The Arab Baths of Cordoba

The Arabs

For several hundreds of years, the region of Andalusia was occupied by the Arabs. Granada was the last place to be reconquered by the Christians, already in the 15th century. Therefore, these people had a massive influence on the life of Andalusians, in terms of food, architecture or language.

A legacy that also stood the test of time is the Arab baths. When I was in Córdoba I visited them several times, at the end of the day. I loved the atmosphere and the relaxation induced by the different water temperatures. In my opinion, this experience is part of the trip. I deeply recommended it!

You can visit the Arab baths a bit all over Andalusia, not only in Córdoba. If you visit Almeria, Granada, Malaga, Seville, Jaén, Cadiz or Huelva, you will also find it.

How did the Arab Baths appear

Before the Arabs

First there were Roman thermal baths, Byzantine baths and steam baths. Going there was already treasured even before the 7th century.

Arabs

When the Arabs occupied the spots which once were part of the Roman Empire, they took advantage of the then-existing baths, however they adapted and turned them into something slightly different.

They ended up mixing several traits of baths of that time, Roman included, but not only.

It’s interesting to see that many of the Arab baths which currently exist are found in the vicinity of mosques. As it is known, the ablutions, i.e., the purification of the body, is a mandatory act before praying. The fact that baths are found near the mosques may be related to this matter.

Usually, there is a water point located in the mosque’s access, but visiting the Arab baths would have been even a better option.

Initially, the baths could only be used by men, only many years later women were allowed to attend as well. In some cases, different schedules were set to keep both sexes apart and, in others, two structures were built, one for each sex.

But visiting the baths was much more than washing the body, it was a social moment between the inhabitants. I can imagine the immense number of things that were addressed there… politics and businesses, for instance. The Arab baths were indeed part of the people’s daily life.

After the Arabs

When the Arabs left Europe, the baths stopped being used. The Church did not have the best of opinions about a place where leisure and laziness were common practice, and even the rumour that this sort of bath was harmful to health started to be spread. And, due to all this, the facilities stopped being used.

This idea that the baths could be something pernicious would only be debunked almost in the 20th century, already with more information (science). And, as a result of this change in mentalities, more Arab baths started to emerge. Nowadays it is known for a fact that baths are useful to boost blood circulation.

How does the Arab bath in Córdoba look like

The Arab baths are public buildings divided into several rooms, and these may vary depending on the facilities. I’m going to talk about what I had the chance to know in person in the city of Córdoba, the biggest in Europe. It is located right next to the mosque, which is a common trait.

These facilities have already been a setting for movies, series and several cultural events, and they are quite magnificent. They are worth a visit in themselves.

In Córdoba, the Arab baths have 3 water rooms, which include the cold room with water at 16ºC, the warm room with water at 36ºC and the hot room with water at 40ºC. We can walk freely throughout these for 90 minutes. There is also the vapour and the relaxation rooms.

At the time, I had never before had the chance to visit one and so I didn’t exactly what I was supposed to do, but you just have to walk around, try the temperature that you enjoy the most and pay attention to what the regular attendees do.

Reception
Temperate room

What’s it like to go to the Arab baths

After putting the swimsuit we go to the warm room, into a pool heated to a pleasant temperature of 36ºC. Most of the people stay here.

From time to time we visit the cold room, where there is a shower with water at 16ºC. Everyone can be there as much as they want, depending on their own sensitivity. I hate the cold so I just spend a couple of seconds!

After that, we should always go the warm water pool. The other option is the hot room, stepping into a small-sized pool which includes a waterfall at 40ºC. We have to enter it very slowly, given that it is not easy to be in touch with water which happens to be warmer than the temperature inside our bodies. Yet again, just like it happens with the cold water shower, we can stay as long as we want.

After the hot water, it’s always time to relax at the pool heated at 36ºC.

So the idea is to stay in the warm area and, from time to time, visit the cold or the hot room. After every journey we should always go back to the warm area. We don’t go from the cold to the hot area straight away.

Doing this circuit several times it’s indeed extremely relaxing. The area, the decoration, the music, the smell, it’s a whole array of experiences.

On top of all this, we can always book a massage. Do it in advance, in order to make sure that you will have the opportunity to experience it during the days you are in Córdoba.

 

The photos of this article were courtesy of the Hammam Al Andalus.

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