Hammam al-Ayn: 700 year old bathhouse reopening as a spa in Jerusalem

The Hammam al-Ayn, an ancient hammam (bathhouse) that has been sitting unused and falling into disrepair in East Jerusalem, is being refurbished and is reopening as a spa.

Built around 1336

The Hammam al-Ayn was built in the 14th Century, around 1336CE, during the Mameluke period, considered the golden age of Islamic architecture in Jerusalem. It is one of two hammams of the period in The Caravanserai in Khan Tankaz, the other being the nearby al-Shifa Hammam, located in the central part of the Cotton Merchants’ (Qattanin) market. According to the Center for Jerusalem Studies at al-Quds University, which oversees the entire site, the complex was established by Prince Sayf al-Din Tankaz, as a commercial compound featuring lodgings for mystics and hermits because of its proximity to the Haram al-Sharif.

In fall of 2019, the Hammam al-Ayn will come into full operation, offering steam baths and spa treatments. The spa is operated by al Quds University and the Centre for Jerusalem Studies in partnership with a consultant.

It was operational for around 700 years, until the 1970s, according to Arnan Bashir, General Director of the Center. “The  al-Ayn, which means ‘the spring,’ literally because it was fed by a spring, has been in disrepair for the last 50 years,” he told Spa Executive.

Door of the hammam

In 1998, al-Quds renovated the archaeological site and has since maintained it as an important part of the fabric and heritage of Jerusalem’s Old City. Various activities are held at the site.

Hammams are an important part of history

Historically, Islamic cities have been distinguished by the presence of public baths (hammams) near markets and mosques, used for ritual purification before prayers and to serve the community in general. This particular bath served people going to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif. These hammams fell out of popular use after the advent of indoor plumbing.

The BBC reports that  the al-Ayn will be Old City East Jerusalem’s only functioning hammam, as the nearby Hammam al-Shifa is becoming an art gallery and event space.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mr. Bashir said, “Opening this hammam again is important because not one of the three historical bathhouses in Old City East Jerusalem is operational and it is an important part of our culture and heritage.” He added, “We have preserved the original design because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quite a bit of the original tile work and stonework is extant in the bathhouse.”

Though the renovation preserved the architectural layout and original design of the hammam, modern amenities like electric lights and showers have been added.

The project has been in the works for a long time. In fact, according to the BBC, plans for the renovation were drafted in the 1980s but the funds to follow through were lacking until the European Union stepped in to help finance the project as part of a program to protect cultural heritage in Jerusalem.

Interestingly, excavations during the renovation also reportedly revealed a third bathhouse below the Ohel Yitzhak synagogue.

Spa treatments at the Hammam al-Ayn

Spa treatments include Swedish massage, hot stone massage, aromatherapy massage, and shiatsu massage, as well as reflexology and Hopi ear candling, among other services.

Products include Dead Sea mud and homemade facial masks made with ingredients like curcumin, honey, cucumber, ginger, avocado, banana, rose water, citrus fruits, oats, and coffee.

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