Julie Peteet, “Immerse yourself in the Past”: Baths (hammamat) in Time and Space (November 5, 2015)

Baths and communal bathing once constituted a common spatial form and cultural practice that spanned the Middle East and Mediterranean from ancient times to the early 20th century. The recent revival of the baths (hammamat) in these regions is embedded in neo-liberal notions of the body and new forms of consumption and leisure. While the meaning and usage of the baths has been profoundly transformed, continuity with the past is evident architecturally, spatially, and in the sequencing of activities. Moreover, they are once again sites for leisure, life-cycle celebrations, and the performance of bodily rituals - sacred, profane, and medicinal. As the baths have been repurposed for a novel set of consumers and to new ends, they have been endowed with new and markedly different meanings. Although imbued with nostalgia for an imagined Arab-Islamic, as well as an Ottoman past previously conceptualized in rather negative terms, they now operate under market principles and are geared to tourists and young local consumers.