican prisoners as slave labourers and the grim intimidating monument has always been seen rather as a symbol of the victory of the Nationalists and it is a place that commemorates unpleasantness:

“If the horrors of the black legend seemed to be fading at last, the horrors of the Civil War revived it with a vengeance.  Almost every page of its history reeks with cruelty… as we read of the blood running down the streets of Toledo or the hundreds of unarmed men slaughtered in the bull ring at Badajoz.  Sometimes it is the frenzied militiamen of the Republican armies, crucifying priest, castrating landowners or humiliating nuns. Nobody it seems was immune to the infection.  At one end  the mob often tore its victims limb from limb.  At the other end the secret courts of the Communists condemned men first and tortured them later.  The thirst for blood, the taste for violence, the opportunity for vengeance, the savagery of despair or resentment….” ,  Jan Morris – ‘Spain

Today the monument is an embarrassment to the State and successive Spanish governments have agonised over what to do with it.  Since 2004 successive governments have been following a policy of the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces and there has been an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco’s rule.

franco4

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional, who manage the building, suddenly and controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, citing as a reason deterioration and preservation issues which may affect the cross and compromise some of the sculptures.  These allegations have been contested by technical experts and the religious community that lives in the complex, and had been seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument, an opinion reinforced when in 2010 the Pieta sculpture group started to be ‘dismantled’ with hammers and heavy machinery.

Every year on the first Saturday after the 20th November old hard-line Francoists attend a religious ceremony at the monument in his memory, which is really a massive political rally, and this annual gathering of fascists is also an embarrassment to the government and to most of modern Spain.

We had read that the monument was closed but the gate was open so we swung inside anyway and pulled up beside the pay kiosk at the entrance where a middle aged lady explained that the monument wasn’t open and we should leave.  I followed some cars and drove on expecting to find a turning point but after a kilometre it was obvious there wasn’t one and the cars we were following were authorised to be there so I did a three point turn instead next to two vertical granite columns at either side of the road.

What we hadn’t known about was the significance of the 20th November and being only a week away this must have been making the people on the gate a bit nervous because as we drove down we passed the woman from the kiosk who was pursuing us in a red Seat and who waved frantically to us as we drove by.

Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies in October 2007 and it seems that the authorities were anticipating extra trouble this year in response to the closure of the monument and back at the gate two burly guards were shaking their heads and giving disapproving grimaces.  I gave my best socialist smile and made pathetic gestures of apology but then left as quickly as possible and rejoined the road to El Escorial where we hoped we might be made to feel more welcome.

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: A BRIEF HISTORY
REBELLION

On 17 July 1936 General Francisco Franco launched a military uprising against the Republican government elected that spring. Mobilising troops from Spanish Morocco – the so-called Army of Africa – the Nationalist forces quickly took control of Seville and other areas in the south. The plotters claimed to be acting in defence of traditional Catholic Spain and to restore order to the country. Their treatment of the opposition was brutal.

REPUBLICAN MILITIAS MOBILISE
Civilians join militias and prepare to fight to defend the Republic. In Barcelona, anarchist workers put down the Nationalist insurgency and launch a social revolution of their own. Factories are collectivised, and in some parts of Catalonia money is abolished. The Ritz hotel in Barcelona is renamed Hotel Gastronómico No 1 and serves as a workers’ canteen. A short-lived euphoria sweeps the left as the belief takes hold that Franco’s uprising could be the catalyst for a socialist revolution. In Madrid, the Republican government, which hopes to build a popular front including moderates and liberals to combat the Nationalist threat, will become increasingly concerned at the growing radicalism.

GEORGE ORWELL JOINS UP
On Boxing Day 1936, the writer arrives in Barcelona and joins up with the Poum, a revolutionary socialist party. Orwell goes to the Zaragoza front to fight and will subsequently write the classic war memoir Homage to Catalonia about his experiences. In May 1937, as tensions mount between communist, socialist and anarchist forces behind the Republican lines, Orwell becomes involved in street battles in Barcelona. His experiences will inform his indictment of Stalinism in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four.

GUERNICA
Bombed in April 1937, the fate of the ancient Basque town of Guernica was to become a symbol of the devastation caused by war. Raids by aircraft from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy constituted one of the first systematic aerial bombing campaigns to be conducted against civilians. In January that year, the Republican government had commissioned Pablo Picasso to create a mural for the World’s Fair. After the bombings, that mural became the one depicting the horror and suffering of the town. The artwork remains the most famous ever produced on the subject of war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died during the civil war as a result of bombings and executions. There is now a museum dedicated to peace in Guernica.

BATTLE FOR MADRID
The Spanish capital endured what amounted to a two-and-a-half-year siege during the civil war. After invading from the south in the summer of 1936, Franco’s forces, assisted by German and Italian air power, came close to taking Madrid towards the end of the year. A heroic resistance saw the Nationalist forces beaten back. But the government eventually decamped first to Valencia, then to Barcelona. By the winter of 1938 Madrid was freezing, starving, and more or less out of arms and ammunition.

On 26 March 1939 Franco ordered his troops to advance on Madrid after fighting there between Republican factions. Two days later the city had fallen. Thousands of its defenders were executed.

EXILE
For hundreds of thousands of Spaniards, Franco’s victory meant exile. As the Nationalist forces advanced through Catalonia, a steady flow of refugees headed to France. In the winter of 1939 more than 450,000 are estimated to have crossed the border. Some Republicans went on to fight for the French Resistance against the Nazis. The refugees hoped to be welcomed by the French, but they were treated with suspicion and hostility.

THE DICTATORSHIP
From the end of the civil war in 1939 to his death in 1975, Franco ruled Spain. His regime, particularly in the early years, was cruel, repressive and vengeful towards the defeated enemy. Near Madrid a huge monument to the Nationalist dead, the Valley of the Fallen, was erected. Meanwhile the executions of Republican sympathisers continued well into the 1950s, and thousands languished in prison for years.

Weekly Photo Challenge: New – Puente Nuevo, Ronda

It took about an hour to reach Ronda, which is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so called because they are whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition.

It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalusia sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains.  We parked the car in the new town near the bullring and crossed the Rio Guadalquivir back to the old town with its cobbled narrow alleys, dazzling white houses and decorative black window grilles covered in scarlet geraniums.

Read the full story…

 

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Ronda, A Pueblo Blanco

Ronda Andalusia

“We sighted Ronda. It was raised up in the mountains, like a natural extension of the landscape, and in the sunlight it seemed to me to be the most beautiful city in the world.” –  José Agustín Goytisolo

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain

was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.  For my number four in the countdown I have gone back to the south of the country and the town of Ronda.

Marbella and the Costa del Concrete

I went to Andalusia in October 2003 to play golf and stayed near Marbella on the Costa del Sol.  I have to say that I didn’t really care for Marbella or Puerto Banus next door, it seemed to be just one long ribbon of inappropriate concrete resorts and an impatient motorway rushing by.  It didn’t help that it seemed to rain continuously and the weather was so poor that when it was impossible to play golf or go to the beach it was necessary to find alternative things to do.

Sometimes that is not so bad and on one disappointing weather morning that ruled out golf we took a drive to Ronda in the mountains and away from the tourist traps on the coast.

This involved a forty-five kilometre drive from our holiday accommodation at Los Aqueros golf and country club through the Sierra Bermeja mountains as we climbed continuously along a dramatic road that clung to the side of the mountains like velcro and zigzagged dramatically all of the way to our destination.  There was light rain and some low clouds but we could just about make out the coast line and the sea as we drove through first oak and then pine forests of this protected ‘natural area’ of outstanding beauty.

Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos…

It took about an hour to reach Ronda, which is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so called because they are whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition.  It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalusia sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains.  We parked the car in the new town near the bullring and crossed the Rio Guadalquivir back to the old town with its cobbled narrow alleys, dazzling white houses and decorative black window grilles covered in scarlet geraniums.

Ronda Andalusia New Bridge

Ronda and the Puente Nuevo…

Ronda is most famous for a one hundred and twenty metre high bridge, The Puente Nuevo, whose name means ‘new bridge’, and which spans a gorge that divides the city in two. The bridge was begun in 1751 and took  forty-two years to complete.  It is supposedly one of the most photographed structures in Spain and often quoted as one of the top places to see in Europe.

We crossed the bridge and looked out over the patchwork landscape of burnt brown, cream, beige and copper coloured fields that spilled out across the flat valley plain, terraces of irrigated green, a meandering river far below and a dramatic grey sky full of rain and stormy menace.

The author Ernest Hemingway and actor and film director Orson Welles both lived in Ronda at some point in their lives and both wrote warmly about the place.  Hemingway’s novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ describes the murder of five hundred fascist Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War by being thrown from the cliffs of El Tajo and into the Rio Guadalquivir by the Republican forces.  Or possibly vice versa, I have never read the book so am not absolutely sure and neither are the historical accounts because even after seventy-five years both sides continue to accuse each other of the grisly crime but those who lost their lives are in some small way poetically remembered by Orson Welles who said – “A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die”

Ronda Andalusia Spain

We walked over the bridge and admired the expansive views over the surrounding countryside and from here it was easy to understand why Ronda was one of the last Moorish strongholds in Spain, only finally falling to the Christian armies in 1485 just seven years before the fall of Granada.

It was possible to visit the interior of the bridge by climbing down a set of steps carved into the side of the canyon and then entering a chamber where there was an interesting exhibition in what was once the guard house describing the history of the bridge and its construction.  Just behind the guard house was the cramped prison, which allegedly both sides used for imprisonment and torture during the civil war.

Although it remained cloudy it was warming up by now so we walked around and through the attractive streets of the old town detouring now and then to viewing platforms built between grand houses and palaces all with stunning views from the top of the gorge.  When we had seen most of what we wanted to see on this side of the river we crossed back over the Puento Nuevo and made our way to the bullring museum.

The Plaza de Toros in Ronda

is one of the oldest operational bullrings in Spain. The arena has a diameter of sixty-six metres, surrounded by a passage formed by two rings of stone. There are two layers of seating, each with five raised rows and one hundred and thirty-six pillars that make up sixty-eight arches.  It is only used once a year for fighting but is important as a Matador training school  because Ronda is well-known as the spiritual home of the modern corrida or bullfight.

The founder of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the famous Romero family of Ronda.  Before Francisco, bullfighting was an activity normally fought from the back of a horse in what was known as the ‘Jerez style’ but Romero introduced the style that we are most familiar with today when the Matador stands and fights on foot.

We visited the museum and took a backstage tour and then wandered around the arena itself and as we imagined ourselves to be famous heroic bullfighters the sun began to leak through the clouds and everywhere was magically transformed.

Finished now, we returned to the car and I was glad the weather had improved because this meant a better return journey on the Carreta De Ronda, the tricky twisting A397 and without the miserable rain we were better able to appreciate the scenery and the beauty of the razored edged Sierra Bermeja mountains as they swept back down to the coast and we followed the road back towards the concrete coast of the Costa Del Sol.

Ronda Andalusia Spain Bullfighting

My Personal A to Z of Spain, V is for Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)

The route from Manzanares El Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime, the Valle de los Caídos.  The Valley of the Fallen is a shallow green basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself out of his own arrogance and conceit.

For almost forty years the Generalíssimo was someone that Spaniards could not escape from. He was there in school books, church prayers, statues, plaques, street names and thousands of other reminders of a violent insurrection that led to a vicious civil war.  Now though his face and name are being erased from public view and even the army, where nostalgia for the dictator survived long after his death in 1975, has pledged to remove all plaques, statues and monuments to the regime of a man it once revered.  Spain has got the scrubbing brush out that rewrites history and Franco will disappear in the same way as Robespierre, Lenin, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

From the entrance gate there is a five kilometre drive to the monument on a road that passes through lush vegetation of tall pines punctuated by a scattering of oak, ilex and poplar trees and which passes over a couple of elegant stone bridges and at the top is the most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to have been erected in western Europe.  A huge blue-grey granite cross soars one hundred and fifty metres into the sky which on a clear day can be seen from the centre of Madrid and no wonder because it is claimed to be the largest in the World.  Below the cross are a series of arches overlooking a wide featureless concrete esplanade and beyond the galleries is the entrance to the basilica through two modest bronze doors.

The floor is made of granite and black marble and above it there is an interior dome lined in gold mosaic.  The basilica is longer than St Peter’s in Rome and almost as high and is built to dimensions that matched the mountainous ego of its creator.  Officially it is a war memorial in remembrance of all those who perished in the Spanish civil war and a symbol of forgiveness and peace but the monument has never actually managed to achieve this worthy status because it was built partly by using Republican prisoners as labourers and the grim intimidating monument has always been seen rather as a symbol of the victory of the Nationalists.

Today the monument is an embarrassment to the State and successive Spanish governments have agonised over what to do with it.  Since 2004 the left-leaning government, which has been following a policy of the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces, has had an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco’s rule.

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional, who manages the building, suddenly and controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, citing as a reason deterioration and preservation issues which may affect the cross and compromise some of the sculptures. These allegations have been contested by technical experts and the religious community that lives in the complex, and had been seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument, an opinion reinforced when in 2010 the Pieta sculpture group started to be ‘dismantled’ with hammers and heavy machinery.

Every year on the first Saturday after the 20th November, the day of the death of Franco, old hard-line Francoists, led by his daughter,  attend a religious ceremony, which is really a massive political rally, at the monument in his memory and this annual gathering of fascists is also an embarrassment to the government and to most of modern Spain.

We had read that the monument was closed but the gate was open so we swung inside anyway and pulled up beside the pay kiosk at the entrance where a middle aged lady explained that the monument wasn’t open and we should leave.  I followed some cars and drove on expecting to find a turning point but after a kilometre it was obvious there wasn’t one and the cars we were following were authorised to be there so I did a three point turn instead next to two vertical granite columns at either side of the road.

What we hadn’t known about was the significance of the 20th November and being only a week away this must have been making the people on the gate a bit nervous because as we drove down we passed the woman from the kiosk who was pursuing us in a red Seat and who waved frantically to us as we drove by.

Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies in October 2007 and it seems that the authorities were anticipating extra trouble that year in response to the closure of the monument and back at the gate two burly guards were shaking their heads and giving disapproving grimaces.  I gave my best socialist smile and made pathetic gestures of apology but then left as quickly as possible and rejoined the road to El Escorial where we hoped we might be made to feel more welcome.

______________________________________________

V is for Valle de los Caídos but it could well have been:

Valladolid

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My Personal A to Z of Spain, R is for Ronda

Even before my quest to discover ‘Real Spain’ I went in October 2003 to play golf and stayed near Marbella on the Costa del Sol. I have to say that I didn’t really care for Marbella or Puerto Banus next door, it seemed to be just one long ribbon of inappropriate concrete resorts and a busy motorway rushing by. It didn’t help that it seemed to rain continuously and the weather was so poor that when it was impossible to play golf or go to the beach it was necessary to find alternative things to do.

Sometimes that is not so bad and on one disappointing weather morning that ruled out golf we took a drive to Ronda in the mountains and away from the tourist traps on the coast. This involved a forty-five kilometre drive from our holiday accommodation at Los Aqueros golf and country club through the Sierra Bermeja mountains as we climbed continuously along a dramatic road that clung to the side of the mountains and zigzagged dramatically all of the way to our destination. There was light rain and some low clouds but we could just about make out the coast line and the sea as we drove through first oak and then pine forests of this protected ‘natural area’ of outstanding beauty.

It took about an hour to reach Ronda, which is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so called because they are whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition. It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalusia sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains. We parked the car in the new town near the bullring and crossed the Rio Guadalquivir back to the old town with its cobbled narrow alleys, dazzling white houses and window grilles covered in scarlet geraniums.

Ronda is most famous for a one hundred and twenty metre high bridge, The Puente Nuevo, whose name means ‘new bridge’, and which spans a gorge that divides the city in two. The bridge was begun in 1751 and took forty-two years to complete. It is supposedly one of the most photographed structures in Spain and often quoted as one of the top places to see in Europe.

Ronda Andalusia New Bridge

Thee author Ernest Hemingway and actor and film director Orson Welles both lived in Ronda and both wrote warmly about the place. Hemingway’s novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ describes the murder of five hundred fascist Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War by being thrown from the cliffs of El Tajo and into the Rio Guadalquivir by the Republican forces, or possibly vice versa, I’ve never read the book so am not absolutely sure and neither are the historical accounts because even after seventy-five years both sides continue to accuse each other of the grisly crime.

We walked over the bridge and admired the expansive views over the surrounding countryside and from here it was easy to understand why Ronda was one of the last Moorish strongholds in Spain only finally falling to the Christian armies in 1485 just seven years before the fall of Granada. It was possible to visit the interior of the bridge by climbing down a set of steps carved into the side of the canyon and then entering a chamber where there was an interesting exhibition in what was once the guard house describing the history of the bridge and it’s construction. Just behind the guard house was the prison, which both sides used for imprisonment and torture during the civil war.

Although it remained cloudy it was warming up now so we walked around and through the attractive streets of the old town detouring now and then to viewing platforms built between grand houses and palaces all with stunning views from the top of the gorge. When we had seen most of what we wanted to see on this side of the river we crossed back over the Puento Nuevo and made our way to the bullring museum.

The Plaza de Toros in Ronda is one of the oldest operational bullrings in Spain. The arena has a diameter of sixty-six metres, surrounded by a passage formed by two rings of stone. There are two layers of seating, each with five raised rows and one hundred and thirty-six pillars that make up sixty-eight arches. It is only used once a year for fighting but is important as a Matador training school because Ronda is well-known as the spiritual home of the modern corrida or bullfight. The founder of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the famous Romero family of Ronda. Before Francisco, bullfighting was an activity normally fought from the back of a horse in what was known as the ‘Jerez style’ but Romero introduced the style that we are most familiar with today when the Matador stands and fights on foot.

We visited the museum and took a backstage tour and then wandered around the arena itself and as we imagined ourselves to be famous heroic bullfighters the sun began to leak through the clouds and everywhere was magically transformed.

Finished now, we returned to the car and I was glad the weather had improved because this meant a better return journey on the Carreta De Ronda, the tricky twisting A397 and without the miserable rain we were better able to appreciate the scenery and the beauty of the Sierra Bermeja mountains as we followed the road back towards the concrete coast of the Costa Del Sol.

Bullring at Seville

Bullring at Chinchón

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R is for Ronda but it could well have been:

Ciudad Rodrigo

Talavera de La Reina

Rum and Coke in Benidorm

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Travels in Spain, Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)

The route from Manzanares El Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime, the Valle de los Caídos.  The Valley of the Fallen is a shallow green basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself out of his own arrogance and conceit.

Read the full story…

Ronda, The Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway and Bullfighting

“Ronda is the place where to go, if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or for being with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set.
… Nice promenades, good wine, excellent food, nothing to do…” – Ernest Hemingway

I went to Spain in October 2003 to play golf and stayed near Marbella on the Costa del Sol.  I have to say that I didn’t really care for Marbella or Puerto Banus next door, it seemed to be just one long ribbon of inappropriate concrete resorts and a busy motorway rushing by.  It didn’t help that it seemed to rain continuously and the weather was so poor that when it was impossible to play golf or go to the beach it was necessary to find alternative things to do.

Read the full story…