Medieval hammam discovered in Seville tapas bar

Medieval hammam discovered in Seville tapas bar
The Giralda, the bell tower of Seville’s cathedral, was once the minaret of the city’s Great Mosque. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Medieval hammam discovered in Seville tapas bar

Medieval hammam discovered in Seville tapas bar
  • Archaeologist Alvaro Jimenez: Decoratively speaking, these baths have the largest amount of preserved decoration of any of the known baths on the Iberian Peninsula
  • Archaeologist Fernando Amores: This important discovery gives us an idea of how other baths could have been during the Almohad period, especially in Seville

LONDON: An Islamic bathhouse dating from the 12th century has been discovered during renovation works in a tapas bar in the Spanish city of Seville.

The owners of the Cerverceria Giralda had taken advantage of low footfall last year due to the coronavirus pandemic to make long-overdue changes to the bar, which opened near the city’s cathedral in 1923 and is named after its bell tower, which was once the minaret of the city’s Great Mosque.

Rumors had long abounded that the site had formerly been a hammam dating from the city’s period under Almohad rule between 1147 and 1238.

Those rumors had been put down to the building’s appearance, which was heavily influenced by the Islamic revival style popular in the 1920s and much admired by Vicente Traver, who founded the bar and accompanying hotel in the same building. 

Antonio Castro, one of the bar’s current owners, told The Guardian newspaper: “There was talk that there were baths here, but not all the historians were convinced and some thought it was all much later.”

But Castro and his partners decided to invite local archaeologist Alvaro Jimenez to inspect the site during the renovation.

This helped lead to the discovery of its true origins when some chipped plaster fell away from the ceiling to reveal a skylight in the style of an eight-pointed star.

“As soon as we saw one of the skylights, we knew what it was,” Jimenez told El Pais newspaper. “We just had to follow the pattern of the skylights.”

The true scale of the find, however, revealed that the site was one of the most historically significant discoveries from the period in years.

In total, 88 ornate skylights, ranging across five different designs, have been recovered, forming a constellation across the ceilings of the site.

The bar’s entrance, it transpires, was one of the hammam’s warm bath rooms, which had an octagonal domed roof supported by columns. The Cerverceria Giralda’s kitchen was the hammam’s “hot room.”

“Decoratively speaking, these baths have the largest amount of preserved decoration of any of the known baths on the Iberian Peninsula,” said Jimenez.

“Absolutely everything here is decorated, and, luckily, it’s survived. The background is white lime mortar engraved with geometric lines, circles and squares,” he added.

“On top of that you have red ochre paintings of eight-pointed stars and eight-petalled multi-foil rosettes. Those two designs alternate and entwine and adapt to the different geometric shapes of the skylight holes.”

Fernando Amores, another archaeologist who worked on the discovery, told The Times newspaper: “This important discovery gives us an idea of how other baths could have been during the Almohad period, especially in Seville, which was one of the two capitals of the empire, next to Marrakech.”

The finds have all been preserved and incorporated into the Cerverceria Giralda’s renovation, which is set to reopen to the public in a few weeks’ time, and will surely make it an important archaeological destination in future.

“This was a pretty well-known bar before, but now people will be able to come in and have a beer or a glass of wine in a bar that’s also a 12th-century hammam,” said Castro.

“It’s a good thing that the architect (Traver) back in the 1920s respected the baths — others might have chucked everything out, so we’re grateful to him.”

Al-Andalus revisited
Eight centuries of Muslim rule in Spain, during which Arab culture and science flourished, are echoed not only in the magnificent art and buildings of Al-Andalus, but also in the souls and the DNA of its descendants

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Japan, US and France hold military drill

Japan, US and France hold military drill
Updated 4 min ago

Japan, US and France hold military drill

Japan, US and France hold military drill
  • Around 200 troops took part in Saturday’s exercises

TOKYO: Dozens of Japanese, American and French troops landed amid pouring rain from a CH-47 transport helicopter onto a grassy field at a training area in southern Japan, part of Saturday’s joint scenario of defending a remote island from an enemy invasion.

The three nations’ first joint drills on Japanese soil — dubbed “ARC21” and which began on Tuesday — come as they seek step up military ties amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Japanese soldiers and their counterparts from the French army and the US Marine Corps also conducted an urban warfare drill using a concrete building elsewhere at the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s Kirishima Training Area in the southern Miyazaki prefecture. 

Around 200 troops took part in Saturday’s exercises.

On Saturday, the three countries were also joined by Australia in an expanded naval exercise involving 11 warships in the East China Sea, where tensions with China are rising around the island of Taiwan.

The drills come as Japan looks to bolster its military capabilities amid a deepening territorial row with China in regional seas. 

Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in and around Japanese-claimed waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.

Since the end of World War II, Japan’s constitution has limited the use of force to self defense. 

Japan in recent years has continued to expand its military role, capability and budget.

Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who observed the exercise, stressed the significance of French participation in the joint exercises regularly held between Japan and the US, and often with Australia.

“It was a valuable opportunity for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to maintain and strengthen its strategic capability necessary to defend our remote islands,” Nakayama said. 

“Together we were able to show to the rest of the world our commitment in defending Japanese land, territorial seas and airspace.”

France, which has territories in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, has strategic interests in the region.

“It is obviously very important for us because we need to be side by side with people who are sharing this part of the world,” Lt. Col. Henri Marcaillou from the French army told reporters after Saturday’s exercise.

US Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeremy Nelson said the three countries showed they can work together “for a common goal or common cause.”

Britain, which recently adopted a policy of deeper engagement in the region, is sending the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group, due to arrive in the region later this year. 

Germany is also set to deploy a frigate to the region.

Japan and the US have been promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific vision of defense and economic framework based on democratic principles in the area in a group known as the Quad, which also includes Australia and India, seen as a move to counter China’s escalating influence in the region.

China has criticized the US-Japanese framework as an exclusionist bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.


UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building
Updated 15 May 2021

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building
  • ‘Targeting of media offices in Gaza completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right’

LONDON: Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Saturday branded an Israeli airstrike that leveled a media building in Gaza as “completely unacceptable,” as up to 100,000 protesters marched through central London to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The high-rise building, which hosted offices for journalists from international outlets such as the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, was destroyed on Saturday afternoon.

The strike leveled the building an hour after people were told to evacuate. It followed an earlier Israeli attack in Gaza City that killed eight children and two other Palestinians from an extended family.

“The targeting of media offices in Gaza by Israeli air strikes is completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right,” said Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy.

“The devastating escalation of violence — including Hamas rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and air strikes on the Gaza City refugee camp — has cost more civilian lives and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” she added.

“The UK must join our international partners in calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to all rocket attacks and air strikes, and work with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to prevent this dangerous situation deteriorating further.”

Labour MP Diane Abbott told the crowd at the London demonstration: “We must remember we’re part of an international movement. This is a worldwide movement for justice.”

She added: “Palestinian people are having their land seized ... and they’re now being killed in their homes. All of this is illegal.”


Thousands march on Israeli Embassy in London

Protesters carried placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanted “Free Palestine” as they marched toward the Israeli Embassy. (AN Photo/Lauren Lane)
Protesters carried placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanted “Free Palestine” as they marched toward the Israeli Embassy. (AN Photo/Lauren Lane)
Updated 15 May 2021

Thousands march on Israeli Embassy in London

Protesters carried placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanted “Free Palestine” as they marched toward the Israeli Embassy. (AN Photo/Lauren Lane)
  • Palestinian envoy: ‘We won’t be denied anymore. We’ve had enough of oppression’
  • Organizers: UK ‘must stop allowing Israel’s brutal violence against the Palestinian people to go unpunished’

LONDON: Thousands of people staged a protest march in central London on Saturday in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Protesters carried placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanted “Free Palestine” as they marched toward the Israeli Embassy.

Organizers said “immediate action” is necessary from the UK government to put an end to Israel’s “brutal violence.”

A makeshift stage was set up, and protest leaders urged calm amid a surge in numbers and growing police presence.

London’s Metropolitan Police, who oversaw the march, said its strategy “was to ensure everybody is kept safe and to reduce the spread of coronavirus.”

Organizers said at least 100,000 people joined the march. Among the protesters was Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the main opposition Labour Party, who told crowds that “international action” could provide urgent help to those suffering in the conflict with Israel.

“Think what it’s like being a mother or father and seeing a building bombed in front of you, knowing your family is in there, and you can do nothing,” he said.

“It’s our global voices that will give support to those who are suffering at this time. End the occupation now. End all the settlements now and withdraw. End the siege of Gaza now.”

Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK, told crowds: “This time is different. This time we won’t be denied anymore. We’re united. We’ve had enough of oppression. Today we’re saying enough, enough with the complicity. Thank you for standing with us.”

The demonstration was organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain.

“It is vital that the UK government take immediate action. It must stop allowing Israel’s brutal violence against and oppression of the Palestinian people to go unpunished,” said a spokesperson for the march.

“The bombardment of Gaza, which is killing civilians including children, is a war crime. It is occurring in the context of the illegal forced displacement of families in Jerusalem and attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel by far-right groups including illegal settlers from the West Bank,” the spokesperson added.

“The UK government is complicit in these acts as long as it continues to offer Israel military, diplomatic and financial support. Such support must end, with a minimum start being an end to the two-way arms trade and trade with illegal Israeli settlements.”

Demonstrations also took place in other major UK cities, including Birmingham, Coventry, Bristol, Cardiff and Edinburgh.


Thousands in pro-Palestinian protests in London, Madrid

Thousands in pro-Palestinian protests in London, Madrid
Updated 15 May 2021

Thousands in pro-Palestinian protests in London, Madrid

Thousands in pro-Palestinian protests in London, Madrid
  • In London, several thousand protesters converged on Marble Arch
  • The marches came amid the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since a 2014 war in Gaza

LONDON: Thousands of protesters in London and Madrid marched in support of Palestinians on Saturday as the worst violence in years raged between Israel and militants in Gaza.
In London, several thousand protesters carrying placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanting “Free Palestine” converged on Marble Arch, near the British capital’s Hyde Park, to march toward the Israeli embassy.
In Madrid, some 2,500 people, many of them young people wrapped in Palestinian flags, marched to the Puerta del Sol plaza in the city center.
“This is not a war, it’s genocide,” They chanted.
“They are massacring us,” said Amira Sheikh-Ali, a 37-year-old of Palestinian origin.
“We’re in a situation when the Nakba is continuing in the middle of the 21st century,” she said, referring to the “catastrophe” word used by Palestinians to describe Israel’s creation in 1948, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out.
“We want to ask Spain and the European authorities not to collaborate with Israel, because with their silence, they are collaborating,” said Ikhlass Abousousiane, a 25-year-old nurse of Moroccan origin.
The marches came amid the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since a 2014 war in Gaza.
Israel is fighting Hamas militants in Gaza, trying to contain an outbreak of internal Jewish-Arab clashes, and violence in the West Bank.
The Israeli bombardment began Monday, after the Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem.
That was in response to bloody Israeli police action at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, as well as a crackdown on protests against the planned Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem.
Since Monday, Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza have killed 139 people including 39 children, and wounded 1,000 more, health officials say.
Palestinian armed groups have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel since, killing 10 people, including a child and a soldier. More than 560 Israelis have been wounded.


UK court clears Iranian asylum seeker of smuggling

UK court clears Iranian asylum seeker of smuggling
Updated 15 May 2021

UK court clears Iranian asylum seeker of smuggling

UK court clears Iranian asylum seeker of smuggling
  • Fouad Kakaei spent 17 months in prison after crossing to Britain from France
  • Lawyer: His case could lead to other migrants currently in jail on smuggling charges being freed

LONDON: An Iranian asylum seeker jailed on smuggling charges for helping to direct a vessel carrying migrants across the English Channel has been cleared of all charges at a retrial after spending 17 months in jail.

Fouad Kakaei, 31, was rescued by British border enforcement officials in July 2019 while crossing to the UK from France in a crowded dinghy with several others.

He was then deported to Denmark before making his way back to the French coast and making a second crossing attempt in December that year.

He was sentenced to two years and two months in jail in January 2021 after admitting to British authorities that he had actively commandeered the vessel because he “didn’t want to die at sea.” The court of appeal overturned his verdict in March.

Kakaei’s lawyers argued at his retrial this week that it was wrong to have found him guilty of breaking immigration laws because he was hoping to claim asylum via being rescued at sea.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been challenged by charities over its decision to prosecute migrants guiding vessels from France to England, with campaigners arguing that the legal action could be linked to political pressure.

In March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his administration would “ruthlessly stiffen the sentences for anybody who is involved in this kind of people smuggling and trafficking human beings across the Channel.”

Kakaei’s lawyer Aneurin Brewer of Red Lion Chambers told The Guardian that his case could lead to other migrants currently in jail on smuggling charges being freed.

“The critical point is that the individuals on the boat were intending to be rescued at sea and were not planning to disembark and enter illegally. That means there was no breach of immigration law,” Brewer said.

“This verdict throws into serious doubt the viability of future prosecutions. A large number of cases had been paused while this specific case was resolved, and it is difficult to see now how they can go ahead. It also raises very serious questions over the convictions that have been secured to date, including migrants who are serving significant prison sentences. There are individuals who pleaded guilty but who will now be potentially able to go to the court of appeal,” he added.

“Our case here was unusual in that he had crossed the Channel twice and the first time, for specific reasons, he had not claimed asylum and was sent to Denmark where he attempted again to reach the UK. Despite this he has still been found not guilty. So there will be other cases stronger than his.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are deeply disappointed by today’s verdict and are considering next steps in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service. The government is it determined to crack down on the criminals who facilitate illegal entry into the UK and put lives at risk.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “We have been working with law enforcement agencies to develop updated immigration legal guidance, setting out our approach to small boats and other illegal entry cases, which will be published shortly.”