Stress from work and the hectic pace of city life means that more and more young people is thinking about spending their holidays taking a relaxing cure at a spa. These establishments are no longer places set aside for older people and have even become luxury destinations offering a whole range of alternative leisure activities.
Since ancient times, water has been a symbol of youth, due to its regenerating and purifying properties, and it has been associated with divine, sacred and religious elements. Thus, the combination of water and health, which reached its culmination during the Roman and Moorish periods and experienced a revival in the Contemporary Age, has been a constant presence in the history of Al-Andalus, a territory enormously rich in springs with mineral and medicinal properties.
However, if we had to choose one area where the culture of water, was, and still is, an essential part of its identity, it would be the province of Granada. The Arabic baths, the remains of thermal baths dating from the Roman period, the water cisterns, fountains, natural swimming pools, and irrigation channels which are still to be found there, are all evidence of the great importance that water had for the area.
The first peoples who settled there knew nothing about hot springs, spas or hydrotherapy treatments, but it was they who discovered, albeit accidentally, the healing properties of water.
Noticing that sick animals were healed when they drank from certain springs whose waters had strange tastes and smells, they started to do the same. This was the beginning of the cult of water and it was to become a sacred element for them. Remains which have been found near to the modern Spa in Alicún de las Torres, confirm the theory that there was a settlement here which grew up around the hot springs.
For the Greeks and the Romans, water was associated with the fulfilment of a daily ritual of body worship and they turned their thermal baths, which were the predecessors of the Arab baths, into centres for social, cultural and commercial exchange.
For the patricians of what was then the province of Beatica, these places of recreation and healing were an intrinsic element of their way of life, and they built numerous examples throughout the province of Granada. Today, we can find remains of thermal baths in Almuñécar, La Malahá, Íllora (in Calle Ayllonas) and in Lecrín. In the latter, which are known as the Termas de Talará and have been declared a Site of Cultural Interest, it is still possible to see some of the structures of the frigidarium, which was situated in an uncovered courtyard and included a circular swimming pool.
The importance attached to these places by the Roman Empire was such that they used their best engineers to build huge aquatic infrastructures so as to channel the waters which flowed from the hot springs. An example of these monumental constructions is the Aqueduct of Almuñécar, from the 1st century AD, parts of which are still in use.
This infrastructure was improved down to the smallest details and used by the Andalusí people, who played a major part in the development of a network of irrigation channels and cisterns in the province. Thus, the Aynadamar irrigation channel was used to transport water from the La Fuente Grande or “de las Lágrimas” spring in Atarfe, to the very gardens and baths of the Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens.
Other examples of water infrastructures constructed by the Muslims include the irrigation channels of Dorabulcilo in Cúllar Vega, Real or de Tímar in the Alpujarra, and El Rasmal in Benamaurel, amongst many others.
Once the necessary channelling systems had been constructed everything was in place to start building the luxurious baths which were one of the Muslims’ greatest sources of pride, and which today constitute an important historic heritage, as is reflected by the good condition of the numerous remains which have been found. In addition In some of these ancient baths it is still possible to take a dip and relax.
CLEANING OF THE SOUL
In Islam, bathing has a strong spiritual and religious meaning. The Koran itself imposes the obligation of looking after and washing the body and rituals include performing ablutions before prayer.
Indeed, as in many other religions, for Islam, water is believed to disintegrate forms, wash away sins, purify and above all, regenerate. For this reason, the Hammam became the place where most of the important events in Muslim life – birth, circumcision, and marriage – took place.
According to chronicles and historic documents such as those written by Ibn al-Jatib, it was rare to find an Andalusí town or village without baths (the so called Moorish Baths). Inherited from the Roman thermal baths, Moorish baths, which ranged between the extremely modest, and the very luxurious, were the centre of social and commercial life. They tended to be located near the mosques or the gates to the cities and were open every day of the year, with different opening times for men and women. Despite this distinction, it was actually in the public baths that the social inequalities were at their least evident.
In addition to the splendid Royal or de Comares Baths which are to be found inside the Alhambra and those of El Bañuelo, which are also in the capital, there are those of Baza or de Marzuela dating from the 13th century, which are a fine example of urban public baths situated near to a mosque.
In addition there are many others of a more rural character which are dotted all over the province in places such as Churriana de la Vega, Cogollos Vega, Aldeire, Huéneja, Dólar, Ferreira, Jérez del Marquesado, Lanteira, Nívar, La Zubia, and Alfacar (13th and 15th centuries). They were mostly converted into private houses upon the arrival of the Christian settlers, who did not approve of the Muslim’s communal bathing customs.
After a dark period during which prestigious Islamic hydrotherapy fell into disuse, with people blindly trusting the technical and therapeutic advances of Modern Medicine, it experienced a period of revival which coincided with the boom of Natural Medicine.
The 20th century was undoubtedly the period of greatest splendour for the discipline and there are now modern facilities – spas – offering cures and treatments.
The province of Granada currently has five health resorts, which are mostly housed in ancient Roman and Muslim baths: Alhama de Granada, Graena, Alicún de las Torres, Lanjarón and Zújar.
However, despite its temporary decline, the Culture of Water and its association with health never completely disappeared due to the fact that Granada has many water springs with mineral and medicinal properties, most of which are still being used today and have modern public facilities. Examples include the baths of Sierra Elvira, in Atarfe, whose sulphated waters come from underground springs; the waters of the Barranco Bermejo in La Tahá, which have ferruginous properties; Los Bañuelos in Diezma; the baths of Melegís in El Valle the Fuente de Alcribite in Baza – whose sulphurous waters are specially indicated for skin problems and digestive disorders; and the two small pools with thermal and medicinal waters which make up the Baths of Urquízar, in Dúrcal.
The Baza-Huéscar: El Altiplano area has two baths which are notable for their widespread public use – those of Zújar and Fuencaliente. The former, which were reconstructed after the disappearance of the original baths following the construction of the El Negratín Reservoir, are fed by waters which are heated by the thermal currents flowing from the foot of the Jabalcón peak. The latter draw their water, which remains at a constant temperature of approximately 18ºC, from two springs situated between Huéscar and Orce.
PICTURES AND TEXTS DONATED BY “PATRONATO PROVINCIAL DE TURISMO DE GRANADA”.