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The secret staircase at la Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda. Source: Ingo Bartussek / Adobe Stock

‘Moorish King's House’ Had a Secret Staircase to Survive Sieges

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Nestled within the rugged landscape of Ronda, Spain, lies a hidden gem of ancient ingenuity: La Casa del Rey Moro, or the House of the Moorish King. While this historic site is renowned for its breathtaking views of the El Tajo gorge and its lush gardens, it holds a secret that speaks volumes about the tumultuous past of this Andalusian town.

Despite its name, Casa del Rey Moro wasn't home to a Moorish king and wasn’t built until the early 18th century. In 1911, it passed to the Duchess of Parcent, who renovated it in the Neo-Mudéjar style. This trend, emerging in the late 19th century, paid homage to Spain's multicultural past, drawing from the Mudéjar architecture of Islamic rule on the Iberian Peninsula lasting from the 8th to 15th centuries.

The gardens, often dubbed “Moorish,” were actually designed by French landscaper Jean Claude Forestier in 1912 and recognized as a Site of Cultural Interest in 1943. So, what exactly does the Casa del Rey Moro have to do with the Moors, apart from being inspired by their architecture?

La Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda hides a secret staircase. (Pernelle Voyage / Adobe Stock)

La Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda hides a secret staircase. (Pernelle Voyage / Adobe Stock)

The Secret Staircase and Water Mine at La Casa del Rey Moro

Ronda was no stranger to conflict. Positioned strategically atop towering cliffs, the town was coveted not only by various factions within the Muslim world, but also by neighboring Christian kingdoms seeking to push back against Moorish dominance.

In the 8th century, the Moors—Muslim inhabitants of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula—took Ronda from the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe that had established a kingdom after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. After its conquest, Ronda became an important fortress town during Moorish rule.

View of the Guadalevín River as you descent the secret staircase under the Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda. (Ingo Bartussek / Adobe Stock)

View of the Guadalevín River as you descent the secret staircase under the Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda. (Ingo Bartussek / Adobe Stock)

Hidden within the gardens of the Casa del Rey Moro, is an ancient water mine believed to date back to the Moorish period around the 14th century. This subterranean marvel served as a vital component of Ronda's defensive infrastructure, safeguarding the town's water supply during times of siege and providing a hidden exit during times of crisis.

A remarkable feat of hydraulic engineering, it is believed the water mine was constructed during the Nasrid Kingdom, the last Muslim dynasty in Iberia. Carved into the rock of the Tajo wall, it incorporated a hidden staircase of 231 steps that led to the Guadalevín River below, guarded by a highly fortified entrance. The meticulous restoration of these structures was undertaken by the Duchess of Parcent, ensuring its preservation for future generations.

The water mine was pivotal during the reconquest of Ronda by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, in 1485. The Marquis of Cadiz, aware of its importance, targeted its entrance, disabling the water wheel to cut off supply, ensuring surrender and the end of Moorish rule.

Top image: The secret staircase at la Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda. Source: Ingo Bartussek / Adobe Stock

By Cecilia Bogaard

 
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Cecilia

Cecilia Bogaard is one of the editors, researchers and writers on Ancient Origins. With an MA in Social Anthropology, and degree in Visual Communication (Photography), Cecilia has a passion for research, content creation and editing, especially as related to the... Read More

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