Le Livre du Bonheur

Le Livre du Bonheur f. 82v, The Baths of Tiberias

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f. 82v, The Baths of Tiberias

The thermal baths of Tiberias on the shores of the lake by the same name in modern northern Israel was well known to Arab geographers. One of them, Shams al-Din Qalqashandi, mentions that “there are also the famous thermal baths of Tiberias, springs from which water so hot pours out that it is possible to boil an egg in it; they are frequented by those who are in poor health and get better by immersing themselves in it. Ibn al-Athir [an Arab historian] reports that the water is so hot that there is no need to light a fire in order to heat it.”
Whereas the painter of the Kitab al-bulhan (f. 35v) represented a lively hammam scene with bathers and attendants, the corresponding illustration in this Ottoman copy shows a deserted building. The bath stands alone against a mountainous landscape and has the typical Ottoman profile of a domed edifice with smaller semi-domes below. The interior is accessed by a few steps and a door on the right and is depicted as a single pillared and arched room with two basins set against the wall: otherwise, this room is entirely empty. The domes are appropriately dotted with small white circles representing the circular glass panes that usually decorated hammams throughout the Islamic world. This detail, together with the wisps of white steam emerging from two pipes on either side of the main dome, allows the viewer to understand that the building is indeed a bath complex.
A charming additional detail is given by the half-naked jinn guarding the small fire in the basement of the building. As mentioned by Ibn al-Athir above, the water was naturally very hot, so the painter showed this eternal underground fire as being kept alive by an underground creature.

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