Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hammam Project in Fez

This week saw the gathering of specialists from across the world for a conference in Fez aimed at examining the sustainability of hammams in the Mediterranean region. The View from Fez reports.

Hammamed is a project co-ordinated by Oikodrom of the Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability and underpinned by Euromed Heritage which is funded by the European Union. Partners include the University of Liverpool in the UK, the Institut Francais du Proche Orient in Syria and ADER, the Agency for the Dedensification and Rehabilitation of the Fez Medina.

The research questions asked by Hammamed are:
- What is the desired sustainable future for the neighbourhood hammam?
- How can an operating hammam initiate such a sustainable future within a human settlement?

In the initial case study that was started a couple of years ago, hammams in several Mediterranean countries were identified for research. Included were Cairo, Damascus, Constantine (Algeria), Istanbul, Gaza and the Seffarine hammam in Fez.

The whole Mediterranean region shares a common object of cultural value – the hammam, the public Turkish bath.

The hammam has very specific features which reflect its importance and call for its promotion among the public: it is an architectural legacy and a living cultural heritage and as such it combines tangible and intangible heritage; it is well embedded in urban communities, filling an important role for neighborhoods and, in many cases, for the Medina as a whole, and yet it runs the risk of disappearing. Not only does the hammam generally have what's termed tangible heritage in such aspects as its architecture and the conservation of it, the water supply and hygiene, but also intangible heritage as in its part in local history, the socio-economic aspects and gender participation.

The main aim of the Hammamed project is to raise awareness of the hammam as a common cultural heritage in the Mediterranean area and beyond, mostly through public awareness-raising activities, conferences and workshops, dissemination activities and specific actions for two selected hammams (Hammam Ammuna in Damascus and Hammam Seffarine in Fez). There was an exhibition in Damascus in March, to be followed by one in Fez next year.

Interestingly enough, it's only in Fez and Morocco in general that the hammam is still used on a regular basis. Use in other cities such as Damascus and Cairo has largely fallen away over the last generation or two. There were 60 working hammams in Damascus in 1940; now there are 16. The buildings have either fallen into disrepair or now have other functions.

Hammam Ammuna, Damascus

The ceiling at Hammam Ammuna, Damascus

Among the expected results of the project are social studies, rehabilitation design on an ecological basis, hammam and neighbourhood days in Mediterranean cities, an exhibition and a documentary film.

The target group will be the scientific community of hammam related disciplines, selected governmental agencies and local population (especially youth, students, and women) and stakeholder representatives (teachers and hammam staff).

The meeting in Fez this week brought together project partners and associated experts in the field of sociology, town-planning, rehabilitation, and business and water management in order to work out the best practices for safeguarding and revitalizing the hammam as a traditional institution in the Mediterranean region. The issue of water was particularly addressed - scarcity, quality, hygiene, supplying systems, etc. The sociological and cultural aspects related to the role of the hamman in the Mediterranean Medina and its contribution to civil society and urban landscape development was addressed; comparisons with new hammams were made, taking into consideration social, ecological, economical and architectural aspects. Also, meetings with managers and employees of working hammams were organised in order to compare methodologies of maintenance and business-plan implementation and management.

The Seffarine hammam
The hammam in Seffarine Square has been closed for renovation for some time now. The Hammamed project is not about funding restoration of such buildings, which in this case is being undertaken by the Habous, but it is about establishing a sustainable management plan for the hammam.

Plan of the Seffarine hammam

According to the University of Liverpool (who provided the plan above, and photographs below), the Seffarine Hammam "should be restored as one of the most interesting public baths in Fez, especially with regard to the undressing room of its historical section, as this is one of the rare meshlah of the city that still preserves the original layout and decorative features. It also displays the traditional Roman hypocaust heating system and the original furnace. Moreover, despite its state of deterioration, this hammam is still functioning, serving the local community on a daily basis [this was the case until its closure recently-TVFF]. The practice of going to the hammam is, in fact, still very lively in Morocco, in contrast with other Mediterranean areas. In particular, in Fez this is evident not only in poor areas, but also in recently developed wealthy quarters, where new hammams are still being built, in spite of the fact that the existing dwellings have their own private bathroom conveniences.

"Hammams remain one of the essential urban facilities of Moroccan cities, together with the medersa and the mosque. Moreover, as observed in the contemporary hammam visited in Fez Jdid, not only is the layout of new public structures based on the traditional axial typology of historical hammams, but also some traditional bathers' facilities have been retained, such as the original bucket system for collecting water. All this leads to the conclusion that a proper restoration of hammam Seffarine, which should assess two important issues related to smoke pollution caused by the use of wood chip in the furnace, and to the necessity of making the bath and its surroundings adequate to contemporary safety standards, would provide the collectivity with a totally efficient and sustainable structure.

"- Hammam Seffarine is an almost unique example of hammam in Fez consisting of two adjoining and independent baths: one assigned to women and one to men (this section has been added in more recent times).
- It is one of the rare public baths in Fez which still preserves the undressing room in its original layout and with its original decorative elements.

the undressing room at Seffarine Hammam

- It also preserves the traditional hypocaust heating system and the original furnace.
- Unlike the free-standing hammams of Turkey and Egypt, and in line with the rest of public baths in Fez, hammam Seffarine is adjacent to other buildings, in order to reduce heat loss through the walls.
- In contrast with Turkish and Egyptian hammams, the entrance of the case study is anonymous and does not bear any particular decoration or advertising sign. This is another characteristic of the hammams in Fez.
- Unlike Mameluk and Ottoman hammams, which are typified by the central organization of the bathing spaces, hammam Seffarine shows a linear and axial layout, as distinctive of the typology of public baths in Morocco.

the cold room, Seffarine hammam

the hot room, Seffarine hammam

The university identifies two areas where emergency action is called for:
- the roof problems where water drainage and leakage has contributed additional structural strain because water tanks were introduced
- the removal of all vegetation from the roof as the plants are penetrating the structure of the hammam.


Piggy said...

"Almost Unique" Please use correct English. It is either unique or not. It can be different or unusual BUT not as described in your text.

Sandy McCutcheon said...

Mmm Miss Piggy,
"almost unique" is allowable according to all the English language standard references. I agree that it is a cloudy term, but if (for example) there are two remaining objects in the world... one of them (or both) are "almost unique".

That said, we appreciate your unique input!


Anonymous said...

... I agree, and the use is in the European Union material supplied! Their unique use of English is sometimes dubious! LOL

Helen Ranger said...

Yes ... the Seffarine hammam is "almost unique" in that it's one of only two hammams in Fez with separate facilities for men and women. Does anyone know where the other one is?

Piggy said...

Hi Sandy
I hear what you are saying but Unique in English used in the UK is reserved for describing one of its kind.
In the USA the word is misused. I have even heard Hilary misuse the word (many times) So in US the word is now used to describe anything that is different. Its a shame but American English in the end wins.