Hamam: The Window to Ottoman Life

When trying to understand the public and private lives of the people living in the Ottoman Empire, one of the more interesting gendered, religious, and hygienic spaces to examine is a Hamam –the Turkish steam bath. The quantity of Hamams in a city has been regarded as a sign of development and civilization.  The distribution of Hamams in a city may also give some indications on the social and economic level of certain quarters.

Hamam al-Basha is impeccably preserved as a museum

The old city of Acre in Israel, like other Ottoman cities, has its Hammams spread throughout the town. The best known is Hamam al-Basha, built by Ahmad al-Jezzar Pasha towards the end of the 18th century. Most of Acre’s surviving Hamams, unlike al-Basha, are private ones. Private Hamams existed very rarely, only in palaces or in very important houses.  The Hamam found in the International Conservation Center (the Center) in Acre is one such Hamam, making it very special.

Moshe Kraintz, a student of Saving the Stones, a practical conservation training internship, conducted a study on the Hamam in the Center in Acre.  He researched the history of the development of the Turkish Hamam using the skills learned in the program, and was guided by several professional mentors.

Kraintz performed an architectural survey and concluded with a small-scale archaeological survey which uncovered at least four separate floors, representing different periods of occupation.  His archaeological survey helped to flesh out not only the development of the Hamam, but also added to the fascinating and engrossing history of the Center’s campus.

During the excavation, Kraintz uncovered one of the original tiles that lined the walls of the Hamam, giving us a window into the past of how this private Hamam looked like.  Performing the architectural and archaeological survey is an important aspect of this project that allows future scholars to investigate further the private lives of Ottoman Acre.  However, the research and fieldwork are not all that Kraintz did.

In addition to the practical aspects of conservation, Kraintz learn on Saving the Stones program about the ethics of conservation as well.  The training also allowed him to approach the liminal space between conserving the past of a city and negotiating the present and the future paths of its current citizens.

Kraintz has turned his learning experience on Saving the Stones program into a career.  Currently he is working as a private conservator in the city of Tzfat near the Sea of Galilee in Israel.  Kraintz is but one of many students in the program who has leveraged the experiences and training gained from the program in his professional life.

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