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Al-Andalus, the Route of the " hammams "

THE BATHS

The hammam follows the pattern of the Roman thermal baths: one hot room, one temperate and one cold, with ovens under the floor. In the visit to the museum of Carlos V Palace, the scholars of " hammams " has the opportunity to see the wooden sandals used by the bathers to prevent their feet from burns when they wandered around the different rooms.

Impatient we ask to our guide about the location of the arab baths of the Alhambra. Ibn Zamrak, smiles again and he shows us a door, it is the entrance to the Palace of Comares. We read a verse that says: I am a crown in the forehead of my door; envy of the West in my the East..." (I.Zamrak)

It is the Palace of Comares, the king's official residence. Yusuf I wanted a decoration for the real dependences able to amaze the visitors and despite he did´t see this work finished, his son, Mohamed V is considered the creator. In the wooden frieze it is where Zamrak left tattooed this poem.

 

We pay great attention to his explanations. The Arab baths were built in the eastern part of the Palace of Comares, following the pattern of Roman thermal baths. It is known as the Room of the Camas, is the first room we find when entering inside the baths. This would be the "apoditerium", or room used to undress before entering in the bath, and it possesses a square space in the center, bounded by columns, there is a fountain and galleries, as well as a space open to the superior floor from whose gallery is it said that the king leaned out to see his naked wives.

By the sides, can be seen the beds dedicated to rest after the bath, decorated with coloured tiles. The whole existing decoration is of the Christian time. The following room is the " frigidarium ", a cold room where there is a pond of cold water and not one entire pool as it was the custom in the Roman thermal baths. The central room is the "tepidarium " or temperate room that communicates with the other two rooms.

Finally, we enter the " caldarium " or steam room, it is the hot room of the bath, in which in its day a copper boiler existed where the water were warmed and send trough underground galleries to heat these room. We can still find in a niche of tiles by the bottom of the room and the pipe by which the hot water came out.

From this room the journey was made again up to the " apoditerium ", with that the baths with very pleasant gradation of temperatures were obtained. In fact, the distribution of these baths of the Alhambra is not specific but rather it was common in the Arab baths.

For some experts in the topic, what distinguishes the hammam of the Alhambra from other that still existing in Spain, is the Room of the Camas which is described as a place where the Sultan rested after the bath, lying down in the cushions and carpets that his slaves had prepared in the bedrooms that surrounded the central space, while he admired his wives that danced naked, with the rhythm of musicians seated in the upper gallery, blind being not able to look at what happened below. When the Sultan had chosen one of his wives to have a night of passion, he threw at she an apple that was received proudly.

Legend or reality? The poet and visir, Ibn Zamrak, doesn't give his opinion and he suggests us that before abandoning the enclosure of the Arab baths, let us go to the upper floor. Here we find a room with tracery of Mudejar style, the arches possess inscriptions and decorations of the middle years of the XV century. The rest of the rooms is very simple, without decorations in the walls, with marble pavement, baseboard of very simple tiles, horseshoe arches without decorating and vaults with chandeliers of star shape that remained closed with glasses of colours and whose mission were to illuminate the room.


 
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