John McCarthy (Excess Baggage, BBC Radio 4) explores some ancient monuments and places of interest across Syria. He also hears about the Turkish baths- or Hammams- of Damascus and Aleppo. And travel along the backbone of England – the Pennines.
Hammaming in the Sham: A Journey through the Turkish Baths of Damascus, Aleppo and Beyond, by the Irish writer and photographer Richard Boggs, documents a thousand year old tradition: the hammams or ‘Turkish baths’ of Syria.
In his search to uncover the hidden world of the public baths, the author travels the length and breadth of Syria, bathing in almost every hammam from Damascus to Aleppo and beyond. He intimately portrays the bathers and workers of the hammams in both text and photographs, documenting traditions that are rapidly disappearing.
The book is almost elegiac about the bathing traditions of Syria; legend has it that Damascus once had 365 public baths, but now only about 20 remain in use. Linked to Islamic traditions about cleansing, the baths cater for both body and soul and are intimately bound up with the mosques; in Aleppo the author even comes across the tombs of saints buried in their depths.
It is not just the hammams which are in decline; the conscientious neglect of parts of the old city of Damascus is also mourned. The final chapter however records the revitalisation of some hammams and areas of Damascus and Aleppo. ‘Hammaming in the Sham’ goes far beyond bathing; it is an irreverent celebration of Damascus and Aleppo. The author knows Syria at a grass roots level and so ‘Hammaming’ touches on many aspects of Syrian life in a personal way, from the pigeon fanciers who are barred from being witnesses in court, to the Islamic sects of the mountains (the author’s Alawi friend keeps an image of the Virgin Mary in his pocket). He does not just bathe in the hammams but shares the communal food that Aleppans bring to eat from a dish on the hammam floor.
The author has lived for over a decade in the Arabic-speaking world: Yemen, Lebanon and Khartoum. His documenting of a life on an island between Yemen and Somalia was published last year by Stacey International: The Lost World of Socotra. He currently lives in Sudan.
To download the first 60 pages, please visithttp://garnetpublishing.co.uk/book/hammaming-sham
To view a video trailer, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ji3uhOQ_9s&feature=player_embedded
192pp 210 x 280mm
OCTOBER 2010, £30.00
210 x 280mm
September 2010, £30.00
Watch the trailer and listen to an excerpt
Legend has it that Damascus once had 365 hammams or ‘Turkish baths’: one for each day of the year. Originally part of an ancient Roman tradition, hammams were absorbed by Islam to such an extent that many became almost annexes to nearby mosques. For centuries, hammams were an integral part of community life, with some 50 hammams surviving in Damascus until the 1950s. Since then, however, with the onslaught of modernization programmes and home bathrooms, many have been demolished; fewer than 20 Damascene working hammams survive today.
In Hammaming in the Sham, Richard Boggs travels the length and breadth of modern Syria, documenting the traditions of bathing in Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere, and his encounters with Syrians as they bathe. In his portrayal of life in the hammams he reveals how these ancient institutions cater for both body and soul, and through his conversations with the bathers within, he provides insights into the grass roots of contemporary Syrian society.
Approximately 100 colour photographs accompany the text, portraying the traditional neighbourhoods of Damascus and Aleppo, and the almost religious feel of the hammams. The author’s intimate portraits of the baths’ employees and bathers show a unique side of Syria rarely exposed to the outside world.
Richard Boggs has worked for over a decade in the Arabic-speaking world, teaching in Yemen, Lebanon and Khartoum. For two years he lived on one of the most remote places on earth: the Yemeni island of Socotra. His island experiences are published in his first travel book, The Lost World of Socotra (Stacey International, 2009). When not travelling he likes to cultivate his herbaceous border in Ireland.