Hammam Ezzedine

Tripoli's First Mamluke Hammam

Bathhouses, known as hammam, featured prominently in the lives of people in the Muslim world for centuries. Comparable to saunas in Finland today, the public and private hammams of Istanbul, Aleppo, or Baghdad used to fulfil an important role, which was reflected by the number of bathhouses in Oriental cities. There were 57 public baths in Damascus in the twelfth century and 164 in Aleppo in the thirteenth century. This figure doesn’t include private bathhouses, built in the palaces and lavish dwellings of rich families.

Bathhouses are always located near mosques. Hammams are places to clean oneself and relax; they furthermore play an important role as places for meeting others and developing social relations.

Hammam Ezzedine was the first hammam built in Mamluke Tripoli and remained the largest and most important one in the city. According to an article featured on Archnet.org, Ezzedine's bath follows very closely the pattern and arrangement of Syrian baths. For the practical purpose of saving and keeping heat, this bathhouse, like most hammams, is surrounded by buildings and is hardly visible from the outside; as was also then customary, the facade was kept plain.

Though no longer operational, Hammam Ezzedine in the Hadid district, near the Souk el-Nahhassin and the Khan al-Khayyatin is an impressive historical site that occupies a 745 square metre area and that has undergone extensive restoration.

The new entrance takes visitors in from Souk el-Nahhassin (Brass and Copperware Souk). Noteworthy are the stone lintels on one of the porticoes featuring a bas-relief with a Pascal lamb and the Latin inscription “ecce agnus dei” (Lamb of God). The second lintel bears the Latin inscription “SCS Iacobos” (St. James) between two pilgrim seashells.

The structure dates back to the Crusader Period and was built around 1099 and 1267. The Latin inscription referring to St James may signify the presence of a hospice at that time. During the Mameluke period (1267-1517), the building was altered and turned into a hammam that governor Ezzedine Aybak al-Mucilliy commissioned between 1294 and 1298. The Hammam and the contiguous Khan el Khayyatin seem to form one single project – the layout of both monuments is coherent.

At the end of the 19th century, a movement of modernisation of the art of building in the Ottoman Empire affected the hammam. One visible result of this are the floors covered with marble brought all the way from Carrara in Italy.

When it was open to the public, the hammam used to be busy night and day, between 12pm and 4am for women and after 4am until 12pm for men. After having been operational for hundreds of years, the hammam closed its doors in 1975.

Having  passed the front entrance, one enters into a large square room with three raised iwans, an octagonal central marbled pool for ablutions referred to as bahra or birket, in the centre, and a high raised dome with a skylight, all typical and necessary elements of the room known as the mashlah, or changing room. There the bather disrobes leaving his/her clothes in the drawers provided, and there also s/he rests after the bath on the couches along the walls of the iwan. This is the only area of the hammam that is free of heat and steam, so whatever furniture is needed has to be kept there. The sandals worn inside the hammam are called qabqabs, special wooden flipflop sandals.

From the mashlah one proceeds to the actual bathing area. In all three areas – cold, warm, and hot – steam and heat must be controlled, so every effort is made to avoid drafts; hence there are no windows in a bath. Light is provided by small glass openings studding the domes, which allow a minimum amount to filter through.

The cold room known as the wastan' barran ("outer central") is the first room of the bath proper and acts as a transition between the cold mashlah and the heated area. The warm room known as the wastani jawwani ("inner central") is the room where beauty treatments take place. This area may consist of one room only or may include several rooms, known as maqsurahs, opening off from it. In the case of the Hammam Ezzedine the central room has two adjoining maqsurahs, which allow families to have their bath in relative privacy. The northern maqsura has a tiled bathtub for the use of rich families. After the bath session, bath users rest on the mastaba.

The hot room known as the juwwani hararah ("inner heat") is where the actual bathing takes place. The clients sit on built-in benches until they perspire, and then they wash. Hammam Ezzedine with its large changing room, single cold room, three warm rooms, and three hot rooms is typical for Syrian hammams of the period.

Ask the guide to show you the typical hammam roof with the Phoenician glass tops.

Art Historical Attractions

Words By Nathalie Rosa | Photography Courtesy of Nathalie Rosa Bucher

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