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Renovations at Cervecería Giralda uncovered the remains of an ancient Seville bathhouse. Source: Álvaro Jiménez

Islamic Bathhouse Discovered in Seville Tapas Bar

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Renovations in a Spanish tapas bar in Seville, southern Spain, have uncovered a forgotten 12 th-century Islamic bathhouse. The ancient structure was covered up in the early 20th century by an architect while he was constructing a new hotel on the historic site. The lucky tapas bar owners discovered the 800-year-old structure while they were renovating their premises.

Geometric Embellishments and Tranquil Paintings in Seville Bathhouse

Cervecería Giralda is a successful tapas bar in Seville, Spain, that first opened in 1923. During a recent renovation project, workers pulled away a section of plaster from a ceiling and revealed star-shaped skylights belonging to a long-lost 12th-century Islamic Seville bathhouse. According to Britannica, public baths, known in Arabic as Ḥammān, were developed in countries under Islamic rule and reflected “the fusion of a primitive Eastern bath tradition and the elaborate Roman bathing process.”

The renovations uncovered the remains of geometric patterns and skylights which once belonged to this ancient Seville bathhouse. (Álvaro Jiménez)

The renovations uncovered the remains of geometric patterns and skylights which once belonged to this ancient Seville bathhouse. (Álvaro Jiménez)

Archaeologist Álvaro Jiménez told The Guardian that when he first rested his eyes on the star-shaped skylights he knew that this structure “couldn’t have been anything but a bathhouse.” Jiménez and many other archaeologists had heard rumors about the lost Seville bathhouse but now they have “definitive evidence” of the well-kept bathhouse. So far the researchers have uncovered “88 stars and octagon-shaped skylights, ornate geometric embellishments and tranquil paintings.”

In order to understand the structure of the Seville bathhouse, the archaeologist Margarita de Alba has used photography to recreate how this bathhouse would have looked in the 12th century. (Margarita de Alba)

In order to understand the structure of the Seville bathhouse, the archaeologist Margarita de Alba has used photography to recreate how this bathhouse would have looked in the 12 th century. (Margarita de Alba)

Seville Bathhouse: Water Relaxation in Paradise

Today, the bath’s “warm room” is home to Cervecería Giralda’s bar and four grand columns support its eight-sided vaulted ceiling. Archaeologist Fernando Amores told  El País that while most hammams only have one or three rows of skylights, “this venue boasts five.” A 13 by 42 foot (3.96 by 12.8 m) rectangular side chamber, formerly known as the bath’s “cold room,” houses the bar’s kitchen.

Jiménez told the Spanish daily El País that the most important thing they’ve discovered so far is that the bath was completely painted, from top to bottom, with red ocher on white, displaying “high-quality geometric decoration.” Until the discovery of this structure, previous examples of Islamic bathhouses had painted baseboards. This is the only known Arab bath with what is described as “integral decoration.”

All of the hammams discovered across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa so far feature mosaics, fountains and pools decorated with geometric and floral shapes, or calligraphy. Archaeologist Javier Arroyo said nearly all such artistic representations in the Islamic world “allude to paradise,” but this one is decorated with zigzagging style painting which Amores described as being “evocative of water.”

London-based Times writer, Isambard Wilkinson, says the first documentary evidence of the Seville bathhouse dates to a few decades after Christian forces captured the city in 1248 AD. The researchers believe the hammam dates back to the North African  Almohad Caliphate , an Islamic empire that ruled over the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula between 1130 and 1269 AD.

How can you lose an Islamic bathhouse? The incredible structure was uncovered during renovations at Cervecería Giralda. (Cervecería Giralda)

How can you lose an Islamic bathhouse? The incredible structure was uncovered during renovations at Cervecería Giralda. ( Cervecería Giralda )

Hiding the Ancient Seville Bathhouse

The big question in this discovery still remains unanswered: how on Earth did this glorious example of 13th century Islamic architecture get lost? Álvaro Jiménez told El País that during the 17th century the building was “Italianized.” The original columns, that were probably made from reused Roman columns, were replaced with others made with Genoese marble. Furthermore, all of the skylights in what was once a Seville bathhouse were shuttered at this time.

The team of researchers has speculated that a rich merchant bought the property and built his home over the bathhouse. The tapas bar’s co-owner, Antonio Castro, told The Guardian that the business was pretty well-known before this ancient discovery, but once restoration work ends next month the bar will reopen to the public and now people will be able to come in and have a beer or a glass of wine “in a bar that’s also a 12th-century hammam.”

Top image: Renovations at Cervecería Giralda uncovered the remains of an ancient Seville bathhouse. Source: Álvaro Jiménez

By Ashley Cowie

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