Continuing for seven years, the Peninsula War resulted in the death of more than one-third of Ronda’s population. It was during this period that the city became a Spanish Wild West, a tolerant home to former soldiers, bandits, and political and social anarchists, who known as ‘bandoleros’ (bandits), roamed and pillaged the countryside. Hiding out in the high sierras, some even grew to become folk heroes of a kind, preying on rich travellers and merchants who were made to pay a fee to ensure their safe passage.
Like most towns and villages throughout Andalusia, Ronda was also gravely affected by the Spanish Civil War. Known for its peasant uprising against fascist soldiers during the first few weeks of the war, its brutal events were a precursor to the politically motivated violence that was to continue throughout the years ahead.
Immortalised in Ernest Hemingway’s compelling novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, the town became a gathering place for anarchists and peasants from neighbouring villages, who were determined to defend their millenarian beliefs and insistence on social justice amid the rising dissonance throughout the country. In the two months that the peasant brigade held out before succumbing to Franco’s Falange rebels, an explosion of atrocities were committed on both sides.
Most deaths, of which there were hundreds, did not occur on the battlefield; rather, behind the scenes where the enemy, or enemy sympathisers, were rounded up and driven to a lonely location out of town to be executed. One of the many acts of cruelty involved the killing of local priests, who became targets of the Republicans’ acts of ‘Red Terror’. A familiar scenario throughout Andalusia and wider Spain during the first few weeks of the war, hundreds of churches were destroyed and Catholic clergy brutally put to death. But even more heinous were the calculated acts of ‘White Terror’, carried out by the Nationalists against not only militants from the leftist parties but the civil population as a whole.
Ronda’s Puente Nuevo, the newest and tallest of three bridges which span the 120-metre-chasm that divides the city in two, was by most accounts, used by both sides to throw prisoners to their death during the early days of the war. Hardly coincidental, Hemingway’s well-worn description of the 20 or more fascists who met a similar fate in an Andalusian village was allegedly based on the killings that took place along the very same cliff-tops of Ronda’s El Tajo gorge.