Hamam al- Basha
The Last Bath Attendant
"Of all the cities along the Syrian shore – from Antioch to Gaza – there is no city whose chronicles are as eventful as those of Acre, and there is no other city whose direct impact on the fate of the entire country was so great"
(Laurence Oliphant, 1882)
"Hamam al-Basha" was built at the end of the 18th century by Governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha. At first it was called "Hama al-Jadid" (the new Hamam), but its name was subsequently changed to Hamam al-Basha (the Pasha's hamam), in honor of el-Jazzar. The Turkish bath's construction was part of the transformation of Acre during the Ottoman Period from a small fishing village (primarily at the hands of al-Jazzar Pasha) into a teeming port city and a major construction and trade center. During his reign, el-Jazzar strove to further the city in many and varied ways. Among his accomplishments is the aqueduct which led the well water to the city, the breakwater for safe docking at the port and major buildings such as the Khan el-Umdan – Acre's largest mosque – his luxurious palace and of course, the Turkish bath.
The Hamam features three main sections:
The summer dressing room – this is the first room you will enter from the courtyard. This is where the Hamam visitors got undressed, left their clothes, wrapped themselves in special towels, put on their Hamam sandals and went for their various treatments. After the bath and treatments, this is where they returned to rest and unwind.
The four intermediary rooms, which are located between the cold room and the hot room – the lukewarm rooms – served as various treatment and activity rooms (from cosmetic treatments, healing and massage treatments, dating parties and childbirth preparation sessions).
The hot room – the hot room is the heart of the hamam – the steam room, which housed a heated pool and a steam bath. Treatment consisted of scrubbing, soaping, and massaging of the body and soul. The small rooms surrounding the central stage were used for individual treatments for the wealthy and the privileged.
For about one hundred and fifty years – from its inception to the War of Independence in 1948, the Hamam served as an active bath house. In addition to its religious function of fulfilling the commandment of purification preceding prayer, the hamam met a substantial number of needs in all walks of life in the Ottoman city. It served as a site for social encounters, rest, entertainment and celebrations. It is where doctors and barbers met and it also served as a house of luxury for the city's well-to-do. In other words, this where the action was and where the latest events were discussed – important historical events as well as the latest gossip.
The Story of the Last Bath Attendant
The Story of the Last Bath Attendant presents a novel approach to depicting a chapter in the history of Acre – the Ottoman Period.
In lieu of an ethnography or history museum, we chose to present chapters of the period by breathing life into the Haman and involving the visitor in the stories from between its walls.
We created a frame narrative based on fictitious characters and an imaginary dynasty of bath attendants who presumably ran the hamam from the day of its inauguration to the day it closed. An imaginary encounter between the five generations of bath attendants is held in the visitor's presence, thereby offering him a "rare and one time opportunity" to expose the stories and gossip heard between the walls of the hamam or – if you will – "the history of Acre during the Ottoman Period" through the eyes of the Awad family, in which the role of chief bath attendant of the al-Basha hamam was passed on from father to son, throughout the generations.
The experience features static and dynamic visual elements along with a soundtrack depicting the role the hamam played in Acre at the time. The illustrations by artist Tanya Slotzky describe Acre during the Ottoman Period – daily life, the historical events and the hamam experience. The sculpted characters displayed in the rooms illustrate the activities typical of the hamam, the bath attendants who handled the various tasks and the people who bathed and spent time there. The culmination of the experience is in the hot room. The visitors enter the steam-filled room and "meet" the last bath attendant in action. Haj Bashir scrubs, massages, bats and lathers his customers, while he treats the visiting public to a steady stream of stories, facts, figures and gossip about how the hamam works, and what purpose it serves in the life of the community – all against the backdrop of the historical events that shaped Acre at the time.
The hamam's architectural structure and impressive spaces are highlighted through the use of dramatic lighting and become an integral part of the story and the history.
We invite you to join us for a visit to the hamam the way it was during its heyday, to meet the people that shaped its character – the bath attendants and the hedonists – and to listen to their stories of Acre during the height of Ottoman glory.
This experiential visit is offered in 8 languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian. Visitors are provided with an electronic tour guide in their language of choice; to this end, they are requested to leave an identifying document which they get back at the end of the visit.
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