San Miguel Castle
San Miguel Castle – Almuñecar
The settlement of Almuñecar was first established on a rocky spur overlooking a fertile floodplain during prehistoric times and since the later Bronze Age it has been occupied by a succession of cultures including the Phoenicians, Romans, Muslims and Christians.
The San Miguel Castle was constructed on one of the hills which now forms the southern part of the historic town centre, overlooking the coves which lay to the east and west.
The fortress occupies most of the hilltop, and it can be seen that the upper part is actually formed by the superimposition of three different castles of Roman, Islamic and Christian origin, which share the same ground plan. Part of the remains are still visible, and of particular interest are those of the Islamic fortress which was originally constructed during the 11th century and modified considerably during the period of Nasrid rule.
With the surrender of the town in December 1489, the fortress became a Christian bastion, and underwent numerous further alterations, including the reconstruction of the northern façade with its caponier – bridge, and a new battery for canons as well as a long defensive coracha (double wall) to the south. Later, after the major damage suffered by the fortress during the War of Independence, when the main gate was destroyed, it lost its defensive role and between 1851 and 1977 it was used as the town´s cemetery. In 1980 Dr Federico Molina Fajardo began an archaeological investigation of the castle and since 1991 he has been in charge of its restoration.
The Christian Battery
The battery, situated in the southernmost part of the Castle, was constructed at the beginning of the 16th century. It was used for artillery pieces to defend the town against maritime invaders.
The southern battery encloses the upper platform of the castle. Its construction, which involved the covering over and partial destruction of earlier Islamic structures, took place during the early stages of Castilian domination. During the excavation works, before they were covered with modern brickwork, it was possible to identify the remains of a square-shaped tower at t he south eastern corner which was parallel to the still visible tower on the south western corner. Here, there was no battery, since the Muslims didn´t use artillery. The battery is enclosed on its northern edge by a large wall, beneath which, remains of 12th century Almohad walls have been found
The Castle of San Miguel´s Christian water cistern is situated beneath the parade ground, near to the military pavilion. The water deposit, which is circular in shape, was of vital importance for the survival of the town´s population, which took shelter in the castle during the summer months in order to protect themselves against attacks from pirates and Berbers. The cistern was filled during the rainy season since there were no underground sources of water.
One of the important innovations of the Arabs was the water Wheel. Agriculture using irrigation, the new system of cultivation which was introduced into Al-Andalus, required hydraulic techniques which extracted underground water and moved it to the areas being cultivated. Water wheels were not however only used in agriculture, the also played a key role in the in the parks and gardens of the Andalusi roayal residences, with their numerous fountains, as well as in providing water to the residences themselves.
The water wheel of the Castle of San Miguel supplied water to the bathing facilities and to the pond of the palatial house. Its remains are situated to the SE of the baths, where there is a rectangular structure with a depth of more than 4 meters, which was probably a well. Evidence buckets found in the cladding of the dungeon which would have been used to lift the water.
The baths or hammans were a fundamental part of social life, and bathing, apart from being a ritual activity, was also seen as a form of religious purification.
The baths were situated in an annex and consisted of four different areas. The entrance was at the south eastern corner of the patio, and opened on to a preparation room (bayt almaslaj). To the west of this room is another door leading to the latrine. Next to it is the old room (bayt al-barid) and then the third space, the tepid room (bayt al-wastani). The bather then arrived at the largest part of the establishment, the hot room (bayt al-sajun). Beneath this was a hypocaust with 14 pillars which distributed the heat from a trapezoidal furnace situated to the south of the baths.
The Christian military pavilion, constructed in the 16th century, featured a central doorway, the right frame of which, made from reddish brick, is still visible. There was a window on each side of the building and two others on its northern façade. It must have fulfilled a similar function to the Islamic quarters situated on the northern part the parade ground, which were used for recreation and sleeping.
In 1851, when the castle was turned into the town´s cemetery, the military pavilion was divided into three different spaces. The central area was used for worship and the two sides as places of burial for religious leaders and other illustrious figures of the time.
Gate of the Coracha
The term coracha is used to describe a construction which is built onto the defensive wall, extending outwards, to protect get an area where provisions are supplied to the defenders of the castle. During the medieval period the fortress must have had a coracha, since remains of an exit gateway situated to the SW and a typical tower adjoining the SE sector of their Christian wall have also been found. In the Castilian period the coracha was extended towards the Peñón de San Cristobal, and during excavation works, a stairway was discovered, adjoining its eastern wall, heading northwards towards the ancient Puerta del Mar, suggesting that this was how the castle received its provisions and armaments.
At the north eastern corner of the castle are two towers protruding from the defensive wall which correspond to the Islamic and Christian periods. The solid built Islamic tower, made from tapial (compressed cly), was constructed during the 11th or 12th centuries, as can be seen by the amount of ceramics which have been found which come from the same period.
The circular Christian tower leans towards the nort western side of the Islamic tower in such a way that the higher steps leading down from it are actually carved out of the islamic tapial. From the foot of the Islamic tower the steps continue with brick on the inside and stone on the outsde until reaching a 16th century defensive arrow slit.
The Castle Mosque
An excavation Project began on this site in 2009. It was led by Dr. Federico Molina Fajardo who was assisted by fellow archaeologists José Javier Álvarez and Eduardo Cabrera. Remains of a mosque or oratory were discovered in a rectangular area (measuring 28 meters by 7.5) which is situated next to a N-S facing path. Religious buildings of this kind were a key feature of all Islamic fortresses.
Although the building was almost certainly destroyed after the Christian re-conquest there are sufficient remains to make out the shape of the religious monument. The building directly adjoined the eastern wall of the Castle but the remnants suggest that the rest of its outer walls were constructed using the characteristic Islamic compressed earth method (tapial), similar to the rest of the buildings from the period which have been found within the fortress.
The mosque comprises two areas, one corresponding to the oratory, with its typical mihrab facing towards Mecca (to the east), and another which was also rectangular in shape, to the south, which would have been used for ablutions and cleansing the principal parts of the body before prayer. From t he above mentioned pathway, flanked by a tapial wall, there is a gap which would have led to a doorway opening directly onto the oratory, then, a little further on, another doorway which opensonto the cleansing area. On the inside of the oratory remains were discovered of what could have been a tomb, embellished with geometrical zellige tile work in the shape of a draughts board. This decorative feature is ubiquitous in Muslim architecture, and outstanding ancient examples include the Merinid necoropolis of Shellah in Rabat, and the exceptional ornamentation of the Qarauyn mosque in Fez.
The medieval Eastern wall is the best preserved tapial construction. In its interior it is possible to see a number of hollows covered with medium-sized flagstones. These hollows were used to support wooden beams which in turn were part of a scaffolding system used during construction. The beams were removed after construction was completed but the hollows were left for possible later repairs. Next to the wall was an Alhomahad structure, later used by the Nasrids, and it is believed that it may be the remains of a mosque. Since Friday prayers are an essential part of the Muslim faith it is logical that a mosque would have been built within the fortress
Tapial earthwork defenses
The first fortification of the Castle of San Miguel was constructed in tapial during the 10th and 11th centuries. The design of this original castle probably took the form of a quadrangular building with square towers. Tapial was an Arabic form of construction which involved the use of clayey soils which were compressed into a wooden framework or encofrado using a rammer.
The framework sections were constructed using parallel timbers. Eart was them poured into them in 10 to 15 cm layers, and compacted with a rammer. The compressed earth was left to dry in the sun, and later, the finished encofrados were put into place so as to continue the construction of the wall as a whole. Once the tapia or tapial construction was completed, doorways and windows were opened up with chisels.