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The 'Old Bridge', built in the 16th century. J.F.B.
Most tourists head for the famous Puente Nuevo, but Ronda has three bridges spanning the town's stunning gorge
History

Most tourists head for the famous Puente Nuevo, but Ronda has three bridges spanning the town's stunning gorge

The 'Old' and 'Arab' man-made crossings in the lower part of the historic mountain town are less well known and visited than the 'New Bridge'

Vanessa Melgar

Ronda

Monday, 6 May 2024, 18:34

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Ronda has not only one bridge over the 'tajo' (gorge) that divides the town, but three: the New, the Old and the Arab. Although it is no secret, there are still many visitors who are surprised when they discover the trio of bridges that add to the town's architectural heritage. They represent great works of engineering that have proved very useful to Ronda's inhabitants throughout history as they bridge the gorge that keeps the municipality split in two halves. This abyss has been silently dug out over many years by the Guadalevín river, now around 100 metres deep (although some stretches exceed this figure), about 500 metres long and about 50 metres wide.

To cross from one side to the other the options are as follows: New Bridge (Puente Nuevo), built in the 18th century to a height above river level of almost 100 metres; Old Bridge (Puente Viejo), built in the 16th century at 31 metres above river level; and finally Arab Bridge, the oldest, built in the 13th century and 12 metres above the river.

"The most famous and impressive is the New Bridge, located at the highest point where the river cuts through. It is the most modern. The other two bridges are located in the lower part of the city and are much more modest in their appearance", explained Juan Francisco Barrones, an official tour guide in the town. "If our visitors arrive to be very impressed by the beauty of the gorge and New Bridge and are eager to admire first-hand the scenery they both provide, they are even more impressed when they learn about the history of the town and how closely its development is linked to these man-made crossings."

The oldest of the three bridges is the Arab bridge, right next to the town's Arab baths. It was used to enter old Ronda and to access the outlying districts and the medina. It was built with stone slabs between the old shrine for the local area and the Arab baths, together with a walled gateway and a barbican (fortified) tower. It is popularly known as the Roman Bridge, although there is no evidence of it being from that period. It has only one arch and has been repaired on several occasions due to flooding from the river.

Puente Nuevo, New Bridge (18th century).
Puente Nuevo, New Bridge (18th century). SUR

"The Old Bridge linked the old town and the Padre Jesús district along Calle Real, what was then the town centre in the old Mercadillo [business trading] district. It was built to connect the old Islamic medina with the new district that emerged after the Christian reconquest in the Mercadillo area, what is today Padre Jesús district," said Barrones. The Old Bridge has only a ten-metre arch. "There are some older remains next to its foundations, so it seems clear that there was an earlier bridge on the same site, perhaps from the Muslim period, but there is a lot of controversy on the subject. What is clear is that it must have been destroyed after the re-conquest and had to be rebuilt. In 1486, Juan Torres was ordered to build the bridge." In 1616 it was washed away by a flood and in the 17th century it underwent quite a transformation. In the 20th century they added a parapet and four balconies.

The New Bridge, the work of José Martín de Aldehuela, allowed the urban expansion of Ronda and opened to traffic in 1787. Before that, however, another bridge was built on the same site around 1735 that collapsed six years later due to poor workmanship. There was an unknown number of fatalities. This brought about the creation of the Arch of Felipe V, another of Ronda's monumental landmarks. Next to the Old Bridge, they removed part of the fortified walls and built a ramp and this archway in an attempt to improve access to the town from this lower area. Unfortunately, not everyone was trusting of the steep slope, especially because of the difficulty for carriages, so this led to the idea of building another archway in the upper part of the town - aptly named the New Arch.

The Arab Bridge is from the 13th century.
The Arab Bridge is from the 13th century. Frank Álvarez Fotografía

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