Granada City - Arab Baths

You will see this sign for the baths when crossing the river from Carrera del Darro. © Sophie Carefull
You will see this sign for the baths when crossing the river from Carrera del Darro.

Arab Baths

The Arab Baths are one of the most important historic and architectural aspects of Granada, as they are symbolic evidence of the city's religious turmoil all those centuries ago. The baths were built by the Muslims because they believed water was a symbol of purity, and so used it to cleanse their bodies, whilst the Christians, on the other hand, believed this to be decadent and heathen behaviour, and so had the majority destroyed, with only a 'few left remaining. It's easy to forget how important the baths were in Moorish life: they were a key focal point for social activity, second only to the mosque. They help to give us a glimpse into day-to-day life in Arab-era Granada.

Arabian Baths Experience

Arabian Baths Experience

Soak up the serenity at Granada's Hammam Al Ándalus, magnificent Arabian baths located at the foot of the Alhambra palace complex. Spend time at your leisure, luxuriating in the thermal baths and sipping refreshing mint tea, then head to the Aroma Corner for a massage.  
Approx. 90mins -  60  €

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 The arab baths can be found on a narrow street near Plaza Nueva. © Sophie Carefull
The baths are on a narrow street near Plaza Nueva.

El BaÑuelo - where is it and what is its history?

The public bath houses in Granada take the Arabic name hammam. The most famous bath house in Granada is El Bañuelo, situated in one of the more privileged areas of the city - the Carrera del Darro. This is the street which runs alongside the river Darro, at the foot of the Alhambra hill, which was one of the main roads out of the city. El Bañuelo was built in the 11th century to serve the Mosque that once stood adjacent to it; the money earned from the baths was used by the Mosque for maintenance. The bath house was then known as Hammam al Yawza (The Bath of The Walnut Tree) or the Axares, the latter alluding to the name of the area where the baths were originally built: The Axares Quarter - literally meaning 'health' or 'pleasure'. These baths were constantly praised by Moorish poets for their climate and beautiful architecture.

The water for the baths was provided by springs from the rivers in the city´s suburbs. To obtain this water the Moors built a major hydraulic network which, for the time, was extremely innovative. The water which served El Bañuelo came from the nearby River Darro. This bath house is unique because it is still completely intact, and it is one of the most ancient baths still standing in Spain. It is one of the only Arab bath houses not destroyed by the Christians, who considered bathing so often and in such a public manner to be excessive and decadent; they also believed it reduced masculinity. However they decided to leave some of the baths untouched, as a salutary example of the heathen practices of their vanquished enemy.

 


View Granada hammam baths in a larger map.

The layout of the hammam

The Arabic tradition of bathing was inherited from the Byzantines and the Romans which the early Arabic settlers had experienced in North Africa; however the Arabs adapted it to their own specifications by standardizing the floor layout and reducing the dimensions of the building. The use of the baths as a spa - a public space with different rooms, each with its own function - as well as the architectural structure, were essentially Roman concepts. The Arab baths generally had four rooms:

  • The Albayt al Maslaj - The Entrance Hall- a vestibule to leave their clothes in. The toilet would be located here.
  • The Albayt al Banid - The Cold room.
  • The Albayt al Wastani - The Warm Room.
  • The Albayt al Sajuno - The Hot Room.
  • Al Buma - The service area for the boiler and the store for firewood.

The rooms had hollow floors, which were heated from below ground by the boiler; as a result the floor became so hot that it was necessary for the bathers to wear protective footwear, in the form of wooden clogs. In the roof of the bath houses there were a series of star shaped vents, designed to be opened when the heat from the chamber became too great. The vents were stained glass, so that during the day they let in light and gave the impression of bathing under the night sky. The walls were painted with scenes that were often of an erotic nature.

The Arabic name for bath house is hammam. © Sophie Carefull
The Arabic name for bath house is hammam. "Bathe yourself in history".

Why were bath houses so important in Moorish times?

Bath houses such as El Bañuelo became a very important part of Muslim society; they provided a meeting place for fellow practitioners of the Islamic faith, where they could take part together in this integral aspect of their religious practices. The baths were also essential to personal hygiene - when at the baths you would remove unwanted hair, wash, and even have massages. There would be weekly meetings at each house, with men and women meeting on separate days to ensure privacy - women would only go to the baths once or twice a month, as they were not supposed to leave their houses. The only exception to this rule was for a bride, she would go to the bath house for her bridal preparations and to cleanse herself before marriage.

After the Christian conquest, the baths were disused and El Bañuelo became a public laundry. In 1927 architect Leopoldo Torres Balbas began the restoration project to remove the laundry and turn it into a monument; it is now protected by royal legislation.

There is also a fully restored Hammam situated at the base of the Alhambra in Albaicin, behind the Church of Santa Ana that you can visit and have your own Arabic bath experience.

Outside of the city centre, still within Granada Province, there are some other baths that are also worth visiting: The Jewish baths of Baza, and the baths at; Lanteira, Jerez de Marquesado, Huenja, Ferreira, Dolar, Alhama, Almuñecar, Alfacar and La Zubia.

The Royal Baths in the Alhambra

The Alhambra's Royal Baths are situated between the Tower of Comares and the Courtyard of the Lions. These are the only remaining baths of the eight which originally served the 2,000 or so inhabitants of the Alhambra.

The baths are perfectly preserved, again left by the Christians as an example of Islamic heathenism. The royal bath is still functional but is not ornamentally decorated, as bathing was a religious and sanitary requirement, not a luxury. The bath house is set out in accordance with the original Roman specifications, with a cold, warm and hot room. The bath house has the same star-shaped vents in the roof, and when the heat in the bath chambers became unbearable, slaves were sent up to the roof to open them, allowing the steam to escape.

As part of the Roman model used to design the Royal Baths, the bath house had to be situated adjacent to the apodyterium - an antechamber where the sultan could rest after his bath - and the baths of the harem - Sala de las Camas - the room of the beds, a chamber of two tiers, the first tier surrounded by alcoves and the upper tier by a balcony. After his bath, the sultan would go to his apodyterium where his harem would be waiting naked after their baths, hoping to be chosen to spend the night with the sultan. He would indicate his choice by throwing an apple to his selected companion.

This room is considerably more decorative than the bath house, likely because of its suggestive and seductive nature, and also because it was intended for the sultan to relax in pleasurable surroundings- this area was not part of the religious process. Unfortunately the room does not retain its original decoration. The chamber was ´restored´ in the 19th century when it was on the brink of collapse, but sadly in this restoration much of the chamber's original charm and beauty was lost, and the redecoration has left it looking less than luxurious.