The Use of Ottoman Hammams in Greece Today

While visiting northern Greece my wife and I had the opportunity to visit several hammams, either on purpose or simply because we stumbled upon them. During the Ottoman period hammams were constructed in Greece’s major cities, just as they were throughout the rest of the Ottoman world. But since independence in the early nineteenth century most (in fact, nearly every single one) has gone out of use as such. This is certainly, if partially, a reflection of the nature of nation building in Greece at the time, since the hammam was, in many ways, perceived as a distinctly Ottoman monument. Still, some are around today and this post is devoted to their current use. (for a full catalog of extant baths, in various states of preservation, see E. Kanetaki, “The Still Existing Ottoman Hamams in the Greek Territory,” METU JFA 21.1-2 (2004), 81-110—most are clustered in northern Greece, the eastern Aegean islands, and Crete).

The Yeni hammam on Rhodes is still in use and one can bathe there in a traditional manner, with attendants, massage, etc. The Yeni mosque complex in Komotini appeared to me to contain a hammam, though it was closed at the time so I cannot be certain. But this is quite rare (one is also in use in Patras). Most are in a state of decay, or are being reused for different purposes (and most can certainly be classified as endangered monuments). The Komninon St. baths in Thessaloniki are fenced off and inaccessible to the public, while the Bey Hammam is the setting for an art gallery, in connection with the city’s Third Biennale of Contemporary Art. Another hosts a series of small shops on its exterior and offices inside. In Kavala one is a restaurant, called Sousouro, where my wife and I ate one night. We had no idea it was a bath, since the exterior is now covered by a bland wooden facing. But the interior made it obvious that we were inside an old hammam (19th century according to our waiter).

Just outside Traianoupoli, off the old national road near the Turkish border, an old hammam complex is being reused to service a modern thermal spa connected to the site’s hot springs, which are officially recognized by the Greek state. The hammam was built for this purpose originally, so it’s interesting to see it used, in some sense, in its old capacity. Today the facility offers a variety of services. Two wings of bathing suites provide “hydro-massage” therapy and regular pools, all of which are connected directly to the thermal waters. There are single rooms or doubles and each contains wooden sandals, seemingly for nostalgia more than anything else. A doctor is available on certain days, and the spa operates a hotel, too.

The Ottoman hammam is behind the modern spa complex and aids the modern water supply system. Today one of the old rooms in the hammam is used as a cistern. During the Ottoman period this room almost certainly connected directly to the spring itself, since it is closest to it.  But today the modern health spa runs its piping through it to tap the spring. Some of this water is sent back into the hammam, where it sits and cools, and so allows bathers to tap colder water that is still spring water. The rest comes directly from the sulfurous spring situated behind the bath. There is an “exhaust” tube further one, disposing of excessive water into a little creek. Next to all of this sits a church and attached directly to the hammam is a small chapel. In sum, the complex provides healthcare through its thermal waters/baths, aided by the professional care offered by a doctor (who very well may “prescribe” particular hydrotherapy sessions) and supplemented by a religious facility. The continuity here is really remarkable.  One could find sites just like this across the Roman world (e.g., Hammat Gader, Baiae) which offered the same services (in an admittedly different architectural context) within a very similar cultural framework.

For the Ottoman architecture of Greece, see E. Brouskari, et. al. Ottoman Architecture in Greece, 2008.

For thermal baths in antiquity, see E. Dvorjetski, Leisure, Pleasure and Healing: Spa Culture and Medicine the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, 2007.

The hammam today

Water supply I, inside the hammam

Water supply II

Water supply III

One of the bathing wings, with blue pipes

The small chapel attached to the hammam

A bathing suite in the hydro-massage wing. Wooden sandals to the right.

This entry was posted in Baths and Bathing, Ottoman Greece. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Use of Ottoman Hammams in Greece Today

  1. Nancy DeForest says:

    These are so interesting! The Ottomans knew how to relax! It’s great that at least a few are still being used as intended.

  2. The reservoir for a very small hamman in Nauplion, just opposite Ag. Spiridonos, serves as the glamorous bathroom for the groundfloor bedroom of the Pension Amfitriti. We were quite awed.

  3. Pingback: A Mosque-Hammam-Khan Complex at Apollonia | Mediterranean Palimpsest

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