Thursday, July 17, 2008

Byzantium Influence in the Hamam

The Turkish bath, or more properly called the hamam, has been an essence of Turkish culture and a focal point for tourists on vacation. Though most of the still-existing hamams were built well after the end of the Byzantine Empire they derived much of their architectural design from the Byzantines with a mixture from the Ottomans.

The hamam that I visited was the Cağaloğlu Hamam, the number one ranked hamam in the world, and justifiably so after my visit. Unfortunately, I was unable to take pictures inside the hamam because all of its inhabitants were nude and I am sure that would have caused quite a problem. Though the structure was built in the 1700s there was evidence all around me that suggested Byzantine influence carried on into the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

Inside the main domed room for the bathing and massage sessions was like looking into a renovated church from centuries before. This main room was where I derived the most Byzantine-esque designs. The inside resembled a cross-in-square church with the four main columns supporting the dome with pendentives stretched from the dome down to meet the columns, which even resemble the Corinthian style columns. The construction of the dome was made to allow light inside the bathing room and the positioning of the windows is exactly like a miniature of the windowed dome of the Hagia Sophia. Outside of the main dome support structure the circular shape of the room is encompassed in barrel vaults where the customers sit underneath and be washed and scrubbed. I found it unusual that considering the time period that it was built the arches in the hamam were not the typical pointed arches found in Islamic architecture, but the more circular arches more consistent with the Byzantines.

The hamam most famously influenced by the Byzantines is the Çemberlitaş Hamam, built in 1584, only a century after the end of the Empire. This hamam is supposed to be heavily influenced and has been said to resemble a miniature church-turned mosque- turned bath.

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