Arab Baths of Santa María
The truth is that we barely have any information about this public Arab bath, from Caliphal times, under Muslim rule. We need to go back to the beginning of the 13th century, after the conquest of the city by Fernando III the Saint, in order to have some evidence. The bath was part, back then, of a group of things the Christian monarch gave to the family of the Córdoba, more specifically, to Domingo Muñoz the Leader.
The name of Baths of Santa María is probably due to its closeness to the Cathedral, as it was used by the Mosque, and also as it belonged to the neighbourhood Collación de Santa María. On the other hand, we know that it was not an isolated case in our city, as we know other examples, such as the Baths of Santa Catalina, which, despite having Arab origin, they took a Christian name, in this case due to its closeness to that convent.
Unfortunately, there were numerous Arab baths, of which we have documental and even archaeological evidence, but we have not and will not be able to recover. However, the case of the Baths of Santa María is different, since, thanks to the conservative spirit of the different owners (from the mentioned house of the Córdoba, the Cathedral Chapter itself, or from the middle of the 20th century, the Counts of Cañete de las Torres, and currently Enrique Cañas Velasco), this Caliphal treasure has come to us, as a witness of the time with probably the greatest splendour in our city.
In the past, the façade of the baths faced Céspedes and Velázquez Bosco Streets; the latter, through which we can enter nowadays, was originally known as Calle del Baño (Bath Street), clearly refering to this building. Before starting the brief analysis of the rooms, we should mention that along its long life, it has experienced numerous restorations and transformations, and nowadays it is even part of a house; in fact, the bath is private although the owner opens it for tourists.
We go inside the Arab Baths of Santa María and we see a not very big square room, which was the Warm Water Room (hayt al-wastâni). We think it was a vaulted room with skylights, whose centre was occupied by a small pool for the bath, which, after the remodelling works in the 18th century, was bricked up and the ceiling destroyed, in order to turn it into what it is today, a light well. We should think that along with the eight columns supporting the walls, we should add the remaining ones on the shorter sides, which form two horseshoe arches with an extremely long bowstring. The columns have plain shaft, capitals with Arabesques, from Caliphal times, and over them we can see the mentioned horseshoe arches, which today have been stuccoed and polychromed imitating voussoirs.
At the end of the courtyard, there is a small door opening to a room that is more than 10 metres long. It is covered by a barrel vault with blocks of stone and it has rectangular skylights arranged in parallel; it it the Hot Water Room (bayt al-sajun). In front of it there are three openings, bricked up on both sides, whereas the central one leads us to a vaulted gallery, approximately six metres deep and two metres high, leading to a tank.
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