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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Baths

Public baths have existed in Athens already since the classic age. However, our knowledge of this period as well as of the following one, the hellenistic, is inadequate; while we possess more information about the Roman age, when important baths (βαλανεία) are erected. In 267 AD Athens is turned to ruins as a result of the Erulian invasion. In the fourth century A.D. the excellent performance of the city’s various schools and spiritual institutions has contributed to its revival. The last gleam of the Athenian glory fades away during the reign of Justinian. The city is gradually diminishing and is turned to a Byzantine province. We do not know much about the years of the Frankish domination that follows. In 1456 Athens changed peacefully hands and lords: The Franks are succeeded by the Turks. Thus, bath becomes important again, offering, at the same time, hygienic body care and social life for both sexes. Especially to women, for whom the public places were strictly forbidden, as in every closed Eastern society, baths were supplying a multiple function: hygiene, recreation, social life, gossip, show, even therapeutic treatment for gynaecologic diseases. The class differences were especially rigid in the bath area. For the Athenian woman under Turkish occupation the visit to the bath was by itself an entire ritual marked by three significant events: the bath of the teenager, the future bride and the young woman after her nuptials. Three baths were operating in Athens during the first period of the Turkish domination: The Ula-Beri or Staropazaro Bath, the Hatzi-Ali or Rhodakio Bath and the Ambid-Efendi or Aerides Bath. One bath in the Acropolis citadel, another close to the Voevoliki and, probably, a few smaller ones elsewhere were added to the forementioned three during the second period. From all these baths only those of Rhodakio and Aerides kept operating after the liberation, while the Staropazaro Bath changed its function. Nevertheless, the remaining baths continued to play an important role in the Athenian’s life.

The Aerides Bath is the only one that has survived. Although it doesn’t belong to the typical Ottoman examples of bath architecture, it is rather safely dated in the first century of Turkish occupation. In the mid-nineteenth century new rooms have been added to the original bath and it has, thus, been altered as to become a double bath. Therefore, its present, quite complex plan cannot be assigned to a certain architectural type. The Rhodakio Bath was demolished in 1890, but fortunately enough the plan and two general descriptions of it have survived. The arrangement of its rooms and areas is usual in Ottoman examples; while it also displays certain elements of the Byzantine tradition. We cannoi reach correct conclusions for the thirc bath, because the available data are insufficient.