The historic Islamic baths of North Africa and their survival into the 21st century

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Architecture


The Islamic public bath or hammam has been an important public facility in Islamic cities. The need to pray five times a day, and carry out major ablutions, meant that hammams were available in various parts of the Islamic city and carefully integrated into the urban fabric. Their importance and size varied according to their location: those next to major mosques, bazaars and theological teaching centres would be large in size whereas those integrated within the tight urban fabric of residential clusters would be smaller and usually located next to neighbourhood facilities such as the public oven, the Coranic School and the neighbourhood mosque. Their location and number within any city was also affected by the existing water distribution system and/or the availability of wells and natural springs.

As an institution, the Islamic public bath has been in decline since the 19th century. Many historic hammams have been closed, fallen into disrepair or have been completely destroyed as the result of new urban developments.

This research project is an extension of the work already carried out by the applicant on the historic public baths of Fez, Damascus and Aleppo (funded by AHRC, listed page 5). These previous research projects documented the surviving and still operating historic public baths and revealed variation in the internal organisation of spaces, the architectural features and the way these buildings are used and perceived today.

This research aims to document the few surviving examples of historic Islamic public baths across North Africa, extending the research to a much wider geographic area. Five Word heritage cities, one in each of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are selected as case studies in order to provide an understanding of the development of this building type from the 11th to the 19th century across a continuous geographical area. As such the research will highlight and explain regional variations in the development of this building type and the way it is used and perceived in the 21st century. The five world heritage North African cities that have been selected are: Cairo, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Marrakech. It is important to note that this research does not deal with archaeological sites but rather with historic examples of public baths that have managed to continue to operate into the 21st century (or have very recently been closed).

The research will be conducted by the applicant (who is fluent in French and Arabic) and a full-time post-doctoral research assistant. A period of four continuous weeks will be spent in each of the five cities by the research team and field work will be carried out with the assistance of two local technicians who will be recruited from the local organisations dealing with the conservation and rehabilitation of the city being studied.

Physical surveys will be carried out to produce measured drawings of the buildings. This will be complemented by a comprehensive photographic survey of the buildings and their spaces. Face-to-face interviews will be carried out with the building users and managers in order to investigate current perceptions and practices associated to the historic public baths. Archives and historical records of these buildings will be consulted at the Awqaf authority which is the religious endowment authority that owns most of these structures.

The results of this research will be relevant to a wide audience of architects, architectural historians, sociologists, anthropologists and urban planners as well as international organisations with an interest in the safeguard of the Mediterranean heritage such as the UNESCO and the EU. The research will also address a major academic research gap in the area of public baths and will help various stakeholders in developing future strategies for the sustainable conservation, rehabilitation or adaptive re-use of this building type.
Title The Islamic hammams of North Africa and their Survival into the 21st Century 
Description A Photography exhibition on the hammams of North Africa was at Liverpool Maritime Museum in July 2009 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact none 
Title The historic Hammams of North Africa and their Survival into the 21st Century 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Description The research recorded and analysed the still exiting and functioning public baths in North African medinas. field work on public baths revealed that the tradition of going to the hammam is disappearing in the Middle East , yet it is still a strong living tradition in North African countries of the Maghreb with the exception of Egypt, the hammam institution is fully integrated into new residential neighbourhoods. However, the heritage hammams in the old centres of Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Marrakech are all suffering from poor maintenance and the loss of their vernacular natural lighting qualities. increase in the cost of water, fuel and electricity and a lack of heritage protection policies for this building type is contributing to the closure of many historic structures and their disappearance over time, despite their key role in maintaining hygiene and well being for the low-income urban population.
Exploitation Route My findings have been taken forward by other in two EU funded projects . One of these projects is Hammamed" Raising awareness for the hammam as a cultural heritage for the Mediterranean area and beyond" funded by Euro-Med HeritageIV project (see I have been a key partner in ths project which concentrated on the hammams of Damascus and Fez and I co-edited a Hammam Rehabilitation Reader
Sectors Construction,Creative Economy,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description My findings have been used to raise awareness about hammams as an important tangible and intangible heritage in the Medierranean region. I have contributed to the development of a rehabilitation plan for four 14th Century hammams, two in Fez and two in the city of Jerusalem . I have acted as UNDP consultatnt for the rehabilitation of hammam al Ain and al Shifa near al Aqsa mosque in Jeruslaem and I have been invited by the Ministry of the habous in Morocco to advise on the rehabilitation of hammam seffarine, located in the heart of the world heritage city of Fez . My findings on the vernacular lighting system of hammams have led to the development of an innovative solar powered lighting system and the formation of a spin out company at Manchester University. Through my research on the surviving public bathhouses in North African and the Middle Eastern Heritage cities, I identified a common problem that is affecting all the still functioning historic public bathhouses (known as Hammams) of the whole region and that is the redundancy of the vernacular hammam daylighting system, leading to poor lighting inside the bathing spaces and the reliance on electric lighting during daylight hours. Restoring the original daylighting system not only re-introduces daylight into the spaces but it also reduces electricity consumption and increases the well being of the bathers and the hammam workers. It also creates an opportunity to revive an old cultural tradition of glass blowing that has disappeared in the last Century. See publication In addition to creating the vernacular daylighting , I have developed a bespoke off grid affordable solar lighting system that attaches itself to the vernacular lighting system and provides night electric LED lighting. The system was developed by myself at Manchester University and its design has been protected by the University of Manchester Intellectual property unit and has resulted in the formation of a spin out company HiSolar in 2013, for which I am the Managing Director. See The spin out company hisolar was shortlisted as one of the best clean-tech university spin out companies in the UK in 2013. The system has been initially tested in 2013 in hammam Seffarine, Fez, Morocco and has now been used to restore daylighting in two heritage hammams in Morocco: Hammam Ibn Abbad in Fez (14th Century) and Hammam Rjaafillah in Rabat ( built in 1950). the system in both hammams is being currently monitored. Morocco is where the largest number of still functioning hammams was found and where the hammam tradition continues as a living heritage. There are at least 10 000 hammams in Morocco which sustain hygiene and well being of the low income population. The developed hammam hybrid lighting system will be the focus of an AHRC follow on funding for research impact to be submitted this summer . It has the potential ( when implemented at large scale ) to make a significant impact in reducing energy consumption for electric lighting , improving the well being of the hammam bathers and workers and integrating bespoke innovative renewable energy system within a vernacular daylighting system. It will alsorevive a centuries old tradition of glass blowing using recycled glass for the production of glass caps for the oculis ( small round openings) in the domes and vaults of hammam buildings.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Eco-Hammam: Engaging key stakeholders with bespoke low-carbon technologies for lighting, heating and water recycling to sustain a Moroccan heritage
Amount £80,811 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T007036/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 04/2021
Description EuroMed Hertiatge 4
Amount € 120,000 (EUR)
Funding ID Hammamed project see EuroMed Heritage 4 programme 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2009 
End 04/2012
Description HE Support Social Entrepreneur Build It Award
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Manchester 
Department Intellectual Property
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 04/2016
Description Investing in Success
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Manchester 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2012 
End 04/2013
Description OIKODROM Vienna Centre for Urban sustainability 
Organisation The Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability Global Network for Future Sustainable Settlements
Country Austria 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I was the main UK partner in this EU funded project and the project was a multidsciplnary project with International Europoean Partner. I am the only UK hammam Expert in this project and the project involved rarising awareness about the hammam as a tangible and Intangible heritage in the Mediterranean Regions. The two sites of public engagement were in Hammam Seffarine - Fes ( surveyed by myself in 1999 as part of an AHRB - Now AHRC funded research) and Hammam Ammuneh in Damascus ( surveyed by myself in 2004 as part of my AHRC funded project on the surviving hammams id Damascus) . In both countries , I played a key role in the revitalisation of hammam Ammuneh in Damascus and the development of a rehabilitation plan for hammam Seffarine in Fez- Morocco.
Collaborator Contribution The Austrian partner put together the application to the EU for funding and worked closely with myself in the preparation of the application. This was because of my various research projects on Hammams which started in 1999 ( funded by AHRB, Now AHRC) , then in 2004, the AHRC funded research on the surviving hammams of Damascus and in 2006 on the surviving the historic hammams of North African heritage cities .
Impact THis collaboration is international and multidisciplinary. It resulted in an edited book under the title " Rehabiliation Reader for hammam Buildings coedited with muself. It had an important impact in reversing the closure of a 14th Century hammam in Damascus, located outside the tourist area of Damascus and we collaborated with various key stakeholders such as the Ministry of the Habous in Morocco and the Municipality of Damascus in Syria. We also had various TV and radio interviews in both countries and a high level of public engagement with hammam managers and users through exhibitions and public events
Start Year 2009
Company Name HiSolar Ltd 
Description Please see 
Year Established 2013 
Impact Please see
Description The Belle Epoque: Cairo Museums Itinerary (BECAMI) Launch event in Cairo -November 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Launching Seminar of the Belle Epoque: Cairo Museums Itinerary (BECAMI) was held at the Greater Cairo Public Library in Cairo on November 13th 2016. The project Launch also included a photography exhibition for Fine Arts Students from Helwan University. This event was followed by two days of exclusive visits on 14th & 15th of November to all named and participating museums in this project. More than 75 participants, speakers, panel chairs, the museum directors and the project team attended the seminar from Egypt and UK. The Seminar was comprised of three major sessions that mainly covered relevant presentations and debates around innovative methods of preserving Cairo's Cultural Museums which entails a significant period of Egypt's forgotten past.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Workshop with arts and architecture students from different universities in Egypt to develop a belle epoque museum itinerary in Cairo 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact This was a three day engagement workshop which took place in January 2017 and involved 33 undergraduate students who were shorlisted from an open call for participation. The students were from various schools of Art and Architecture in Egypt and were introduced for the first time to twelve forgotten Belle Epoque museums in Cairo.
They worked together for three days to develop different itineraries connecting these 12 museums and proposed interventions to increase accessibility and visibility of these museums to the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017