Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Hamam as new Building Type

The Hamam                                                                         
        Although  bath houses have been built already by the Greeks, the Romans and also by the Byzantines, the Ottoman architects improved this building type significantly. In contrast to the Roman bath houses for instance the Ottoman hamam is supplied with flowing water instead of stagnant water, a device especially appreciated by the hygienic-minded Muslim. In addition to its basic function these hamams served also as a meeting point of the Ottoman society, where young and old, rich and poor mingled. Each town had several of these public baths, generally one in every quarter. Many of these bath houses were built as double or cifte hamams (cifte=double) allowing for male and female users at the same time. To a single hamam men and women had access to the facility at different hours.
       Structurally, a hamam consists of at least one big square room serving as dressing room, and several smaller ones. From hot to warm to cold rooms, each served for a different purpose, as for instance scrub massages, bathing or laundering. Even a beauty parlor and a coffee corner were included. The exterior of an Ottoman bath house shows in most cases an austere decoration consisting of horizontal brick and stone layers, similar to many mosques while its interior may be richly decorated with friezes, muqarnas (stalactite-shaped decoration) and other decorative elements. 
       During the Classic Period of Ottoman Architecture, that is the 15th and 16th century, these hamams were built as major monuments, as in the case of Daud Pasha Hamam in Skopje.

Daud Pasha Hamam in Skopje 
        If you cross the old Stone Brigde (Kamen Most) to the Bazaar quarter the first monument you can identify easily by its thirteen domes is Daud Pasha Hamam. In spite of the different sizes of these domes and their seemingly irregular placement they achieve a most harmonious result. The walls supporting these domes are kept in the traditional austere fashion of alternating stone and brick layers, a technique called opus cloisonné. Only scarce windows and two portals enhanced by pointed arches and architraves interrupt this austerity. Despite this almost complete absence of exterior embellishment the hamam imposes itself as one of the most monumental works of Ottoman secular architecture in town. 

       Built in the 15th century as a most magnificent double bath house (the largest in the Balkans), it offered several hot steam rooms of varying degrees, cold baths as well as other facilities like a laundry service, a beauty parlor or a coffee corner. Two separate entrances lead to the respective large dressing rooms. Both are covered by a huge dome, perforated by star-shaped glassed openings and crowned by a lantern for a perfect lighting. 
       One of the most remarkable qualities of this monument is its superb interior decoration. Intricate muqarnas that isstalactite-shaped ornaments decorate squinches and pendentives below the domes. Turkish triangle friezes as transition between walls and dome are another characteristic decoration type. Several walls show artistically carved friezes in low relief .
       At present, the monument houses the National Gallery of Macedonia, but is well worth a visit to view its exquisite architecture alone.

       If you want to know all about Ottoman buildings in Macedonia you have now at your disposition my recently published book:
Teresa Waltenberger, Architecture in Macedonia: The Ottoman Heritage, Skopje 2014  Publisher: Logos-A

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