“I am stunned by the pleasure of these baths,
For it seems as if the celestial sphere were here”
While I wait for my room key at the reception desk, Xavier asks me if I had been to the Arab Bath. “Senorita,” he says, “you’ll feel so relaxed. You should try it!” I ask for the address. Apparently, on a small street between Calle Aire de Dios and an old tobacco factory, I would find the Arab bath house and teteria called Aire de Sevilla.
I decide to follow his advice. It’s six o’clock in the evening and still terribly hot; a small break should not do me bad. As I start walking out of the Plaza Santa Maria Blanca, an intense aroma of sandalwood and cloves catches my attention, followed by a cloud of dense smoke coming in my direction from afar via the Calle Aire de Dios. Without hesitation, I follow my guiding spirit through the intensely scented smoke until a large wooden door presents itself imperiously in front of my humble eyes, leading me through a large entrance gate into an interior of blinding light and a roofless court.
I stumble on an arid stone floor, my iPod wires already a mess by now, staring at the space as if I cannot believe what I am seeing. The incense of sandalwood that brought me here still burns intensely in the floor on top of a paved fountain. Sanctuary, hiding Mecca, or a 1,200 meter mirage, this small palace called Aire de Sevilla, built in the sixteenth century by a viceroy from the Indies, is a treat for all senses.
I am asked what I would like to do, and my answer is everything. I am handed a piece of paper with all the rules, prices and services, and cordially invited to have a drink with pastries at the teteria upstairs while the sound of a Sufi flute in the background melodiously evokes my senses, reminding me of Kama Sutra practice at all levels. (Joelle’s suggested sexy literature)
I am expecting an Italian friend here in Seville who I haven’t seen since I was a young girl. I thought it would be nice to impress him with Arab Bath rituals, appearing as if, after all, I have become a grown woman that knows her way around. But honestly, it would be a better idea to test this place first by myself.
I am finally called inside, asked to take my clothes off and wear a bathing suit and special slippers so as not to slip on the wet floors. Then I am given a key for my locker at the Al- Bayt Al-Maslakh, (Apothiderium in Rome or changing room), where running water already takes its course to exactly I don’t know where yet. I attentively listen to quick explanations in Spanish of the suggested itinerary within the three mysterious subterranean floors of treated water, treasures of Greco- Roman and Muslim legacies with the sole intent of acquiring spiritual recreation and eternal skin rejuvenation.
My first stop as advised is in the basement of the hammam, the Al-Bayt Al Watsami (the Romans used to call it Tiepidarium, literally the intermediate room), where the water is at 36 degrees — equivalent to body temperatures that haven’t suffered from the Sevillian heat. We were told that the time spent in this enormous bath is as we please, a few couples hold hands, nobody can run or swim. Moroccan lanterns and tea light candles are everywhere, spreading an atmosphere of enchantment and a sublime dream-like quality.
Some time has passed. I decide to walk the waters towards Al Bayt Al Sahun, or the Caldarium bath. The water here is so hot, but I don’t seem to mind it. At this point already I feel nothing but endless surrender to the hot room rested on brick columns above a chamber containing a furnace heating the floor under my feet. I dream of El Cid, Prince Saladin, of the elegant flamenco dancer I watched last night at Casa de la Memoria Sefaradi, when a pretty young girl by my side with a warm smile reminds me in Spanish that I must not forget to dip into the waters of Al-Bayt Al Barid, (the Roman Frigidarium) for at least five minutes before my blood pressure drops.
Here I am, the Madawi, small star shaped highlights made of stone pottery, pierce the vault of the red and multicolored stucco wall of this freezing Al Barid bath.The blood runs through my veins and my heart races for this to end like a rebellious Arab horse. I repeat three times the hot-cold immersion and head to a powerful shower on the second floor below ground before entering a white nebulous steam room with an strong aroma of Eucalyptus vapor spinning around everywhere, making an almost unbearable noise. I sense the presence of other humans in the room but everything is too white and the mist can be compared to the one of a medieval Avalon. Time: fifteen minutes.
The next stage after the intermediate powerful shower is a jacuzzi in a geometrical shape with Byzantine mosaics on the walls, the best is that there is a special device that throws water to your neck and back with tremendous pressure. The last destination is on the third subterranean floor; for those who do not have claustrophobia it is the soothing. A salt treated water bath surrounded by Roman Style columns at room temperature softens my skin and prepares me for what is heaven on earth at floor one. Going back to the changing room, I help myself to spiced South African red tea, whose qualities are known to be an antidote for depression, and sweet pastries, while water still runs under my feet and a warm towel wraps my already purified body, anxiously awaiting to be thrown under a massage of expert and strong hands embedded with inviting aromatic oils.
They say in Brazil, God is Brazilian, but trust me Allah knew what he was doing when he created Andalusia and its Arab Baths.
(May peace be with you)
This post is dedicated to a person that, like a mysterious wind on a warm Arab night, secretly came back into my life.