Ronda is an ancient mountain town of scenic vistas, romantic plazas, and historic treasures. Once a year, Ronda also sees a return to tradition with its annual Feria Goyesca. A fairly recent festival, at least in Andalucian terms, it has become an event that has captured the imagination of Spain with its traditional dress, important bullfights and its ageless glamour.
The Feria Goyesca (properly called the Feria de Pedro Romero) stems from the inter-relationship of three main personae which spanned over three centuries, all with strong connections to Ronda. They are the famous 18th century bullfighter, Pedro Romero; the extremely influential 18th century Spanish painter, Francisco de la Goya; and finally, the great 20th century bullfighter, Antoñio Ordóñez, to whom the vision of the Ronda’s modern Feria Goyesca can be attributed.
Ronda is well-known as the home of the modern corrida or bullfight. The father of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the mythical Romero family of Ronda. This city and bulls had become inextricably linked from a much earlier time when, in 1572, King Philip II created the Real Maestranza de Caballería (the Royal Calvary Order) of Ronda which was to promote the proper military training of noblemen in the area. This training included horsemanship, athletics, and the spearing of bulls from horseback.
This preparative training for war carried over to times of peace and in this way, the seeds of modern bullfighting were sown in this small, mountain town. Due to the innovations of Francisco Romero, the spectacle evolved into confronting the bull, not on horseback but on foot. This newer, exciting style of fighting spread rapidly across Spain as the importance of bullfighting also increased throughout the peninsula.
The greatest fighter of the Romero dynasty was Francisco’s grandson, Pedro. Pedro is reported to have dispatched over 6000 bulls during his lifetime, all without receiving a single cornada (goring).
Pedro Romero’s fame coincided with the time that the painter, Francisco de la Goya was also at the peak of his creative best. Goya, the famous artist and the court painter to Spanish King Carlos IV, was also a keen observer of traditional Spanish culture. In fact, Goya painted the most famous portrait of Pedro Romero and is said to have even designed some of his most stylish fighting costumes.
Goya painted idyllic situations with bullfighters in traditional trajes de luces (bullfighting costumes) complete with stylish trousers and hair-nets. Goya’s women were also traditionally portrayed, wearing ornate dresses and mantillas (traditional Spanish head-dresses). The painter portrayed the nobility that he knew so intimately because they were the people he spent many of his days painting. These paintings invoked views of the most idyllic of times.
The paintings of Goya had their effect upon the imagination of many, including the third of these three protagonists, Antoñio Ordóñez. If Pedro Romero was the best of Ronda’s first great bullfighting dynasties then Antoñio Ordóñez was perhaps the greatest bullfighter of Ronda’s second dynasty. By the time he retired in 1968, Antoñio had faced more than 1000 bulls in the ring.
In the early 1950s, Antoñio felt it proper to pay homage to Pedro Romero. Since 1954 was to be the 200th anniversary of his death, Ordóñez decided to celebrate the occasion with a corrida (bullfight) that captured not only the intensity of bullfighting but also the pageantry that was portrayed in the paintings of Goya. It was to be pure spectacle.
But the spectacle does not only occur in the bullring. The corrida is only a part of the weeklong festivities. Among other happenings, there is a contest for the Best Carriage and the competition is fierce. The horse-drawn carriages are crafted with incredible details and gilded in golden metal, the finest of wood, gleaming leather, and the most beautifully polished upholstery.
The sound of music also fills the airs since Ronda hosts a number of competitions during this week of celebrations. These include the Flamenco Singing Festival and the International Music and Dancing Festival. Andalucian culture is on show as much as is Andalucian passion. As well, the streets are lined with people arts and crafts from all over the Latin world. There is also the presentation of the “Ladies of the Goyesca” in which the incredible clothing is highlighted.
But in the end, the Goyesca is about the weekend of bullfighting. The finest of Spain’s matadors perform in period costume on the Saturday and Sunday and the historic Plaza del Toros (bullring) once again heaves with excitement and people.
The bullfight occurs in Ronda’s venerated stone bullring, one of the oldest in the country and except for this important event, only used as a museum. Every year, the faithful gather, many dressed in their finest Goyesca garb and riding in the finest of period carriages through the town, ending up in the bullring. The Goyesca is a different type of experience, even for aficionados of bullfighting. There is also a corrida in which the bulls are fought from horseback, harkening back to the earlier Jerez style of bullfighting.
This is a time for all types of people to see and be seen. During the 50th anniversary celebrations, for example, famous personages from all over Spain were flown in to Ronda by helicopter to share in the celebrations. Even many years before this, international personalities like Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway attended the Feria Goyesca. Both were good friends with Antoñio Ordóñez; so much so that after his death, Wells had his ashes scattered upon the Ordóñez’ Ronda finca.
Today, the Goyesca Bullfight is the highlight of the Pedro Romero Fair which takes place in early September. Organized by Francisco Rivera Ordóñez, who has taken over the reins from his grandfather as the impresario of the Ronda bullring, the celebrations are topped off with the traditional Rejones Bullfight, where the matador fights the bull from his horse with lances, or the bullfight involving no horsemen (picadores) for students of the bullfighting school.
Each year an artist is commissioned to design the poster for the bullfights of the Pedro Romero Fair and the original works of artists such as Barceló, Ginovart, Arroyo, Úrculo and Campano are on display at the Museum of Bullfighting.
The bullfighting costumes are usually also in the spotlight, as they have been sometimens designed by famous designers, as Giorgio Armani. Jacket, cloak and the traditional, tight-fitted pants were planned by Armani specifically for bullfighter Cayetano Rivera Ordoñez. And it so happens that this is not the first time that a famous name designed for the Ordoñez family as Picasso himself created grandfather Antonio Ordoñez’s suit so many years ago.
Authors: Owen Thomas and Brenda Padilla