The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) in Ronda opened to traffic on 4 November 1787. It was a costly project, economically because different municipalities had to collaborate in its construction, and architecturally because an earlier bridge had collapsed after six years. As an alternative, the Felipe V Arch was built into the Moorish walls, but the carriage drivers objected to the steep slope there and it was decided to reactivate the bridge project to join the two parts of the town: La Ciudad, which is where the aristocracy lived, and the Mercadillo district which was home to middle-class residents.
Nearly 231 years later, the Puente Nuevo over the Guadalevín river has become an emblem of Ronda and Andalucía; it is one of the most-photographed and visited monuments and local people are proud of it. However, it is badly in need of maintenance.
A report commissioned recently by Ronda council shows that the structure is solid and the bridge is not going to fall down, but there are other problems. There are leaks, the walls have black and white stains and it has no specific protection despite being in the historic area of the town, which is classified as a Site of Cultural Interest (BIC).
“Basically the problem with the bridge is the lack of maintenance in the oldest part of town and a lack of preservation and planning,” says Pilar Delgado, an architect who works for the town hall.
She says the upper part of the bridge, including the Information Centre, is in a bad state of repair. The council recently carried out works by the nearby Santo Domingo convent, where the ground had sunk after a break in a pipe and that solved the problem at that point but, according to Pilar, the water still leaks through the cobblestones elsewhere on the bridge.
“We have been producing reports on this for the past ten years. There are stalactites and stalagmites in the Information Centre, formed by the slow leaking of water with calcium carbonate. The bridge functions in the same way as a rock or cave, as a natural element, and it suffers from the same processes. The type of material which was used is dissolving,” she explains.
Another problem lies with the cobblestones which were used to replace the asphalt in 1992. “The cobblestones have separated with the weight of all the traffic that crosses the bridge and it is losing its weatherproofing,” she says. Water also accumulates on the bridge because the drains need cleaning, and that is another reason leaks occur.
The black stains on the walls of the bridge are probably due to oil from the vehicles which empty the drains. “It looks like tar, and it has never been cleaned off,” says Pilar. The white marks are calcium carbonate. “There is no fixed schedule for cleaning, and also we can't clean at all when birds are nesting on the bridge,” she explains.
The council has now restricted vehicle traffic on the bridge to six and a half hours a day and it is missing out on grants, mainly from the EU, because Ronda has no special protection plan for its historic district and that is a condition of eligibility. This is also frustrating the aspirations for Ronda to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.