By far the loveliest public space in Ronda, this leafy square boasts an embarrassment of monuments. Its star is the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Mayor, whose exquisite belltower suggests Renaissance twinned with Toytown. This is another church commissioned by the Reyes Catolicos, sited with some purpose on the ruins of a mosque, believed to have been the centre of prayer in the Arabic Medina. (This itself is also said, in unproven speculation, to have been built on the remains of an earlier Roman temple.) Some of the Moorish detail remains, notably part of the mihrab, or prayer niche, but that’s largely obscured by an ornamental retable behind the altar. The church took over 200 years to build, and its three naves and chapels take in both gothic and Renaissance styles. Its greatest flourish, in a church not lacking flourishes, is the elaborate baroque screen of the altar of the Virgin del Mayor Dolor, which probably translates as great sadness but its Spanish curators read as ‘extreme pain’. It is the chief religious site in Ronda, but also fun to be around on the hour, when the quintuple carillon in its fairytale belltower can be heard singing throughout Ronda, ending in a forlorn and, for inhabitants, unintentionally hilarious clunk on its broken fifth bell.
It is adjoined by the (usually closed) convents of Charity (Caridad) and the Claristas (the ‘poor Clares’ – ever wonder where Ronda gets all those nuns from?), each with their own private iglesia or chapel. The order of Caridad nuns are famous for baking special biscuits and cakes for Navidad, Christmas, which the enclosed order sells through a ‘turno’, or revolving hatch, in the door.
The Plaza’s collection of impressive buildings is completed by the unusually long and low arched ayuntamiento, or council building. This handsome edifice was originally constructed as a military prison in 1734, but later converted, with some architectural details imported from other buildings in the old city, into the town council. Today it houses a police station, sundry administration offices and, an interesting excuse to brave its doors, a public cafeteria open to all in its sotano, basement. The entrance features Mudejar-style ceiling designs, and the interior is spotted with archaeological finds from the Ciudad and surrounds. Plans to move much of the administration to a new headquarters on the outskirts may see it transformed into a new public space, so the current building should be visited before it is cerrado para reformas.
GPS Location: 36º 44' 13"N 5º 09' 54"W View on Google Maps