Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ronda and the Legacy of Islam in Spain

The links between the Medina of Ronda and that of Fez go back a long way. From the 13th to the 15th century Ronda was the most resplendent medina in the Kingdom of Granada. It was the last Islamic stronghold in the region and, though much has faded from historical memory, there is a street in the Fez Medina that carries the name Derb Ronda and where refugees from the brutal last struggles on the Iberian Peninsula began to rebuild their lives in Morocco

Ronda ~ the sunset of Moorish Spain

The city of Ronda (Izna Rand Onda in Arabic), about 100 kilometres west of the city of Malaga in Andalusia, is now home to a population of around 35,000. The Islamic influence can still be seen in the narrow winding streets of the medina-like historic city, and in several significant buildings. These include the Arab baths, or Banõs Arabes, at the base of the hill.

The "New Bridge" links the city of Ronda

The baths or hammam are the Muslim adaptation of Roman baths. Those in Ronda were constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries. As is typical of Islamic baths, they have three main rooms - hot, temperate and cold. Whereas the Romans traditionally immersed themselves in pools, the Muslim baths were steam rooms with small pools for collecting water for washing.

The preserved remains of the once fabulous hammam of Ronda

Traditional waterwheel

The baths were often in close proximity to the city gates, as they served both a social and religious function. Visitors to the city would normally wash before entering the main city. In the case of Ronda the baths were next to the Bridge Gate (which no longer exists).

The other reason for the siting of the baths was the need for a supply of water. Being situated beside a river was of primary importance, but it was also necessary to be able to distribute the water. To do this a huge water-wheel was constructed that raised the water to the level of the baths, from where it went to a wood-fired boiler and to a tank for storing cold water. Under floor heating in the room next to the boiler kept the paving hot enough to produce steam for the baths.

Lighting was achieved by small holes in the domed ceiling supported by cruciform pillars and arches.

Ronda ~ a short history

After the disintegration 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 Ronda was conquered by the taifa of Seville led by Abbad II al-Mu'tadid. Both the poet Salih ben Sharif al-Rundi (1204–1285) and the Sufi scholar Ibn Abbad al-Rundi (1333–1390) were born in Ronda.

The Islamic domination of Ronda ended in 1485, when it was conquered by the Marquis of Cádiz after a brief siege. Subsequently, most of the city's old edifices were renewed or adapted to Christian roles.

The cliffs of Ronda were ideally suited to defence 

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 practised their religion. Muslims who converted only overtly were called Moriscos. Moriscos were required to wear upon their caps and turbans a blue crescent, which brought upon them taunts and violence of a fanatical population. 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 Moriscos trades. This led to several rebellions, one of them in Ronda under the leadership of Al-Fihrey.

After a bloody and vicious battle, the Spanish forces advanced, while the Moriscos forces retreated. While the Spanish forces were busy with collecting loot left behind from the retreating army, the Moriscos army launched a surprise counterattack. This forced the Spanish forces to flee, except for Alfonso a few soldiers he was able to gather around him. Alfonso, badly wounded, was able to escape with two-hundred of his soldiers to an area shielded with two large rocky areas. Al-Fihrey and his men followed Alfonso until they found him. At this point both leaders prepared for a head-to-head combat. Their almost insane stubbornness, strength, and will-power is shown by their war of words. As Al-Fihrey approach, Alfonso shouted to him: “If you thought that you found an easy prey, know that I am Don Alfonso de Aguilar.” Al-Fihrey answered him: “If you are Don Alfonso, know that I am Al-Fihrey.” A few minutes later Al-Fihrey struck down Alfonso.

Al-Fihrey’s soldiers continued to hunt down Alfonso’s soldiers until the next morning. Every Spanish solider found was killed and no prisoners were taken. After a ferocious battle, Al-Fihrey's insurgent army was able to defeat the Spanish army sent to suppress them under the leadership of Alfonso de Aguilar. So violent was the retribution that no Spanish soldier captured was spared his life, including Alfonso himself. This prompted Phillip II to order the massacre of all Moriscos in Ronda. Those few who survived were sold into slavery.

The streets of the historic city resemble those in a medina

This systematic method of ethnic cleansing continued until 1609. It is estimated that this exodus led to the expulsion of half million people. From 1492 to 1609, it is estimated that a three million people have been expelled from Andalucia and an unknown number of people have been killed in Inquisitions and battles of 1499 and Rebellion of Alpujarras of 1568. As for the rebellion`s leader, Muhammad ibn Abouh, he was caught and his head was left hanging on one of Granada`s doors for 30 years.

Ronda continued to decline economically and politically until the 19th century. In the 19th century, the New Bridge was built which connected the old city of Ronda and the new Christian city, which were previously separated by a large valley. A new bullring was also built.

Today, Ronda is a popular tourist site. Some of the older Muslim sites still stand, including the Arab Public baths, Palace of the Arabian King, Arab Walls and City Gates, and St. Sebastian's Minaret. This last site, St. Sebastian`s Minaret, was formerly a small tower belonging to one of the mosques in Ronda and later was used as a bell tower for the church of St. Sebastian, which no longer exists. The foundations of the tower date back to the 14th century. It was declared a historical monument in 1931.

For further information on Ronda CLICK HERE

Story: Sandy McCutcheon  Photos: Suzanna Clarke

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1 comment:

Johnhorniblow said...

Enlightening. A well told, researched and beautifully shot story. Impressive.