The Proliferation of Public Baths during the reign of James II
The first Christian occupants of the madîna Balansiya (the Muslim name for the "city of Valencia") in 1238 found a city that was well equipped with bathing establishments. If we examine the references to baths in the Llibre del Repartiment and add the Carnicería and the Mercado Baths–both mentioned in privilege documents of 1238 and 1239–we find that the total number of existing baths at that time could have reached twenty-five. Considering the size of the city centre, this number is very high and shows the generalised affinity of the people of the medîna for bathing and, more specifically, for using these establishments.
In spite of the apparently erratic distribution of this abundance of bath houses on the city map inferred from the Repartiment, their placement seems very much in keeping with the organisation of the Islamic city as described by Roberto Berardi and Pedro Chalmeta, based on elemental urban cells. Every "neighbourhood" was characterised, above all, by the presence of a "suwayqa", or small souk. In addition to this "primary market" for everyday needs, each had a small mosque, a bath house and a bakery. Therefore, although the location of the doors to the city and the mosques were important factors in the distribution of the public baths, we should not think that they were the primary ones. The location of the baths on the urban canvas largely reproduced the organic structure created by the juxtaposition and the concurrence of these autonomously developed "neighbourhoods".
As mentioned above, a Christian feudal society was implanted in the city of Valencia in 1238, after the expulsion of its former inhabitants. This change gave rise to radically different ways of conceiving the organisation of space as well as the notions of land control and venues for sociability. Consequently, we should not be surprised at the fact that the network of bath houses from the Islamic era disappeared relatively quickly. But neither should it surprise us that, after a period of time, another network of baths, with new buildings and a different distribution, should emerge.
Although we do not know the details of this process, we can assert that the vast majority of bathing establishments from the Muslim era are no longer mentioned in documents written after the Repartiment.
Sometimes, baths would vanish in clusters, as was the case with the four establishments in the Teruel neighbourhood and another nearby (called "de Algaçir") from the Calatayud neighbourhood, or with the ones located near the Bâb al-Qantara and Bâb al-Wârraq doors. The four or five bathhouses mentioned in the Jewish quarter, with those of Figuera and el Rahbat al-Qâdi Squares had an uncertain destiny: with the exception of only one, they disappeared from all documents, including the (erroneously) renamed bath cAbd al-Malik.
No more than five (and even this number is not without certain reservations) bathhouses survived the slovenliness of the years following the conquest. In the first place, there was the Baño del Mercado (Marketplace bath), which may have been the same one owned by the Suau family at the end of the 14 th century; secondly, there were the baths of Polo de Tarazona, which survived at least until 1276, although it is possible that it was the same one that Arnau Pérez reconstructed in 1515; then, there was the bathhouse of the Moorish quarter, unless it was, in fact, another new bath built expressly when the location of this suburb was determined. The fourth was the d' Nunyo bath, which appears in diverse documents from 1420 to 1441; and, finally, the baths in the Figuera Square, which were still mentioned in 1409.
Without a doubt, the majority of the old al-Andalus bath houses were dismantled. We do not know the precise circumstances that brought this about, although the lack of profitability may have been a determining factor. We also do not know if it happened gradually or, as it seems in many cases, fairly quickly. As we shall see, bath facilities require extreme environmental conditions, making them fragile and expensive to keep in good working order. Although it is possible that new baths were built before, it was during the reign of Jaime II (1291-1327) when there was a notable increase of authorisations for the building of explicitly new bathing establishments, with new floor plans and new locations.
We know of at least nine baths that were opened specifically during this period: six within the perimeter of the old walled city from the Muslim era, one in Xerea and two more near Russafa. The known authorisations are the following [See the Spanish version of this section for the original quotes]:
- 1296, October 9: building permit granted to Bernat d'Esplugues, citizen of Valencia, to build a bath on his property in the city, when and where he chooses.
- 1298, April 13: building permit for construction and establishment granted to Berenguer Mercer so that he can build a bath whenever he pleases in a garden or field of his possession in suburbio civitatis ; if he does indeed build it, he must pay an annual charge of two morabatinos.
- 1308, January 6: opening permit granted to Bernat de Llibià so that he can heat and open the public the bath that he owns on a plot of land near Russafa.
- 1313, June 25: building permit granted in favor of Pere de Vila-rasa, Doctor of Law, to build a bath and an oven, on his land in the parish of Sant Tomàs.
- 1321, May 7: building permit granted to Bernat Sanou, Minister of Royal Patrimony, to build a bath, free of charge, in the houses he owns in the parish of Sant Llorenç.
- 1322, April 1: building permit granted to Guillem de Jàfer to build a bath in the "still Saracen" part of the house that he owns, adjacent to the Sant Nicolau church.
- 1322, April 3: building permit awarded to Pere Martí, Royal Treasurer, so that he can build a bath in the plot of land he owns in Xerea.
- 1322, April 12: building permit in favour of Joan Escrivà, of the Royal Household, to build a bath in an allodium of his possession outside the city walls, in front of Guadalaviar, at the junction of the parishes of Sant Salvador, Sant LLorenç and Sant Bertomeu.
- 1327, March 15: building permit granted to Andreu Guillem Escrivà, Judge of the Royal Court, so that, in the house inherited from his father, in the parish of Sant Esteve, he may build a public bath and oven to bake bread and other foods, having them free of tax.
As we can see, of these nine authorisations, a minimum of eight of them unmistakably refer to the construction of completely new baths. With regard to this, we should note that the terminology used in the documents of the time clearly distinguishes between the rebuilding or repair of existing baths ("reficient", "aptetis", "ad rehedificandum", etc.) and the construction of new ones, "ad edificandum".
If to these nine we add the baths that seem to have survived the conquest and the ones which are incidentally documented—without express mention of their construction—we would have a total of approximately fifteen baths, perhaps a few more, toward the end of the reign of James II. Of this approximate total, as we have seen, at least half, if not more, are undoubtedly new.
At this time the proliferation of bath houses in the city of Valencia had almost reached a point of saturation. Developers saw competition as a clear threat to the baths' ability to assure them sufficient and stable profits. This situation prompted them to strive to obtain measures that would limit the number of public baths.
The limitation process was carried out by determining a maximum number of establishments for each parish or specific area, or by defining exclusive districts for each one, specifically prohibiting the founding of new baths in the set areas. In this way, the developers were assured of the attendance of the nearby residents, thus guaranteeing the profitability of the business.
The first known demarcation is from the year 1319 and, in fact, it only affected the city of Valencia incidentally. In said year, James II granted a terminis seu limitibus on the baths built by Pere Boïl on his estate in Manises, wherefore no other baths could be built in the future between Manises and the city of Valencia.
Within the city, in 1320, the king established the aforementioned exclusive district for the baths of Pere de Vila-rasa, which covered the parishes of Sant Esteve and Sant Tomàs, although it also included previously existing establishment(s). Nevertheless, here a problem arose due to a contradiction with an earlier document, posterior by only a few years. We are referring to the grant of 1327 which gave Andreu Guillem Escrivà permission to construct an oven and bath in the house his father left him, located in the parish of Sant Esteve. The demarcation of 1320 was, perhaps, too wide and vague and, somehow, it was able to be evaded or negotiated in this case.
The following year, 1321, James II established three district limitations for public baths almost simultaneously and, in one of them, there was a concession in Vila-rasa's favour. On July 1, it was stipulated that, given the bathing establishments already in existence and, specifically, the one that Bernat Sanou was going to build in the San Llorenç parish, no more baths could be built in the future in the area comprised by the parishes of Sant Llorenç, Santa Creu, Sant Bertomeu and Sant Salvador.
Before that, on April 1 of the same year, the monarch had established an exclusive district for the bath that Guillem Jàfer was to build next to the church of Sant Pere Màrtir–also known as Sant Nicolau–which mainly affected this parish, but also part of the neighbouring parishes of Santa Caterina and Sant Bertomeu. The limits set for this bath are described with unusual precision, enabling us to follow them perfectly on a map: starting at the door of the Morería, the boundary follows the line of the wall up to the Porta Nova del Mercat, where it turns on the street Pes Reial to Sabateria (Santa Caterina parish); from said street it goes back in a straight line to the street called Ramon de Riusec, near the Sant Bertomeu church (from where the cathedral can be seen), from here it goes towards the square of the same name (which is included within the limits) and then continues in a straight line, up the main street of Sant Bertomeu to the Roteros door, from which point it finally follows the wall to the door of the Morería.
Two days later, on April 3, a delimitation was set in the district designated for the baths which Pere Martí planned to build in the area of Xerea. In this case, the demarcation covered a space outside the city walls that went from the door of the Temple to that of the Trabuquet: all of Xerea to the place known as Corders, from there to the plot of Bernat de Llibià, and from that plot to the aforementioned door of Granotes or Trabuquet.
Another outer-wall district was established in April 1322 for the baths which Joan Escrivà proposed to build between the limits of the parishes of Sant Salvador, Sant Llorenç and Sant Bertomeu. It was set by keeping to the parochial limits that reached beyond the walls (extra civitatem), and from there up to the river Guadalaviar, so that a new bath could never be erected within said limits. In short, we have been able to document most of the distribution of the urban space between the different bathhouses. We are only lacking the districts that were almost certainly established for southern section of the city (Sant Andreu, Sant Martí and Santa Caterina parishes). The delimitation of important areas outside the walls was also completed during the reign of James II, which allows us to confirm that the number of baths, consisting of some fifteen establishments, was considered closed by 1327.
Nevertheless, the demarcations continued to extend a little further towards the outskirts. In 1336, the bath that Berenguer Mercer built in 1298, in suburbio civitate , specifically in the place called Era dels Pellicers, suffered a disadvantage. He had erected his baths within the area of the Sant Martí parish (in the city of Valencia) and the San Valero parish (in Russafa), and, because at that time no demarcations termini districtum balneorum were drawn up, more bath houses were built in this area. This situation caused a loss of profits for Mercer's successors: ipsis balneis sunt plurima diminuta... et censum... suscipit detrimentum . For that reason, and to avoid a further deterioration of the situation, King Pedro had to stipulate that new baths could never be built in the district formed by said parishes and that only the previously existing baths could operate.