A STUNNINGLY ornate 12th-century Islamic bathhouse has been unearthed behind false walls during construction work at a tapas bar in the heart of Seville.
Much to the surprise of the builders – and the owners of popular tapas bar Cervercería Giralda – the building work uncovered dazzling skylights, geometric motifs and murals thought to date back to the same time period as the city’s cathedral.
Researchers said that documentary evidence of the baths’ existence dated back to a few decades after Christian forces captured Seville in 1248.
Archaeologist Álvaro Jimenez said: “The most important thing is that we have found that the baths were completely painted, from top to bottom, and with a high quality geometric decoration.
“The drawings are done in almagra [a deep-red ochre from Andalusia] on fragments of white background that have been preserved on vaulted ceilings and walls. These are the only known completely decorated Islamic baths. Until now only examples with paintings on the base of walls were known.”
Workmen realised they had discovered something truly unique when they broke through the false ceiling of the Giralda and saw elaborate Islamic skylights.
“It was an absolute surprise,” added Fernando Amores, an archaeologist who has helped to research the find.
“This important discovery gives us an idea of how other baths could have been during the Almohad period, especially in Seville, which was one of the two capitals of the empire, next to Marrakesh.”
Researchers say the bar’s entrance was the temperate room of the hammam, where an incredible octagonal dome rested overheard on four columns. Next to it was a rectangular cold room while the bar’s kitchen was formally used as a hot room.
The remains of the hot room’s arches,as well as 88 skylights in five shapes such as stars and octagons,have been recovered in the excavation.
Although Fran Díaz, an archaeologist who worked at the site, said that “given the importance of the finds, architecture has taken a step back to give all prominence to archaeology”, the Giralda is due to open once again in two or three weeks.