Legends and mysteries of the Serranía de Ronda
Published on: 09-07-2018

Marbella and the Costa del Sol are often regarded as relatively new areas, associated above all with the development of tourism from the 1950s onwards, but venture a little inland and you discover a world abounding in history, culture, traditions and also legends.

In a distant past this territory was the domain of the Iberians, a Mediterranean people who are the original inhabitants of most of what is now known as Spain and Portugal, but its position on trading routes and its natural bounty attracted a steady stream of traders, conquerors and adventurers, all of whom have contributed to the unique culture and makeup of the Spanish, and in particular the Andalusians.

It is hard to imagine now, but major wars and battles were fought in the valleys inland from Marbella, salted and cured fish was exported from its shores first by the Phoenicians, then by the Romans, fair-haired Germanic warlords followed in the footstep of Roman patricians to own vast country estates and the call of the muezzin could be heard in the days of Al-Andalus, when the conquering Moors from North Africa ruled these lands.

Then came the centuries-long battles and sieges of the Reconquista, during which the Christians fought to reclaim their land – and it is during one of these episodes, at the siege of the Castillo del Águila in Gaucín, that one of the most famous Christian knights, Guzmán el Bueno, is said to have died a warrior’s death. Standing upon the ramparts, with views stretching along the coastal strip and the sea to North Africa, you take in the same sights as the skirmishing Spaniards and Moors would have done.

The period of Muslim and Christian frontiers is also said to have produced a tragic love story in the white mountain village of Benadalíd, where a Christian girl and Muslim boy made a death pact when their cultural differences stood in the way of any hope of being together. It is a recurring theme in Andalucía with an allegorical reference to the position of individuals caught up in the power struggles between different groups, though a happier legend is the one that claims the crimson dye was first perfected on the shores of the Río Genal, below Gaucín.

The mountains and valleys of this region are rich in folklore, from tales of witches and nightly spectres to the hair-raising exploits of the Bandoleros highwaymen, adventurers of the Grand Tour, manly bullfighters and local beauties who had them all fighting for their favours. Quite apart from its beauty, you won’t find many places in Europe more heavily draped in ancient traditions and lore.