Palacio de Villardompardo


This Renaissance palace houses one of the most intriguing collections of historical, archaeological and artistic exhibits found under one roof in Andalucía: the beautiful 11th-century Baños Árabes, one of the largest surviving Islamic-era bathhouses in Spain; the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, with extensive, diverse exhibits showcasing the life of pre-industrial Jaén province; and the Museo Internacional de Arte Naïf with a large collection of colourful and witty Naïve art.

The Arab baths were converted to a tannery after the Reconquista, then built over completely when the Conde de Villardompardo constructed his handsome palace over them in the 16th century. They were rediscovered in 1913. Of their four rooms (two cold, one warm, one hot), the warm room, with its multiple horseshoe arches, is the finest. On the way out, glass flooring reveals part of a Roman street. A 10-minute film with English subtitles helps explain all about the baths.

The Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, spread over several floors, covers everything from horse carts to olive oil production to pig-slaughtering (matanza). There's an antique doll's house, a fine collection of hand-painted ceramics and a re-creation of rooms from an early 20th-century rural home, but perhaps most evocative are the photos of country life a century ago, showing just how tough and basic it was. The Naïve art museum is based on the work of its founder, Manuel Moral. You can spend a long time lost in the everyday detail so playfully depicted in these works.