Almonaster la Real Mosque
By Chris Chaplow
The Mosque of Almonaster la Real is located within the castle on top of the hill overlooking the village. Built on the site of a fifth-century Visigoth basilica, this is one of few surviving rural mosques in Spain. A beautifully-preserved mezquita that was converted into a church (a smaller example of Cordoba's famous Mezquita), it is highly unusual in that most of its Islamic features have survived almost intact to this day, alongside the Christian additions.
Built in the 9th and 10th centuries during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III, the mezquita has three components in a trapezoidal shape: the pillared prayer hall (Haram), the courtyard of ablutions (Sham), and the minaret tower for the call to prayer. (The mighty cathedral of Seville also retains the last two of these elements from the mosque over which it was constructed.)
CONSTRUCTION OF MOSQUE
The prayer hall has an irregular shape and consists of five small naves, the central one of which is situated perpendicular to the mihrab, a semicircular niche in the wall which indicates the qibla (the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying).
The central nave is covered by a half-sphere dome and brick horseshoe arches, laid in situ, with the exception of seven arches whose undersides have keystones (stone at arch's apex). As a strengthening device, brick pillars were also built into the adobe walls.
The arches rest on reused stone-forming columns, and reused stone capitals recovered from Roman and Visigoth structures and the arches of brick construction.
The courtyard of ablutions is carved into the rock, as is the stack of ablutions.
Only the lower third of the tower seen today is from the original minaret. Inside the tower is a staircase built around a central column, which the muezzin would have climbed to call the faithful to prayer. This is not open to visitors.
Conversion to church
The Mosque of Almonaster la Real became an early Christian church, Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion, in the 13th Century, following the re-conquest of the area from the Moors by the Portuguese. The geographical religious orientation was changed by adding an 'abside' alcove on the eastern wall, perpendicular to the mihrab. In the 18th Century the Christian apse was covered by a fresco dome (now badly damaged), called the 'Hermita de la Concepcion'.
The mosque-church was renovated in the 16th century by opening a door in the north wall and adding a very church-like porch. The sacristy was added in the north wall next to the altar.
|Plan of Almonaster la Real Mosque.|
The Mosque of Almonaster la Real was declared a 'Monumento Nacional del Estado' in 1931. It was further renovated between 1970 and 1973 by Felix Hernandez, Rodriquez Cano, and Alfonso Jimenez.
It is open to the public every day from 09.00 hrs to 20.30 hrs and is free to visit.
The Mosque of Almonaster la Real is the centrepiece of the annual 'Jornadas de Cultura Islamica' which takes place in the town, usually in October.