The hammam of the Turkish bath is a type of steam bath for public bathing. It is a prominent feature in the culture of the Muslim world inherited from the model of the Roman baths. In Islamic cultures the significance of the hammam was both religious and civic: it provided for the needs of ritual ablutions, and hygiene but also served social functions such as offering a gendered meeting place for men and for women. The earliest known Islamic hammams were built in Syria and Jordan during Umayyad Caliphate (661-750). A variation on the Muslim bathhouse, the Victorian Turkish bath became popular as a form of therapy, a method of cleansing, and a place for relaxation during the Victorian period, rapidly spreading through the British Empire, Europe and the United States.
Upon arrival in Cyprus, the Ottomans immediately built hammams. Hammams were regarded as the shortest step from hygiene to eroticism. A whole area of sexual life was organised around the hammam, frequented also by Christian women: the real, childhood and puberty, transition and initiation were all integrated within the concept of the bath. That is where the boy is first made aware of the human anatomy; where girls are made aware of their bodies and possibilities. Where both grow up and are eventually separated. For girls it was a beauty centre; for boys, it was achieving manly consciousness. For older women, it was the place where they could choose wives for their sons after examining them fully at the hammam!
The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and Active Citizens Fund.