Ottoman Baths in Chania

The Public Baths (Hammams) of Chania, Crete: The Hammams were brought to Chania by the Ottomans of Asia Minor. These hammams or public baths constitute a very old Moslem tradition. Body hygiene was closely associated with worship and meditation and according to the Koran, only running water can purify. The hammams played an important role in Middle-eastern Culture and served as places of body cleaning and social gathering.

The hammams in the Ottoman culture began as structural elements attached to mosques and later evolved into institutions and eventually into monumental structural complexes. A hammam consists of three interconnected basic rooms: the sickaklik which is the hot room, the tepidarium, the warm room and the sogukluk which is the cool room.

The sickaklik has a large dome structure fitted with small glass windows that give a half-light effect. This room also contains a large marble stone at the center on which customers lie on and niches with fountains in the corners. This room is used for soaking up the steam and getting scrub massages. The warm room or the tepidarium is for washing with soap and water. The so─čukluk or the cool room is used to relax, dress u, have a drink, usually tea and sometimes if it was available, the customers could nap in private cubicles after the massage.

Hammams were not exclusive to men, they had separate quarters for men and women. In the Ottoman Empire, Hammams were quite abundant as they were considered to be the social centers. They were a part of daily life and were populated on almost every occasion with traditional entertainment and ceremonies, such as before weddings, high holidays, beauty trips and celebrating the birth of children.

The Hammams in Chania were built by the Turkish Empire after they took over the city in 1645. One Hammam is located on the corner of Zambeliou and Douka streets in the Old Town. It initially had six large drumless domes to which another floor was later added. The glass, bell-shaped “eyes” that decorate the dome are the only source of light beside the three arched windows on the northwest side. It is relatively simple and its structure is characteristic of traditional Turkish Hammams.

Today, the hammam is the property of the Ministry of Culture. Another hammam is situated on Halithon Street, which was built on the site of the Venetian Monastery of St Clara, near the place where a Roman Bath used to be, and is decorated with beautiful mosaics. It is a multiple-domed structure with an arcade on the perimeter, which was eventually demolished in 1941.

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