A Brief Historical Summary

A Brief Historical Summary

Construction during the reign of James II

The first Christians who came to live in Valencia in 1238 found a city that was well equipped with bathing establishments. The total number of existing baths at that time may have been as high as twenty-five.
No more than five of these bath houses (and this number is not without certain reservations) survived the slovenliness of the years just after the conquest.
Although new baths may have been built before, during the reign of James II (1291-1327) there was a noticeable increase in authorisations for the building of explicitly new bathing establishments, of new construction and in new locations.
The Baños del Almirante were constructed during this timeframe. The building permit was granted on 25 June 1313, to Pere de Vila-rasa, Doctor of Law, to construct a bath and an oven on his land in the parish of Sant Tomàs. The constructor of the building complex, consisting of the Palace, the oven, the Bath, and probably other neighbouring buildings, was the knight and jurist Pere de Vila-rasa. There is no doubt that construction was already in progress in 1313 and the main parts were completed by 1320.
The hammam, or "Arab" steam bath, was the standard type of public bath in the Spanish kingdoms of the Middle Ages. These baths survived beyond the kingdoms and regions with Muslim communities and were found in northern areas of the peninsula which had not been part part of al-Andalus.
Therefore, although it was built in a Christian era, the Baños del Almirante followed the tradition of Arab steam baths. The archaeological-historical study carried out by Concha Camps and Josep Torró has dated the construction between 1313 and 1320, during the reign of James II. The Baños del Almirante is the public bath in Valencia that was open longest (nearly uninterruptedly from the 14 th century until the 20 th ), thus contributing with its long and thorough history to the evolution that these kinds of buildings experienced to adapt to different hygiene practices.
The Baños del Almirante was a modest bath house, which gives us an insight into the everyday life of the less privileged classes of the city of Valencia. Going to the Baños del Almirante was a social act for both sexes. It was a meeting place for women as well as men, although on different days or at different times. The bath was part of the hygiene habits for centuries, which allows us to learn about social relationships in each of the time periods.


The building is essentially made up of three vaulted rooms: the cold, the warm and the hot rooms. The largest was usually the warm room, which was sometimes covered by a dome, supported by a series of arched columns, with alcoves on both sides. As for the hot room, it was next to the boiler, where there was an opening which allowed people access to the boiling water. The hot air produced by the fire of the boiler was spread out, by means of a hypocaust, or a shallow chamber under the floor of the room, and then went up inside the walls which were adjacent to the warm room through chimneys called "escalfadors" [heaters]. The walls were solid and very thick in order to withstand the humidity and maintain the heat, and the only openings were the small passageways between the rooms and the star-shaped skylights bored into the vaults, which were covered with stained glass. In addition to these bathing facilities, there was a usually a hall or vestibule, which was a place to relax. The baths also contained service rooms, such as the boiler room and an area for storing the firewood.


In the beginning of the 19 th century, the enlightened traveller Alexandre de Laborde had the opportunity to make a stop at the baths during his stay in Valencia. This resulted in the first assessment of the monumental uniqueness of the building, which Laborde recorded in his book Voyage pittoresque et historique de l'Espagne , published in 1806. The book included a brief description and, above all, several interesting engravings showing the ground plan, two sections, two perspectives and three architectural details. The French traveller identified these "Baños de Valencia" as an "Arab" monument.
In 1923, Elías Tormo spoke of these "Moorish ruins" as an Arab bath from the 13 th century, dating before the conquest. This chronology was stated again by the same author in the report prior to its second declaration as a historical and artistic monument in 1944 (the first declaration was made by the Republican government in December, 1937).
The excavation work of the subsoil and the examination of the standing structures allowed us to see, firstly, the effects of the successive adaptations and alterations that had been made in the building since 1800 with the goal of turning it into a "modern" bath house. It was always used as a bath, even though after the 17 th century, it no longer had the typical heating system of the hamman.
The structural layout of the building matches faithfully one of the varieties of the hamman. As we have seen, it consists of three adjoining rectangular rooms, parallel to one another from east to west, and perpendicular to the main axis of the vestibule, which is located on the northern side. The latrines are next to the cold room, on the far eastern side, and the boiler room is next to the hot room, on the western side.
The ceramics found inside the foundation ditches and in the primed layers covered by the first flooring, clearly date from the beginning of the 14 th century, which coincides with the documental testimonies concerning the construction.
The main changes in the building took place at the end of the 17 th century, or perhaps shortly after, once the original heating system, characteristic of the hamman type of bath, was rendered inoperative. The hypocaust was then no longer used, and was filled with rubble. The establishment, however, continued working as a public bath.
At the beginning of the 19 th century, about the time of Laborde's visit, the building underwent a significant renovation, which is already somewhat evident in the famous engravings.
Nevertheless, it was between 1830 and 1874 when the establishment endured the most drastic alterations. On the one hand, the street alignment was regulated, forcing a reduction in the size of the boiler room and a displacement of the entrance façade forward, which modified the doorways to both rooms. On the other hand, a three-storey building was constructed over the boiler room and the eastern half of the hot room and the vestibule.
At the beginning of the 20 th century, the establishment was decorated with Neo-Arab details, such as false horseshoe and polylobate archways, skirting boards made of tiles in the style of the Nazar dynasty of Granada, and Arabesque-looking plasterwork. The restoration process that took place from 1953 to1963, together with the closing of the baths in 1959, completely concealed and destroyed these ornamental additions of the modern era.


Between 1984 and 1985, negotiations took place that allowed the Generalitat Valenciana (the regional government) to purchase the Baths as well as the Palace of the Almirante. In August, 1985, the final decision was made and now, the palace houses the main office of the Valencian Ministry of Economy, Treasury and Labour. The building had street access from calle del Palau 14 and from the neighbouring building, number 12, which are both adjacent to the baths. The demolition of the flats (3 and 5 of calle Baños del Almirante) built on top of the baths, was done with the necessary precautions and with protection on the rooftops.
The current state of the Baths is considered a definitive work of preservation which will enhance the social enjoyment of this building. It is a building that brings us closer to our past and widens the already ample cultural offer in Valencia