Hammams of Yemen: a photographic exhibition in Amman
SANA’A UNDERWORLD: HAMMAMS OF YEMEN
By Agnes Montanari, photographer
Amman (Jordan), Dar al-Anda – Sept. 13-28
Although we think of bathing as a private activity, the public bath, or hammam, has been a vital social institution in any Middle Eastern city for centuries. While in the West, the tradition of public baths popularized under the Romans slowly died out, it continued over many centuries in the eastern world, until the advent of modern plumbing has rendered their services obsolete.
Today, even in the Middle East, hammams are abandoned, falling into ruins or revived for touristic purposes. But in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, inhabited for more than 2,500 years, they are still in activity. In the old city, at the time these pictures were taken (2010-2011), there were 14 hammams, all of them more than 500 years old.
The hammams of Yemen distinguish themselves from their Egyptian and Syrian Middle Eastern equivalents in particular for their heating system, which is based on conduits going through the basement and the walls of the warmest parts (‘sadr’). Also the Yemenite hammams are partially built below the ground level, so much that they pass about unnoticed in the townscape.
The hammams of Sana’a continue to be frequented by a very diversified clientele, city-dwellers certainly but also provincials from all Yemen. The function of the hammams does not limit itself to the personal hygiene, nor to its real or supposed therapeutic virtues. It is above all a place of sociability, marked by its rhythms and by its rites and traditions. In brief, there is a real ‘culture of the hammams’, which doubtless contributes to insert into the city the people recently arrived and to give them an urban identity. It is also a place of initiation into sexual life where the various generations of the same family go together.
Until recently, hammams were managed, from generation to generation, by some seven or eight families connected between them by multiple marital links. Of lower social status, they rented hammams from ‘waqfs’ and all their members, men and women, assured all the services inside.
Go further: Website of Agnes Montanari
On the same subect: Photographier le Hammam /
Architecture des hammams du Yémen / Sociologie du hammam à Sanaa