Ronda - The heart of Moorish Spain

Andalusia, in Southern Spain, is spectacularly beautiful and an ideal destination for a keen photographer. Ronda, in particular, is gorgeous and has everything from classic Spanish architecture, Moorish old city, landscapes, and photogenic people. The centre piece of the town is the New Bridge (El Puente Nuevo) which spans the El Tajo Gorge, linking new Ronda with the old citadel.

The Bridge at Ronda, shot at dusk.

On/Off resident Ernest Hemingway is thought to have based his book 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' on Ronda and the surrounding region. THe classic book is an account of the struggles during the Spanish civil war, and there is a passage in which Franco sympathisers met their end in the gorge. This closely correlates with actual events during the 60's when suspected fascists were thrown from the bridge. You can feel the drama and mystery in the rocks and stonework when you stand on the bridge.

Before any of this happened, Ronda was an Arab stronghold during the Moorish occupation of southern Spain. The castle, streets, Arab bathes, and other key buildings are all still evident. I find it fascinating how the Spanish have built on and around the old Moorish architecture in a way that seems to compliment it. There is a certain harmony in the two, opposite styles.

The building teeter on the edge of the gorge and almost look as if they are part of the landscape, rather than built on it.

The great thing is that there are stunning views and landscapes visible from the town. You can face one way and shoot and city scape and then turn 180 degrees and shoot the sun setting over the hills on the horizon.

Orson Wells was another fan of Ronda, and often stayed there. Like Ernest Hemingway, they were drawn by the food, music, climate and colourful joy for life of the Spanish. There was another big draw, and that was bull fighting. Ronda is credited with being the birthplace of the modern bullfight. Although something of anathema to most foreigners, it was and still is, an integral part of Spanish life. The town centre is dominated by the Plaza de Torres , which was opened in 1785.

The Plaza de Torres in Ronda.

In bars and restaurants it's common to see old photos and drawings of the bullfighters and their famous guests. There are few events here nowadays but if you want to go, you have to book ahead. Photographically, the Plaza de Torres makes a great location for interesting compositions.

Shot at dusk of the old town.

Getting here is easy. The nearest main airport is Malaga and from there you can either rent a car or take the bus up to Ronda. The journey is about 1.5 hours and goes through amazing scenery as the road climbs up from the coast to Ronda. Alternatively, if you like the idea of joining in a photography tour with me, I have several workshops a year that take in Ronda and a visit to the Alhambra in Granada. You can find details here...

A lookout over the valley from the vantage point in Ronda.

A few more shots from Ronda and the surrounding area to give you a taste of this Spanish gem..

Wild West in Spain

You may know that what are often called "Spaghetti Westerns" were actually filmed in Spain. What you might not know is that a lot of the original film sets are still there, and easy to visit.

Some of the sets, created by Sergio Leone, are open to the public complete with shows, shops, and all manner of enticements, for visitors, to re-enact their cowboy fantasies. 

A coach rides in to Fort Bravo.

Fort Bravo seems to have the most original and best preserved sets, and was used for shooting 

"The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" while the nearby Mini Hollywood (Oasys) - which was created as El Paso in "For a Few Dollars More" - is larger and more commercialised.

Strolling along main street, past the saloon, bank, and general store your mind tells you that you are in a fake western town created only for making movies. Your heart tells you, watch your back and check the dingy doorways, because Lee Van Cleef is somewhere here, watching, and waiting.

It's hard not to walk into the saloon without kicking the swing doors wide open then standing in the doorway while the music stops, and card players spin around, hands poised over their colts 45's. That's not what actually happened when I was there. I walked in, and ordered a beer. The Mexican bandit who followed me in, asked for a glass of milk. Nonetheless, if you have a good imagination, it's easy to overlook a bit of reality and stick to the script.

A bandit takes a siesta, with rifle at the ready.

A couple of times a day, the organisers put on an 'espectaculo', at both of the sites, and these shows plays out some classic scenes, with gunfights, a hanging and a few street brawls. The most impressive was a horse galloping into the main square dragging a man on a rope. There is no doubt, most of the actors know what they are doing, and all of them claim to have been in numerous movies, some in the original Leone trilogy.

The Wild West way of bringing someone to justice.

The haunting music of Eric Morricone is continually pumped out of loud speakers, although it often builds to a climax of operatic drama with nothing more going on than a horse standing around outside the bank. On the set called Oayses, or Mini Hollywood, they had an excellent 'Can Can' show complete with a musical turn by a couple playing guitars.

The Wild West wouldn't be wild without a bit of music.

Walking around the streets it's easy to feel like you are on a movie set. Which of course, you are. The difference is, no one is shouting "cut" when you finish taking a photograph, but you can shout it in your head. It adds an extra dimension to the overall feel. Or, if you really want to get right in to it, just imagine you are in the wild west of the 1,800's!

After a day in the saddle, there can only be one place to head.

Many of the performers wile away the day chatting and practising looking mean, which they are pretty good at. There is a similar feeling that you get in old gold rush towns, that one day, the good times are going to be rolling in again, and those that have waited, will be first in line for some action.

"I ain't saying much, so don't ask."

It's not just the sets/towns that you give you a familiar feeling of deja vue, the parched hills and dusty tracks in this desert region often look like a place you have visited before. Most likely you have. Hundreds of movies have been made in and around Tabernas, the dramatic yet nondescript backdrop of the desert makes a perfect location for story telling. Despite all the famous names - Once Upon a Time In The West, Patton, Lawrence of Arabia and many more - it's Sergio Leones creativity that was, and still is, the biggest influence on this area. It's a surreal experience to get out of the car and gaze across the landscape, feeling that you know the place.

No bad language, there are ladies around.

Both locations are near Tabernas, about 30kms inland from Almeria. They are easy to get to and I stayed at the excellent El Puente Hostal in Tabernas, for a few nights. It has an attached restaurant that does huge meals, just what you need after a hard day in the desert and the staff are friendly and helpful.

So if you fancy indulging in a bit of wild west fantasy, and capturing some unique images while you're at, I recommend a trip here.

There is a third location, called Western Leone, but my time ran out before I got a chance to visit that one.

The view from inside the jailhouse.

Here are a few more shots from the day.

The Badlands of the Tabernas desert. Eerie and strangely familiar.

The Badlands of the Tabernas desert. Eerie and strangely familiar.

And finally..If you fancy yourself as a bit of director, this is an ideal place to go and shoot your own home made movie!


I've just recently got back from a trip to souther Spain. This is fifth visit here and it just keeps getting better and better.

There is an endless number of photography subjects but the most interesting are the grandiose buildings set against a back drop of dramatic landscapes.

Church in Ronda with white houses