The refined hygienic habits of our Andalusí ancestors – described in treatises which relate their penchant for creams, oils, and aromatic ointments – along with the proscribed ablutions before reciting prayers from the Koran, and the spiritual meaning attached to water, provided the basis for the proliferation of Hammans or Moorish Baths throughout the province of Granada.
These baths, sometimes centres for improvised trading and always offering the pleasures of the total relaxation of the senses, were essentially the continuation of the Roman thermal baths or caldas, in terms of both their role and their construction, although they were smaller, and had their own distinctive appearance and categories.
As the structure of the actual buildings housing the baths had to be very solid so as to withstand the striking differences in internal and external temperatures, mortar was used to construct the walls whilst stone and brick were skilfully combined to build the robust vaulted ceilings. These were brightened with skylights and small windows through which the light reached the various different rooms.
Solid buildings with little ventilation, they had to have a minimum of three or four rooms or naves. The first, which the Arabs called al-bayt al-maslaj, the equivalent of the Roman apodyterium, served as the vestibule or hallway, and was used for resting and as a changing room; the next, called al-bayt al-barid, or refreshing room, was where bath users were given white cloths to wrap their heads and bodies, and wooden sandals.
From there they passed into the central room or al-bayt al-wastani, the equivalent of the Roman trepidarium, or warm room, which had a steam generating stove. The last room, the Roman caldarium, known as the al-bayt assajun in Arabic, had a pool of hot water under which were the furnaces.
During passage from the last to the first room, perspiration was induced by dry hot air and steam baths at different temperatures. Other complementary services included massages, hair dressing, and pedicure treatments performed with pumice stones. The buildings also included latrines, storerooms for firewood, and cisterns.