The walled town of Siyasa (present-day Cieza) is located in the Segura River valley in the province of Murcia, in southeastern Spain. An important settlement in the Islamic kingdom of Murcia during the reign of the North African Almohad dynasty, the fortified town flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth-centuries. Siyasa was eventually abandoned, following the mid-thirteenth century Castilian conquest of the southern Iberian Peninsula. Later, the new city of Cieza developed a short distance away from the medieval site, leaving the town with its fortress, cemetery, and residential quarter relatively undisturbed.
Excavations at the site, ongoing for over two decades, have yielded a wealth of material evidence about a period for which standing monuments are rare on the Iberian Peninsula. Because Siyasa was a newly-founded town, rather than an antique city like Cordoba or Seville, these excavations offer important insights into the twelfth to thirteenth-century Islamic architecture and urbanism of Islamic Spain. In particular, archaeologists working in the city's eastern residential quarter have uncovered numerous dwellings that collectively shed light on urban houses of the Almohad period.
Constructed along narrow roads which separate blocks of dwellings from one another, and designed to accommodate the sloping terrain, the houses range in size from small structures of no more than fifty square meters, to larger complexes of up to one hundred and fifty-nine square meters. The houses are typologically consistent, characterized by the arrangement of living and service spaces (reception halls, kitches, latrines, alcoves and storage rooms, stables, etc.) around central rectangular courtyards, and by the presence of a well-developed sanitation system of latrines and cesspools. The difference in sizes likely reflects the socio-economic status of the inhabitants. Larger dwellings, with their carved stucco ornament and highly differentiated spaces, were associated with the town's wealthiest classes, while the smaller dwellings associated with Siyasa's lower socio-economic strata are characterized by the absence of ornament and a greater degree of multifunctionality of the spaces within the residence.
Ornament in the Siyasa houses is similar to the decoration common to Almohad mosque architecture: polylobed arches, ornamented with epigraphic bands in cursive script, and openwork panels of carved stucco articulated in interlacing vegetal patterns are characteristic. Such ornament is concentrated in spaces which functioned as social gathering places, courtyards and reception halls in particular.
Marianne Barrucand and Achim Bednorz. 2002. Moorish architecture in Andalusia. Köln, New York: Taschen, p. 172-174.
Julio Navarro Palazón. "The Andalusi House in Siyasa: Attempt at a Typological Classification." Patterns of Everyday Life. Aldershot: Ashgate, p. 43-66.
Julio Navarro Palazón. 1995. "La decoracion almohade en la arquitectura domestica: la casa no 10 de Siyasa." Casas y palacios de al-Andalus. ( J.Navarro Palazon, ed.). Barcelona: Lunwerg, p. 117-137.