Hammam Nur al-Din
Located in Suq al-Bzuriyyeh, Damascus, Syria
Hegira 549–67 / AD 1154–72
Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi (r. AH 541–69 / AD 1146–74).
Hammam Nur al-Din is one of the oldest bathhouses in Damascus. It is very well conserved and still in regular use today. The hammam is one of Nur al-Din's major constructions, along with the madrasa and the hospital or bimaristan, located nearby.
The hammam is situated inside Bzuriyyeh Suq amidst a row of shops selling spices and sweets; its entry, therefore, is totally engulfed within the business of the suq. The large domed chamber immediately inside the entrance is the changing and lounging area, known as the mashlah. Itis unusually grand and dates from the Ottoman period. It has six iwans in axial symmetry and an octagonal pool in the middle. Given that this is the only area within the hammam devoid of steam, wooden furniture and accessories appear here, often replaced in line with the fashions of the day. It is here that bathers remove their clothes, and there are little niches beneath the stone benches, or mastabas,to leave outdoor shoes and don bathhouse slippers.
The bathing halls proper are still the original Nuri construction. Furthest from the entrance is where the bathing experience begins, starting with the cold-water chambers, known as barrani or 'exterior areas'; these are composed of three sequential square rooms with octagonal interiors and domed roofs of varying sizes. The middle room is larger than the front and back rooms, and it contains the passageway to the warm-water chambers, known as wustani, or the middle area. The architectural style and layout of the hammam underlines the centrality of the wustani, which is of large octagonal shape and capped by a gored dome resting on a drum of 16 niches. The interior of the wustani is perfectly symmetrical. Small ledge-like annexations with pointed-arch entries, known as maqsuras, open up on its four diagonal sides and offer bathers some seclusion. Passageways on the front and back sides lead to the hot and cold areas respectively, while the right and left sides are attached with trapezoidal corridors that open up to two more rooms of rectangular shape, each surmounted by two small octagonal domes. These rooms are usually used for facilities like massage and depilation.
Finally, there is the hot-water chamber known as juwwani or the 'interior area', which is a wide and barrel vaulted oblong space with curved sides. Steam enters the room through a side vent linked to the furnace, or bayt al-nar. This is the hottest room where bathers would rest on stone benches and really sweat it out in order to deep-cleanse their skin. The luxury of regular access to, and indulgence in water, continues to be considered heaven on earth, the usual greeting upon finishing a trip to the bath is “Na'iman” referring to heavenly bliss.
Built by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi, this is the oldest functioning hammam (baths) in Damascus. It is located in the spice market of the old town, near the Great Umayyad Mosque, and has undergone various renovations. The architectural layout of the bath chambers are still in their original form. Traditionally divided into cold, warm and hot rooms, emphasis is placed on the warm room with its larger dome, octogonal shape and symmetrically disposed ante-chambers. A visit to the hammam was a regular part of urban living in Muslim towns for both men and women, where they enjoyed washing, scrubbing, relaxation and beautification.
The foundation inscription at the nearby Madrasa Nuriyya records the establishment of the sovereign Nur al-Din's major waqf, an endowment that included: “the totality [of the income] of the new bath constructed in the wheat market”. The date of the bath's construction is, therefore, between 549 / 1154, Nur al-Din's arrival to Damascus, and 567 / 1172, the inscription date. Contemporary historian Ibn Asakir (498–571 / 1105–76) also records that Nur al-Din constructed a hammam in Suq al-Bzuriyyeh.
Ecochard, M., “Trois Bains Ayyoubides de Damas”, Les Monuments Ayyoubides de Damas, Vol. II, Paris, 1940, pp.51–112; figs. 29–61; plates 13–20.
Ecochard, M., and Le Coeur, C., Les Bains de Damas, Beirut,1942–3. pp.12–19.
Sourdel-Thomine, J., "Hammam", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, Leiden, 1979, p.139–44; fig. 2.
Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Hammam Nur al-Din" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;isl;sy;mon01;13;en
Prepared by: Abd Al-Razzaq MoazAbd al-Razzaq Moaz
Abd al-Razzaq Moaz is Deputy Minister of Culture, in charge of Cultural Heritage and Head of EU projects, at the Ministry of Culture, Syria. He was born in Damascus in 1962. He received his BA in History at the University of Damascus in 1985, a DEA in Archaeology from the University of Provence, Aix-en-Provence in 1987, and his Doctorate in Archaeology from the same university in 1991. He was a Scholar at the Institut Francais d'Etudes Arabes de Damas, Damascus, 1991–3 and was a Visiting Scholar at the Aga Khan Progam for Islamic Architecture, Harvard University and MIT, USA in 1993/4, at Granada University, Spain in 1994, at Harvard University (Fulbright Scholar) in 1995 and at Harvard University Urban Planning Department in 1996. He was a lecturer at Damascus University, 1997–9 and Visiting Professor, Harvard University in spring 1999. He was Director General of Antiquities and Museums, Syria, from 2000 to 2002. He speaks Arabic, French and English., Zena TakieddineZena Takieddine
Zena Takieddine is a researcher of Arab history and Islamic art. She received her BA in history (with distinction) from the American University of Beirut, and her MA in art and archaeology (with distinction) from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She has a diploma in art and antique connoisseurship from Sotheby's, London. Her fields of interest include pre-Islamic Arabian epigraphy and the development of the Arabic script, early Islamic art and architecture, Arab miniature painting, the study of intercultural influences between Islamic civilisation and the Christian West during the medieval period, and post-colonial methodology in the study of history and identity.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 17
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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