Alameda del Tajo, Ronda
by John Gil
The Paseo Hemingway leads on to Ronda's great green lung, the 19th century Alameda del Tajo. Originally named the Alameda de San Carlos, this is the front garden for a town where nobody has a front garden. At weekends, particularly in summer, whole families descend here, and much daytime life is lived in its shade. The five bosky avenues (alameda in Spanish) represent a selection of mature trees typical in ornamental gardening in the Málaga province, notably the Himalayan cedar and acacia pine, as well as more commonplace pines and, around its fountains, pergolas twined with roses hymned by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake. Two other poets also recorded its pleasures. Rainer Maria Rilke, whose room at the Hotel Reina Victoria, the large Swiss chalet-style building on the cliff-edge visible from the Alameda, has been kept intact as a small museum, wrote that there couldn't be a more unexpected sight in the world than here. Argentinian poet and author Jorge Luis Borges, almost completely blind, thought he heard 'memories of deserts' in the water here. The more earthbound will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and sunsets that draw crowds.
In front of and to the left of the convent as you stare up the hill is the entrance to a garden, the Alameda. The word alameda refers specifically to a grove of poplar trees, but it has become attached to any tree-lined avenue or boulevard. This particular Alameda was opened to the public in 1806. Even in the age of remote working and video streaming, the evening "paseo" is still a surprisingly strong tradition in Spain. Whole families take to the streets for a long, leisurely stroll during which they pass the time in idle chat with friends and neighbours, or merely walk from A to B and back again for the sake of the exercise and the reviving joys of the cool evening air. The alameda is the inevitable hub of the paseo.
Countless couples, families, lovers and tourists have walked and sat beneath the trees of Ronda's Alameda since its inauguration two centuries ago. Its inspiration is attributed to the town's then mayor, Vincente Cano, but his attitude to it seems to have been strangely ambivalent. He was all in favour of its construction, but unwilling to finance it from public funds. Instead, he decreed that the money should be raised by means of fines extracted from those uttering obscenities or creating scandal by their lewd behaviour in the streets. Since the Alameda includes the infamous balcón del ****, obscenities were no doubt plentiful, and Señor Cano surely had a team of spies standing by to impose instant penalties upon those who impulsively blurted them out. But scandals? Lewd behaviour? One can only wonder at what went on in the streets of Ronda at that time, in the very shadow of the Carmelite convent. Whatever it was, it funded an awful lot of trees.
The most famous viewpoint, or mirador, in Ronda, on which it is almost compulsory for visitors to stand, be photographed, and stare down into the gorge is immediately beyond the car park beside the bullring. It has attracted a rude nickname, el balcón del ****, said to derive from the reaction of those who gaze down from it for the first time. Gingerly approaching the metal fence which is all that stands between them and a 300 foot drop into the valley, the faint-hearted frequently peer briefly over the edge and reel back with a cry of, "Ay, ****!".
Those who have a head for heights and are able to stare down at greater length will be rewarded with views almost unparalleled in Spain. The eagles' nest indeed