A strategic enclave for communications between the Mediterranean and the Ebro Delta

La Moleta dels Frares is a site located 2 km from the town of Forcall, in the region of Els Ports. It is settled on a small hillock situated above the Cantavieja river, at an altitude of 895 m, surrounded by steep mountains providing a natural defence. With a surface of close to 8 ha, it is one of the largest settlements in the region of Castellón, occupied from the Bronze Age until the Andalusi period. Between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE it was the site for the only Roman city known in this region. Given its situation beside a river crossing it was also an important communication node which intersected with a route from Via Augusta to Caesaraugusta mentioned by old itineraries.
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Archaeological documentation
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The earliest accounts of La Moleta are from 1876 when Nicolás Ferrer y Julve, a professor of medicine from Universitat de València with a keen interest in archaeology, published news of the discovery of a Roman city - identified at the time as Bisgargis - in the Valencian press. This attribution remained for a century until 1977, when German researcher G. Alfoeldy reinterpreted a Roman inscription conserved in Morella (link): an altar dedicated to Jupiter, erected by the res publica leserensis in the year 212 CE for the salvation of the emperor Caracalla. Therefore, Lesera must have been a town under the auspices of the municipal statute in times of emperor Augustus, and must have remained active until at least the early 3rd century CE. In addition to this epigraphic source, the toponym appears in Ptolemy’s Geography which dates from around the middle of the 2nd century CE.el siglo II d.n.e.

La Moleta is narrow, elongated and is made up of two superimposed platforms. Although the Roman city has been flattened extensively it is still possible to view remains scattered throughout the entire surface. This enclave must have had all the infrastructures characteristic of its category, such as a wall, forum, temple, basilica and curia, market, thermal baths, etc. Among the remains conserved there are several sections of wall and the east entrance gate, a great containment wall which possibly belonged to the forum, a house which has been excavated, remains of other dwellings, and numerous constructions of an undefined nature.

Enrique Pla Ballester carried out the first excavations in 1960. He opened three probes in different areas of the site to verify its state of conservation and identify the main periods of occupation. The first was carried out in the south area of the upper platform where an east-facing 8.5 x 2.7 m rectangular room was found. Part of the house mentioned earlier was found in the north part of the same platform, while finally a third probe revealed a complete stratigraphic sequence from the Early Iron Age to the 3rd century CE, in the north part of the lower platform.   

Enclave still preserving panels of wall, the entry gate, remains of dwellings and other constructions with indeterminate functions.


La Moleta was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 1998. In 2001 the excavations funded by the Generalitat and Forcall Town Council and carried out by a team from Universitat de València led by professor Ferran Arasa were restarted. Between this year and 2005 excavations were completed on the domus1 which had been partially discovered in 1960. Four constructive phases were identified. In the first artisanal phase an iron metallurgical furnace was identified. The three following phases correspond to a 120 m2 house which was occupied from times of Augustus until the mid 2nd century CE in three consecutive phases.

Work continued after this and until 2009 it was carried out in the north section of the lower platform, where the city forum is thought to have been located. Finally, a new campaign began in 2015 in the same area, funded by the Mancomunitat Comarcal dels Ports, and restoration work was carried out in 2017 in the area of the gate and a nearby section of wall, funded by the Generalitat and Forcall Town Council.


Lower platform

The city was accessed via a path on the east, along which the necropolis spread. Several panels from the walled complex are still found on this side of La Moleta and the 2.25 m wide access gate is located in the central part of the slope. The forum and public square of the city are in the north section of the lower platform, where the main civil and religious buildings of Lesera were located. A large 2,500 m2 terrace, possibly occupied by the forum, is still conserved in this platform. There was also a containment wall 74 m long, with north-south orientation and divided into three sections: those in the north and south ends are opus caementicium2 1 m thick, while the central one is opus vittatum3. Several probes opened up in this area have provided further evidence of the presence of this great architectural complex and information about the transformation processes which affected this area following the disappearance of the Roman city, possibly between the end of the 3rd century and the start of the 4th.

Upper platform: the domus

The narrow elongated upper platform is completely surrounded by the lower one. It is accessed from the north end, where the remains of the only domus which has been completely excavated are found, along with similar ones. At the end of the 1st century BCE, during the rule of emperor Augustus, a terrace was hewn out in the rock from which three constructive phases were identified. Initially a very simple dwelling with stone walls bonded with mud was built, with beaten earth flooring, and an east-facing façade which opened up onto a porch with a small domestic oven. A wall parallel to the façade divided the floor plan into two parts, with three rooms in each. This house was destroyed by a fire in the early 1st century CE, between the rules of Augustus and Tiberius.
Lesera: Roman town founded in the time of the emperor Augustus.

Another house was built above this but little is known of it given its poor state of conservation and it can be dated to the central decades of the 1st century CE. A third 120 m2 domus was built on its remains (towards the last third of the century) with the typical characteristics of Roman architecture: a tile roof, a 49.5 m2 large living room-dining room (triclinium) for the purposes of representation, decorated with mural panels imitating marble and gypsum mouldings, and a kitchen with a ceramic tile hearth. The house was abandoned and vacated in the 2nd century CE and fell into ruin some time later.

On the southwest side of this platform there are remains of a water cistern, possibly private, notable for the opus caementicium wall and an opus signinum4 floor. It is likely that some of the recesses dug out in the rock - visible at different points on the edge of the slope - may correspond to similar installations.

Ceramic, numismatic and epigraphic remains

The material uncovered in excavation campaigns (especially ceramic fragments) has made it possible to identify the different occupation phases of the site: Late Bronze Age -Early Iron Age (with Phoenician imports); Iberian Era (with Greek imports); Late Iberian Era (with Italian imports of wine amphorae and Campanian tableware5); late Roman Empire (with terra sigillataceramic imported from Italy, southern Gaul and the north of Africa - as well as others from Hispania. Other productions found included the ceramic from fine walls, kitchen, amphorae for wine, oil and salting from different locations, dolia7 for storage, etc.); and finally, in times of the Caliphate, from which some ceramic fragments were found. In addition, part of a necropolis was exhumed with some tombs with no burial goods.

Some coins found in the excavations, which can be dated from the Republican Era to the Early Empire, offer accounts of the economic activity and the commercial relationships of the city and its territory. As far as is known, Lesera minted no coins.

In addition, four inscriptions - of which only three remain - were found in La Moleta dels Frares. One of these is carved in jasper from la Cinta - from Tortosa - and is thought to have been a pedestal or altar dedicated to a married couple from two important families in the city: Bebia and Papiria. The other three are incomplete funeral inscriptions. One of them is dedicated to a member of the Julia family, which along with the other two families, must have been part of the municipal elite. Some brief incised texts, both Iberian and Latin, were found in ceramic, stone and metal materials: cups, game chips and a child’s ring.

It was occupied from the Bronze Age until the Andalusi period.

Based on the archaeological materials recovered from the surface it can be stated that La Moleta dels Frares was occupied as early as the Bronze Age at least. The excavations have uncovered pottery from the Late Bronze Age- Early Iron Age and from the Iberian period, which can be dated between the 7th-6th and 1st century BCE. After the Roman conquest the Iberian oppidum8 already there must have undergone major development, and at the start of the Empire, Lesera was honoured with the municipal statute to become the only city existing in Castellón. Despite its very limited stock of monuments and the few displays of luxury found (sculptures and mosaics) the city must have played a major role in the territorial management of a wide area between the region of Els Ports and Bajo Aragón, as well as in the communications between the Ebro Valley and the northern part of the Valencian coast. During the 3rd century the city must have undergone a major crisis which culminated with the pillaging and dismantling of its monumental centre. The location continued to be occupied by a residual population, at least in the 4th and 5th centuries, and possibly in later centuries until the Andalusi period.

1Domus: City home of a relatively well-off family.2Opus caementicium: Construction technique which used sand, water and lime to produce cement.3Opus vittatum: Construction technique used for rendering using small squared masonry placed in courses.





4Opus signinum: Construction technique used for hydraulic structures using lime mortar and crushed ceramic.5Campanian pottery: Term used to identify a group of ceramic productions decorated with black varnish and produced mostly in Campania and other Italian regions between the late 3rd century and the 1st century BCE.6Terra sigillata: Latin expression meaning “sealed pottery” used to name a type of Ceramic pottery in bright red engobe. Produced in different provinces of the Empire, the general chronology dated from the late 1st century BCE to the 6th century CE.7Dolium: Large vessel, similar to a jar, used to store and transport liquid products like oil and wine.8Oppidum: Latin term meaning ‘stronghold, fortified enclave, city’



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