Qantara Qantara

Hammam of Volubilis

Hammam Walīla or Walīlī / extra-mural thermae

  • Name : Hammam of Volubilis
  • Place : Province of Meknès, Volubilis site, Morocco
  • Construction date/period : End of the eighth century
  • Construction materials : Stone, brick, and rubble
  • Dimensions : pproximately 243m2; restroom: 13.84m x 5.20m; cold basin: 4.46m x 4m, depth 1.12m

The hammam of Volubilis[1] is the oldest known Islamic hammam in Morocco and the only monument with a partially conserved elevation. It is located below the south-western part of the site, on the right bank of the Wadi Khoumane. Recent digs have shown that this exceptional monument was part of the headquarters founded by Idris I (reigned 789–793) outside the Roman enclosure. Given its limited size, this was a private hammam that was part of a residential complex comprising an area with grain silos, and two buildings with courtyards, one of which was used for receptions and the other as a residence.

The hammam comprised two ensembles arranged in an L-shape: the cold rooms were orientated north–south, and the hot rooms faced east–west. The first group included a restroom with benches and paved with reused Zerhun limestone paving arranged diagonally. The cold pool, south of the restroom, was supplied by channels from the Wadi Khoumane. The cold room, which was similarly paved, was decorated with a low-relief shield from the triumphal arch of Caracalla. The small channels that supply this room point to the existence of a basin (to receive the water) in the south-west corner of the room. The ground of the warm room was also covered in paving—like in the other two rooms—that lay on a platform of lime mortar. The room had a cradle-vaulted ceiling fitted with two apertures for aeration and lighting.

The second group comprised a room with a cradle vault, fitted with square basins heated by hypocaust. This system was made up of a longitudinal fired-brick channel that linked the hearth to the room’s interior, with four secondary channels distributing heat throughout the room. The rectangular heating room, which was reserved for heating and wood storage purposes, housed a centre with two parts linked to the hot room by a ribbed rough brick vault, over which was positioned the hot water reservoir that was attached to the room’s western wall.

The building used all available construction materials on the site. The fired brick was only used in the hot room and the heating room, in the hypocaust, and for the hot water basins and the hearth. It dates back to the period of Idris Ibn ‘Abd Allāh, a descendant of the Prophet, who, when he arrived in Walili, was welcomed by the Zenete tribe of the Awraba, who took him for an imam. The quarters and the hammam survived his assassination and the abandon of the town by the Idrisids for Fez, the dynasty’s new capital from AD 798.

In this era, classical tradition was the architectural reference for the first Islamic hammams. Apart from the private nature of the latter, which is reminiscent of those of the Umayyad caliphate dwellings, it is related to local classical traditions. There are close similarities with a Tingitan model, with its orthogonal plan, where the cold area, which is more imposing, is located at a right angle to the hot area, with its smaller dimensions. Also, the presence of the cold pool in the restroom, like at Khirbat al-Mafjar in Palestine (mid eighth century), and the bench construction, correlate to the thermae of ancient Moroccan towns, especially Volubilis and Banasa. The hypocaust heating system is a continuation of classical heating systems, although it lacks, in the case of Volubilis, heated walls.

NOTE

[1] The monument was intially reported at the end of the nineteenth century by Henri de la Martinière, who, having discovered an incense holder bearing a cross, mistook the structure for a Christian basilica. It was not until 1964 that B. Rosenberger carried out a dig within the building and discovered its thermal functions, dating it to Roman times. Finally, in 1992, Abdel Aziz El Khayari attributed the building to the Islamic period.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Akerraz, A., La Maurétanie Tingitane du sud de Dioclétien aux Idrissides, doctoral thesis, Paris IV, 1985.

El Khayyari, A., ‘Les thermes extra muros à Volubilis’, in Africa Romana, 1992, pp. 301–312.

 

Martinière, H. de la, Souvenir du Maroc, Paris, 1912.



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