CASTILLA-LA MANCHA – Archaeological work on the site of La Graja de Higueruela, in Albacete, has uncovered a complete mosque from the 11th century, according to the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha.
The mosque is centrally located in the middle of a large village square, where a few streets meet.
From its location, it can be deduced that the construction dates from an early phase of the settlement’s history. The religious building, according to the Andalucian rural mosque type, consists of a rectangular shaped prayer room measuring nine metres by three metres. One of the long walls would be that of the quibla, the prayer direction towards Mecca – to the south-east. This can be recognised by the presence of a niche known as the ‘mihrab’. Next to this mihrab is the entrance door.
The building is constructed entirely of mortar masonry. It, therefore, stands out for its use of large vertical stone blocks (orthostats) placed between the masonry at the corners. These are also positioned in the doorposts and in the centre of the walls. The masonry pattern thus formed is reminiscent of the classical ‘opus africanum’, a form of hardwood masonry characterised by alternating use of pillars of vertical stone blocks and horizontal blocks. This way of building was already documented in al-Andalus in the earliest historical phases.
It was not yet possible to excavate in the immediate vicinity of the mosque. However, the surface survey shows that a room was attached to the western wall of the oratory. And also that there was an enclosed courtyard. Presumably, as with other mosques, there were cemeteries in the vicinity. Although, this will be investigated further at a later stage.
Conversion to church
The type of building now excavated was relatively common in al-Andalus, as the ruling Muslim communities needed a place dedicated to prayer, to practice their religion and live by its precepts. But precisely because of the link with the Islamic faith, most mosques were demolished after the Christian reconquest. The few Islamic places of worship that have survived have been radically altered and converted into churches in a number of cities, such as the Mezquita in Cordoba. The mosques in the countryside have also almost all disappeared.