Jardines del Rey Moro, Ronda
Casa del Rey Moro
The Casa del Rey Moro is to some extent a fraud, since the house was never the home of the Moorish King. It was built in the 18th Century, when Moorish Spain was already a distant memory. Its apparently Moorish gardens are even more recent, having been designed by the French landscape gardener, Jean Claude Forestier, in 1912.
But the house does incorporate one genuine and important relic of Ronda's Moorish occupation - the so-called Water Mine.
In the 14th Century, when Ronda was continually in the firing line between the Moors of Granada and the Christians of Seville, it was frequently besieged, and the first target of every besieging army was the water supply. Allegedly using Christian captives as slave labour, Ronda's Moorish king, Abomelik, ordered the cutting of steps into the stone walls of the gorge to enable the bringing of water from the río Guadelevin below. Though intended as a secret, it must have been a pretty open one, since it was common knowledge among the Christians that "in Ronda you die carrying water skins".
The crumbling staircase was restored in 1911. Originally, there were 365 steps. Today, mysteriously, there are less than 300 (the author counted every one). This is still a formidable undertaking for the unfit, even without a filled water skin, but it begs the question of what happened to the remainder. Be warned before you begin your descent that the steps are uneven, occasionally damp, and in many places badly lit, so take care.
Casa del Rey Moro gardens
The steps pass through a number of chambers, most notably the Sala de Secretos - Room of Secrets. The name conjures up eerie thoughts of dark deeds and hidden rites, but its derivation disappointingly prosaic. Originally built to house a well, the Moors supposedly noticed that the room had one bizarre characteristic. While two people standing close to the wall, but at opposite ends of the room, could speak perfectly well to each other (as in the famous "Whispering Gallery" of St Paul's Cathedral), their words were completely inaudible to anyone standing in the middle of it. Readers who visit the mine might like to carry out the experiment for themselves.
Eventually, after what seems an eternity of walking, the final door is reached, and the visitor emerges at the bottom of the gorge to a scene of undisturbed tranquillity. The sounds of Ronda's incessant traffic are gone, and all that can be heard is the singing of birds and the quiet lapping of the water. Unfortunately, you must soon shake yourself out of your reverie and return with a tangible bump to the real world, for having descended that long, long staircase, there is but one way out. You must retrace your steps and climb all the way back to Forestier's gardens far above.
GPS Location: 36º 44' 23"N 5º 09' 52"W View on Google Maps