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The works of a bar in Seville reveal a fully decorated 12th century Islamic bathroom

“There is documentary evidence, in Christian texts from 1281, of the so-called García Jofre baths, which are cited as the border of a property granted by Alfonso X to the Church of Seville. Later, the next known testimony is from the historian Rodrigo Caro in the seventeenth century, who says that the vault that is seen when entering the Borceguineria [as Mateos Gago street was called until the end of the nineteenth] are not bathrooms and he wrote: ‘Before They seem to me to be relics of some circus or amphitheater. ‘ Even the art historian José Gestoso affirms that the vault is of Mauritanian tradition, constructions that are frequent in the Seville monuments of the 15th and 16th centuries ”, Jiménez points out to illustrate the collective belief that time had swallowed García’s baths Jofre.

Yet they have always been there. We know that in the seventeenth century there was an important reform, when the dome of the temperate room was demolished and a much lower one was built to raise one floor. “The building underwent an Italianization that included the replacement of the original columns, probably reused Roman shafts, by others of Genoese marble, and all the skylights were blinded. Our hypothesis is that it would be the business of a merchant who built a high floor for his house, ”adds Jiménez.

Vicente Traver could have chosen to demolish the remains of the baths, however he protects and preserves them, in such a way that the thousands of Giralda clients have been drinking beers in an Almohad hamman for a century.

The discovery of the first ‘hamán’ completely covered in paintings in Spain and Portugal on Mateos Gago street makes archaeologists think that it is not an isolated case

The hamán on calle Mateos Gago in Seville, a few meters from the cathedral, has been the busiest of the Islamic baths in the last hundred years; although his clients have not come precisely to bathe, but to get wet inside with the beer from the Giralda bar. The remodeling carried out by the regionalist architect Vicente Traver at the beginning of the 20th century to convert the building into a hotel concealed, and thus preserved, a 12th century Almohad haman that has emerged with the renovation that began last summer. The rehabilitation works have exposed high-quality wall paintings that covered the entire space and that are unique in Spain and Portugal where everyone thought that there was only “a neomudéjar pastiche”, in the words of Fran Díaz, the architect in charge of the reform.

“The most important thing is that we found that the bathroom was completely painted, from top to bottom, and with a high-quality geometric decoration. The drawings are in almagra [reddish pigment] on white and large fragments have been preserved in vaults and walls. This is the only Islamic bathroom that has come to us with an integral decoration. Until now, only examples with paintings on the baseboards were known ”, said archaeologist Álvaro Jiménez, who has been in charge of the works.

“It was an absolute surprise. This important discovery gives us an idea of ​​what other baths might have been like during the Almohad period, especially in Seville, which was one of the two capitals of the empire, along with Marrakech. The hamán is very close to the main mosque, which was also built in the 12th century, which justifies its much richer decorative development, ”says archaeologist Fernando Amores, who has collaborated in the research.

With the first tastings on the false ceilings of the Giralda bar, one of the busiest in the historic center, skylights [skylights that let light through] of different types began to be discovered that completely changed the course of the reform and made the promoters of the work decided to bet on the total recovery of the Islamic bath. “Given the importance of the findings, architecture has taken a step back to give all the prominence to archeology. The solution that we have found to preserve the bathroom and that the space can continue to function as a bar is to pass all the facilities through a metal cornice that crowns the base of Triana tiles that Vicente Traver placed in his reform and that are part of the personality of the establishment; as well as its original wooden bar, which has also been preserved ”, pointed out Fran Díaz, since the 202 square meter premises will maintain the same use when the works are finished next month.

The entrance of the Giralda bar, where the bar was, has turned out to be the warm room of this hamán with a centered plan: a square space of 6.70 meters with an octagonal dome on four columns, next to this there is a rectangular room of 4, 10 meters wide by 13 meters long (cold room) and the kitchen of the bar would be the hot room, although from this room only the start of an arch remains. “This part was the back of the bathrooms, which you entered through Don Remondo street, where the dry area of ​​the hamán was, with the main access to the complex. We have verified that the level of the bathroom coincides with the current level of Mateos Gago street, but that in the 12th century there would be a great unevenness, since the entrance is through a street with a higher level ”, explains Álvaro Jiménez, who has He completed his doctoral thesis on the remains of the Almohad mosque, the base of the current cathedral.

During the works, 88 skylights of five different shapes (stars, polylobulated figures, octagons …) and also of various sizes that form a kind of constellation much more elaborate than that of other baths of the same time have been rescued. “The skylights are integrated into the decorative network of the space and are surrounded by paintings of red geometric lace that follow a regular pattern, an eight-pointed star and a four-lobed design. Also very remarkable are the paintings on the intrados [inside the arch] of the warm room, a zigzag that represents water. Almost all the representations of the Islamic world refer to paradise ”, says Amores.

The uniqueness of this Almohad bathroom lies not only in its lace paintings, but also in the number of rows of skylights that illuminate the cold room: five rows, when it is normal for there to be three or, in the poorest bathrooms, just a. The cold room, which for almost a century has served as a dining room, lost two meters in length when the widening of Mateos Gago Street was undertaken in 1928.

The project has consolidated all the walls and has cleaned part of the paintings, a task carried out by the Andalusian company Gares (National Restoration Award in 2013), covered not only by subsequent interventions, but also by a favored carbonate layer due to humidity and the passage of time.

“The performance has been very respectful of the uniqueness and values ​​of the hamán. They have proposed a musealization compatible with the use of the hotel space thanks to the professionalism of the team and the promoters, who have assumed the cost of everything that has been executed ”, has assured archaeologist José Manuel Rodríguez Hidalgo, member of the Provincial Heritage Commission Historic of Seville, through which the project has passed, which has supported and followed the rehabilitation. To understand the structure of the baths, buildings that the State built and then transferred their management to third parties, the work of Margarita de Alba has been crucial, who has applied photogrammetry to recreate what these spaces were like when Isbilia was the flourishing capital of Al -Andalus.

“There is documentary evidence, in Christian texts from 1281, of the so-called García Jofre baths, which are cited as the border of a property granted by Alfonso X to the Church of Seville. Later, the next known testimony is from the historian Rodrigo Caro in the seventeenth century, who says that the vault that is seen when entering the Borceguineria [as Mateos Gago street was called until the end of the nineteenth] are not bathrooms and he wrote: ‘Before They seem to me to be relics of some circus or amphitheater. ‘ Even the art historian José Gestoso affirms that the vault is of Mauritanian tradition, constructions that are frequent in the Seville monuments of the 15th and 16th centuries ”, Jiménez points out to illustrate the collective belief that time had swallowed García’s baths Jofre.

Sevilla/15-02-2021: Baños árabes descubiertos en las obras de la cervecería Giralda, en Sevilla. FOTO: PACO PUENTES/EL PAIS

Yet they have always been there. We know that in the seventeenth century there was an important reform, when the dome of the temperate room was demolished and a much lower one was built to raise one floor. “The building underwent an Italianization that included the replacement of the original columns, probably reused Roman shafts, by others of Genoese marble, and all the skylights were blinded. Our hypothesis is that it would be the business of a merchant who built a high floor for his house, ”adds Jiménez.

Vicente Traver could have chosen to demolish the remains of the baths, however he protects and preserves them, in such a way that the thousands of Giralda clients have been drinking beers in an Almohad hamman for a century.

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