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Arab baths - Palma

Made in Medina Mayurqa

In the shadow of Palma’s magnificent Cathedral lays one of the few remaining testaments of the three hundred year Moorish occupation of Mallorca. The Arab Baths, found in the beautifully tended orchard of the Can Fontirroig manor house, are virtually all that remain today of the Arabian city of Medina Mayurqa (the Moorish name given to the city of Palma).
In the Tenth century, when these baths were constructed, there would have been as many as twenty similar baths all over the island, used by the Arab dynasties, and probably all in private residences such as these. Together with the Mosque that once stood where Palma’s Cathedral now stands, they would have been regarded as one of the essential features of Islamic life.

 The historical value of Palma’s Arab Baths was not recognized until the early 1960’s, the two chambers that form them once used as garden outhouses where farmyard animals roamed freely. Since then, for a modest entrance fee, this historical attraction has been open for public viewing, providing an interesting insight into Moorish relaxation, the surrounding gardens filled with Mediterranean flora, offering shady seating to visitors on hot a summer’s day.

The main steam chamber, or Caldarium, is in surprisingly good condition considering it age. Daylight shines through six circular openings in its domed ceiling, casting shafts of light onto the twelve columns and classic Moorish arches. It is worth taking note that the columns all differ in terms of construction and material, and according to historians, were probably recycled, salvaged from other buildings in the Middle East and brought over by ship. A form of hypocaust or under-floor heating system was used to heat this chamber. The floor, made from two layers of marble, slowly heated as hot air, produced from large cauldrons of water heated in the kitchens below, circulated the space between the layers. When it reached high temperatures, the floor would have been sprinkled with water periodically, to produce steam.

Next to the Caldarium is a room with a vaulted ceiling, the Tepidarium, a warm room which was probably lavishly decorated and where bathers gathered before passing into the Caldarium. Unfortunately nothing remains of the third chamber, or the Frigadarium, where bathers would have cooled off in a pool of cold water.

The invasion by King James I of Aragon in 1229 saw the destruction of nearly every example of Moorish architecture on the island. These Arab Baths were saved only by chance.

Visit them any day of the year, at Calle C’an Serra 7, Palma. 971 721549




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