Last Updated on 15th October 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Set deep in the heart of medieval Girona, just streets away from the iconic Romanesque cathedral, you’ll soon discover a breathtaking piece of history that’s one of the best-preserved Middle Ages Baths in this part of Catalonia, if not the entirety of Europe. The Banys Àrabs can be a little tricky to find, but here’s how to visit, as well as a brief history of this beautiful space.
Girona can be found to the North of Barcelona, around a forty-minute train ride from city to city if you manage to hop on the fast train (and avoid the mistake we did of accidentally taking the hour and a half long train ride). Home to an abundance of chapels, foodie experiences, and Roman ruins, there’s something to discover for even the most discerning of travellers.
Though Girona, known locally as Gerona, is easy to visit over the course of a day, I highly recommend booking to stay overnight so as to enjoy the many secret spots and little squares dotted across this mountainous city. This allows for a few meals as well as the excuse to head into Rocambolesc Ice Cream Parlour a handful of times!
This way, you can also enjoy the Game of Thrones filming locations and smaller museums before the rest of the tourists arrive (typically between 10 AM and 11 AM). For more information on visiting Girona, check out my guide to taking a day trip to Girona from Barcelona.
A history of the Banys Àrabs
Visit any part of Spain and you’ll soon notice that bathhouses are an architectural and historical staple in many of the major cities. Indeed, historic bathhouses can be found in the likes of Palma de Mallorca, Málaga, Granada, Córdoba, and many more cities than I could hope to list within the space of a short blog post!
Those of Girona follow after the Romanesque style, with Roman-inspired elements such as Corinthian columns in the largest of rooms and underfloor heating and piping used within the rest of the complex. Likely constructed during the 12th-century, there are four rooms in total and the first attestation of the Arab Baths dates back to 1194.
Visitors to the baths first enter into the grandest of the rooms; the apodyterium. It’s then possible to follow through the other three rooms, which would each have had different water temperatures:
Apodyterium: The changing room, as today, would have been the way that bathers entered and exited the premises. It’s here where they would have talked with one another and changed. The eight Corinthian columns of the central pool are decorated with animal and foliate motifs.
Frigidarium: As its name would suggest, the ‘cold room’ would have been the last set of waters that bathers would have experienced. After the Roman and Arab traditions, the tiny room had cold water thanks to double doors required to enter and exit the chamber.
Tepidarium: The second largest of all the rooms would have had ‘tepid’ water and would have been the middle part of any bather’s visit to the complex. The room would have been much more social than the Frigidarium or the Caldarium and bathers could even have eaten here.
Caldarium: The first room bathers would have plunged into the waters in was the ‘hot room’. Cleverly heated thanks to a furnace with underground heating, room temperatures could easily soar into the 40s or 50s and would have been similar to a sauna.
Head up to the rooftop and you’ll be rewarded with even more views of this Middle Ages bathing complex, including of the stone domed skylight. Unfortunately, the baths were partially destroyed in 1285 during an invasion by Philip III the Bold of France before being rebuilt under a century later.
Over the following centuries, the baths fell out of use as a bathhouse and the rooms were used instead as a mikveh by the Jewish community and was even incorporated into a convent for a period of time. In 1929, the Arab baths were purchased by the Girona Provincial Council before their complete restoration, renovation, and opening to the public in 1932.
In more recent times, the Romanesque Girona baths were even used to film scenes in the hit TV series Game of Thrones. The particular scene featured in Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 8 where Arya and the Waif battle it out. The rest of Girona featured as the city of Braavos, meaning that there are plenty of filming locations to be spied!
How to visit the Banys Àrabs
You should know before visiting that the Banys Àrabs cost a couple of euro to visit (€2 per adult when we visited in September 2019). You can pay by cash or card and the dark well-preserved rooms are easily explored over the course of fifteen minutes to half an hour.
Concessions and large groups pay €1 per admission. In truth, besides some beautiful architecture and the chance to wander through a true slice of history, there’s not much to see once inside! If you’re short on time, then the baths can even be seen in under ten minutes.
However, if you want to make the most of this hidden Girona gem and wish to see the magnificent columns and soak up the ambience of the place without the rest of the crowds, then I recommend visiting earlier in the day and mid-week if possible. Due to the small nature of the rooms, as well as their use as a Game of Thrones filming location, the space fills up incredibly quickly!