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Hammam - Arabic Baths

Hammam in Spain

Hammam, Arabic Baths in Spain. This Arabic tradition also called the Arabic bath found a fertile soil within the Spanish culture.

The Hammam Arabic Baths or (Arabic: الحمة) served as a preferred meeting place in Moorish Spain. The baths originated out of hygienic necessity as indicated in many sacred religious books. In fact, today many of these recommendations are still followed in modern times: Christian baptisms with water, Muslim cleansings in mosques or Hindu baths in the Ganges River.

The Greek physician Galen, in the second century AD, had already systematized the way in which the baths should be taken in order to benefit one's health. The physician explained how toxins were eliminated from the body through sweating after which hot water could be used to hydrate the body and subsequently cold water to close the pores and stimulate blood circulation.

Arabic Baths were in wide use throughout the Roman Empire. The Romans were expert builders of water transportation systems, reservoirs, aqueducts and canals to carry water to inaccessible areas. Due to this ingenuity, the Roman cities were full of baths, known as thermal baths, which were used for meetings and reunions. This Roman custom was transferred to many of the cultures with which they had contact, including the Arabs.

The majority of the Moorish people came from towns with water shortages. So, it is not surprising that when they conquered the Iberian Peninsula that they were amazed by the abundance of water. The Arabs would take the Roman bathing custom to new heights, adapting it to their culture and further developing the science of water.

We could say that access to the Arabic baths was democratized, opened to all social classes and religions. Muslims, Jews, Christians of different classes and sexes would visit these venues. Some smaller Hammam bath venues had to impose timetables for each group to avoid conflict. For example, women would visit on days in which men could not; and the Jews bathed on Fridays and Sundays.

The Arabic bath buildings were solid structures capable of withstanding changes in temperature and high humidity. The baths were divided into three separate areas: a dressing room, a warm room and a hot room, each interconnected via open arch shaped entrances. Additionally, the buildings had a separate storage area where the water was heated over wood fires. Normally, the bathing venues were decorated in warm colors, to enhance the sensation of heat. Additionally, the Arabs bathed in only vapor and steam, whereas the Romans had pools to submerge themselves in.

The customary Hammam was carried out in three phases. The first phase takes place in the warm room, saturated with steam. Here the clients would lie on a bench and sweat while the bath attendants or slave workers would rub their bodies to enhance the sweating process. The second phase of the Hammam baths took place in the hot room where the client squatted on the floor while being washed with soap. The soap was then rinsed away by the bath attendants who poured an abundance of hot water over the bathers. Next, the bathers would return to the warm room to rest while receiving massages. Following this stage, a cold shower was taken effectively culminating the bathing process. Afterwards, the Arabic bath clients would often remain in the warm room where they would relax and chat about different issues in the city or community.

Many archeological remains of the once abundant Arabic baths can be found scattered throughout the Iberian Peninsula. In some cases, they have been restored to working use. Such is the case of the Banuelo Arabic baths in Granada, originally built in the 11th century.