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Almohad Hammam in a 21st Century Bar

Almohad Hammam discovered in Cerveceria Giralda in Seville, Andalucia

By Nick Nutter | Last Updated 16 Mar 2022 | Seville | Places To Go
Image copyright El Pais

Image copyright El Pais

It must have been quite a shock to the owners of Cerveceria Giralda on Calle Mateos Gago, one of the most popular tapas bars in Seville, when they brought the painters in and discovered their bar was in a unique 12th century hammam or public baths.

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Image copyright El Pais

Image copyright El Pais

During the Almohad period (1172 – 1212 AD), Seville was, temporarily, one of the two capitals of the Almohad Empire, the other being Marrakech. Documentary evidence from the 13th century mentions a bath house owned by one Garcia Jofre alongside a property given by King Alfonso X to the Church of Seville. The 17th century historian, Rodrigo Caro, tells us of a vault accessed from Borceguineria (an early name for Mateos Gago street), the decorations of which resembled those of a circus or amphitheatre. The art historian, José Gestoso, writing in the late 19th century, said the vault is ‘of Mauritanian tradition, a construction that is frequently seen in Seville monuments from the 15th and 16th centuries.’ Then, in the early 1900s, the whole building was converted into a hotel. The architect, Vicente Traver, concealed the ancient structure beneath modern ceilings and walls, preserving them for the next hundred years.

Image copyright El Pais

Image copyright El Pais

The renovation work that started in 2020, resulted in the discovery of the vaulted roof complete with skylights known as luceras. Archaeologists were called in and the decision was made to completely recover the Arab baths. The recovery work has revealed murals unique in Spain and Portugal. “The most important thing is that we realized the bath was completely painted, from top to bottom, with high-quality geometric decoration,” says Álvaro Jiménez, an archaeologist who has supervised the work. “The drawings were made in red ochre on white, and large fragments were preserved on the walls and vaulted ceilings. This is the only surviving Arab bath with an integral decoration; until now, the only known examples had paint just on the baseboards.”

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When the bar re-opens (due in March 2021), patrons will enter via the bath’s warm room. The familiar dark wood bar is retained above which is an octagonal vaulted ceiling supported on four columns. There are 88 elaborate skylights, star shaped, lobular and octagonal, much more elaborate than those found in other Arab baths of the same period, as befitted a hammam in the capital of al-Andalus. The lattice paintings in the arches are a representation of water. One side opens into a barrel-vaulted room that now serves as the bar’s eating area. It was found that this was the cold room with five rows of skylights. The hot room would have been where the kitchens are today.

Cerveceria Giralda is likely to remain one of the most popular bars in Seville, not least with historians, keen to see the hammam.

Photographs copyright 2021 El Pais

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