Ronda’s annual festival takes its name from one of the town’s most famous sons. Pedro Romero (1754–1839) was a hugely successful bullfighter, or torero, and is said to have taken on almost 5,600 bulls during his career without sustaining any serious injuries. In this superhuman feat, he was surely aided by luck (every torero needs a little luck) but also by his first-class bullfighting genes. Romero’s grandfather, Francisco, is credited with creating many of the bullfighting traditions we know today. In the 18th century, it was Francisco Romero (1700–63) who first faced a bull on foot, rather than on horseback, and who developed the use of the dark red cloth (the muleta) to provoke the bull’s charges.
It was not until 1954, however, that the festival celebrated today was really born. That year, the famous bullfighter Cayetano Ordóñez (the founder of Ronda’s other great bullfighting dynasty) hint upon the notion of a celebration that would combine the bicentennial anniversary of Pedro Romero’s birth, a bullfight, the annual feria and a celebration of the art of Francisco de Goya (1746–1828).
Goya was at the height of his powers at the same time as was Pedro Romero and painted the most famous portrait of the great torero, as well as many scenes from 18th- and early 19th-century Spanish life. Management of the Ronda festival was left to Cayetano’s son Antonio, another star torero who counted Ernest Hemingway among his fans. Ronda’s Pedro Romero Festival is the only festival in the world to be named after a bullfighter.
As with the August feria in nearby Málaga, most of the partying during the Pedro Romero Festival happens on the street. Plaza del Socorro, in a barrio known as El Mercadillo, is at the heart of the event and the surrounding streets and squares are pedestrianised for the celebrations. Temporary bars, BBQs and beer barrels crop up everywhere and serve party-goers as they weave through the streets, socialising with friends and family as they go. Colourful ceilings of paper lanterns hang above the entire neighbourhood, giving it the feel of a huge marquee. There is also, of course, a big fairground located on the town’s outskirts packed with garish rides and attractions. It’s called the Recinto Ferial de Ronda ‘Angel Harillo’ and is about a 30-minute walk from the street parties.
The event around which Ronda’s festival revolves takes place on the final Saturday of the celebrations (this year, it falls on September 8) and is one of the most prestigious bullfights of the season. It is called the Goyesca Corrida (the Spanish term for ‘bullfight’ is corrida de toros, or ‘running of bulls’) because the toreros wear costumes like those worn by 18th-century bullfighters in the paintings of Goya.
The toreros—for whom performing in this corrida is a great honour—travel through the town to the bullring in ornate, horse-drawn carriages, receiving the adulation of the crowds as they go. This prestigious spectacle’s star performers are usually the Ordoñez brothers, Cayetano and Francisco Rivera, Spanish celebrities and great grandsons of the torero Cayetano Ordoñez, the feria’s founder. Ronda’s bullring only has seating for about 5,000 spectators and this is a big occasion, so buy tickets as early as possible. You can read our guide to attending a Spanish bullfight here.
The festival’s other core event also takes place in Ronda’s beautiful 18th-century bullring on the day after the bullfight (this year, it will take place on Sunday, September 9). During the Las Enganches show, Rodeños compete for the distinction of possessing the most beautiful horse and carriage in town. Attired in elegant 18th-century Goyesca costumes (again, of the kind found in Goya’s art), the contestants ride their exquisitely-maintained carriages around the bullring for all to admire. There are several categories in this enchanting event, with two- or four-wheeled carriages, either covered or uncovered, pulled by one to six horses. Women, dressed in stunning flamenco dresses, also compete for the accolade of being the most beautifully attired.
It goes without saying that accommodations in Ronda during the September festival are snapped up very quickly. Ronda is not a big town and the Pedro Romero celebrations have captured the world’s imagination, partly due to Ernest Hemingway’s close friendship with Antonio Ordoñez. It’s therefore essential that you book your hotel as early as possible—in the spring, say—to secure a place at one of Spain’s loveliest festivals.