Alhambra - The Baths

Tiled Moorish baths in the Alhambra. © Lawrence Bohme
Tiled Moorish baths in the Alhambra.

The Baths

by Lawrence Bohme

The Moorish bath, or hammam, followed the Roman model: a hot room, a warm room and a cold room, with ovens under the floor to heat the paving stones. In the museum of the Palace of Carlos Quinto you can see the wooden clogs which the bathers had to shod to protect them from the heat of the marble floor.

The Alhambra's hammam is very similar to the other examples which can still be seen in Spain, such as the Bañuelo, on the bank of the River Darro, except that it was installed with a luxurious chamber where the Sultan could rest after the bath, called the Room of the Beds - Sala de Camas. The tall, narrow room has recessed ledges, the "beds" on which the Sultan would recline on a mass of rugs and cushions, as his wives danced naked before him to the music of blind musicians playing from the gallery above, until he threw an apple to the one he desired for the night.

Moorish baths in the Alhambra. © Lawrence Bohme
Moorish baths in the Alhambra.

Unfortunately, the wooden gallery collapsed in the 19th century and had to be rebuilt, long before the art of restoration as we know it today had been invented.

Then, medieval works were "improved" with whimsical embellishments and gaudy colours, to satisfy the public's expectations.

Under the guidance of the Alhambra's first director, Contreras, the woodwork was rebuilt and repainted in the worst possible taste. The other efforts of the infamous "restorer" have since been removed - such as the round, tiled domes which he outrageously placed on the twin "temples" of the Courtyard of the Lions - but this room, which could have been one of the most enchanting and evocative of the palace, still sadly bears the imprint of his heavy hand.

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