The small miracle of the Mozarabic caves

Retired archaeologist  Carlos Gozalbes,in the cave.
Retired archaeologist Carlos Gozalbes,in the cave. / PILAR R. QUIROS
  • A man in Churriana stumbled across a hidden archaeological site when he was rescuing two puppies who had been buried alive. They now have homes and the archaeological site is to be protected

  • Local residents now want the site, which may consist of a church and rooms where Christians prayed during the Muslim period, to be protected

The world is full of happy accidents and sometimes they can prove to be extremely important. As an example, think of somebody out for a walk with their two dogs in the countryside near Churriana, who found two puppies who had been buried alive on the side of what appeared to be a small hill. And then, after rescuing them, it turns out that the place where they had been buried was a collection of ancient buildings: a church and prayer rooms which the Christians used during the time of Muslim rule.

Archaeological study

Before any of that can happen, though, the studies have to be carried out, as the town planning committee made absolutely clear.

Two of the prayer rooms at the site.

Two of the prayer rooms at the site. / PILAR R. QUIRÓS

In his report, and in person during this visit, Gozalbes explained that in one of the caves there is a Mozarabic church with three naves and several niches, and on the part of the wall by the altar there are numerous inscriptions and signs from the Mozarabic era, although they are barely perceptible now. He said the alignment of the writing and almost uniform height of the words could mean that it relates to a particular time, and that would have to be researched and dated.

The other five caves which have been excavated were basically places of prayer for the Mozarab community "and were maybe older tombs, possibly dating back to the last part of Prehistory, which they may be been re-using," he said.

It is known that Malaga had a large Mozarab community from the 7th to the 11th century and it is often difficult to distinguish their items from those of Muslims during that period, but in this case Gozalbes said that it was Christian communities who used to favour hewing spaces out of the rock.

Gozalbes with members of the Arcusves association.

Gozalbes with members of the Arcusves association. / PILAR R. QUIRÓS

Local residents are excited about the discovery. They now want these caves to be preserved and an information centre to be built there, and they are watching the site day and night to prevent anyone trying to loot it. In fact, they themselves have put up red plastic tape to form a cordon around the works and a sign from the Local Police (the ones that are used to warn people not to park somewhere), but they say they asked for permission before doing so.

It is heartwarming to see so many people generously giving their time to preserve a heritage which belongs to everybody. They deserve recognition.