Sunday, 8 November 2015

Down The Rabbit Hole

Ever since I arrived here, people have been asking me the same three questions: where are you from (Australia, easy); why on earth did I decide on Baza (I didn't), and; do I like Baza (I do). When they ask why the last answer, I've learned how to explain that I come from a small country town much smaller than Baza, and I like the cosy feel and friendly community atmosphere that both towns have in common. I think I've  floored a few people with that response from a 22-year-old.

But there's another increasingly significant reason why I like Baza. In terms of history, historical sites and cultural traditions, Anglo-Saxon Australia is pretty skint. The main attraction in my town is an 1850s gold mining battery, which is stored in a shed. So, if you go sightseeing in my town, you'll see a shed. The main street is pretty, I'll grant you, but it's just like any other street.  It lacks excitement.

Baza, on the other hand, is everything that my town lacks.  As I learned this weekend, Baza is a former Moorish (Arabic) town, with some of the buildings dating as far back as the 12th century or more.  Every time I step out of my apartment I'm entering a veritable wonderland of living history, beautiful scenes, unusual buildings and fascinating places.  Even something as simple as a trip to the doctor can be like falling down the rabbit hole, wondering where I'm going to end up or what I'm going to find along the way. My flamenco classes, for example, are in the Casa de la Cultura (Culture House), which used to be the Casino de Artesanos (Artisans' Cottage), about 200-odd years ago.  My yoga class is in a side street off Plaza Mayor, which backs onto Iglesia Mayor, which started life as the main cathedral for Guadix-Baza diocese some 500 years ago.  Every time I head out to do a Reclining Mountain Pose I pass by 700 years of imposing stone history on my way.

Amongst my explorations this weekend, I made my way down to the baños árabes, or Arab baths, which were built sometime back in the 12th century.  In Moorish times the baths served a three-fold purpose: promoting good hygiene, providing a social gathering place for the locals, and; enabling Islam's ritual bathing.  Most people met for a weekly catch-up in the largest central 'warm' room, while massages and more deep-cleansing scrub-downs were on offer in the 'hot' room, which disseminated its heat through the rest of the building.  A 'cool' room, boiler room/wood shed and welcome vestibule made up the rest of the facility.  The baths have now been preserved and opened to the public, though as the ground level has risen somewhat in the last 1,000 years, visitors now enter at the roof level of the old baths and peep over the railing into the boiler room before descending into the vestibule and touring the baths the way bathers would have done a good 10 centuries ago. 

The Arabic baths
Lucernas in the warm room
The hot room
Looking from hot to warm
Warm room skylights
But I think my favourite discovery of the past few days has been the Plaza de los Moriscos, or Square of the Moors, tucked away off a series of pedestrian-only streets in the suburb of San Juan.  On one side of this quiet, innocuous little grotto is a triangular house covered in fist-sized hemispheres with a little peak on each.  Famously called the Casa de las tetas, or 'The Boobs House', there is something delightfully incongruous about the well-kept balconies of greenery, on a pretty whitewashed house across a quiet square from a marble fountain, surrounded by hundreds of stonework models of the naked female nipple.

Plaza de los Moriscos
Casa de las Tetas
Lovely flowering balconies
I also took a peep inside the church of Saint James, one of many churches I've seen around Baza (well, I've seen their bell towers, at least.  I've yet to find most of the churches attached to said towers). It's the first church I've been inside since arriving in Spain, so it's hard to say what's normal, but it's nowhere near so elaborate as the churches in Italy, or as Gothic and gloomy as those in France.

Then, of course, there's the many other side streets and back streets and narrow streets and not-streets that populate Baza, the churches and ermitas and fountains and nooks and crannies and doorways and balconies and inumerable other quirks that make Baza such a magical place to live and explore.  There's even a working mule, complete with saddlebags.

Yes, I said this was Wonderland.

Plaza de Santiago
Iglesia de Santiago
Calle Acequita
Callejón Poyos (I think)
In the old arrabal of Marzuela
The back streets of Wonderland
Caños Dorados - Fountain of the
Golden Pipes
The north-west corner of Baza
It has a TOWER!
Calle Chorrillo
Panorama of Baza from the Alcazaba
Eastern Baza
North-eastern Baza and Iglesia Mayor
Iglesia Mayor by sunset
Plaza de Santiago by night
The Church of Saint James again

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