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Byzantine bathhouse in Thessaloniki restored

Another UNESCO-listed monument, one of the few secular buildings remaining in Greece from the Byzantine period, is ready to open to the public in Thessaloniki, bringing the number of the northern port city’s top global cultural heritage monuments to 14.

Byzantine bathhouse in Thessaloniki restored
The Byzantine bathhouse before and after restoration 
[Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture]
The Byzantine Bath of the Upper Town, on Theotokopoulou Street in Ano Poli, will be inaugurated in early July, 75 years after it was closed.

The 800-year-old facility has been fully restored in a project that took four years to complete and will be open not just to the public for visits but also to cultural associations and groups to stage events.

For the inauguration, the internationally acclaimed performance artist Ulay, who will be honored at the Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, will present his interactive performance “Code of Conduct” from July 1-4 (4-8 p.m.)

While the marble sinks and European-style baths that have been salvaged from among the facility’s early-20th century fittings are no longer in use, the site continues to offer valuable insight into the personal hygiene habits of all the different people who made use of it through the ages. The Byzantines, for example, bathed in still water, while the Ottoman preferred running water.

The bathhouse was built some time between the late 12th and early 13th century, at a time when the 11th-century tradition of bathhouses was seeing a revival. Known later as Koule Hamam, it operated all the way up until 1940. Despite numerous changes and renovations, as well as abandonment during World War II and the scars of a series of strong earthquakes in 1978, its Byzantine roots are still apparent in its layout and architectural elements.

It is the biggest and most intact Byzantine-era bathhouse among a handful that have survived in Greece and the only one in Thessaloniki, according to the supervisors of the restoration project, Fani Revythiadou, an architect and restorer, and Constantinos Raptis, an archaeologist at the Thessaloniki Ephorate of Antiquities.

While it survived collapse thanks to significant structural supports put in place by the former 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities and a shelter protecting its exterior, it did not escape the construction boom of the 1960s and is now sandwiched between apartment blocks.

It is, nevertheless, an excellent example of the art of restoration and an important part of any tour taking in the secular monuments of Byzantine-era Thessaloniki and the bathhouse tradition that flourished mainly in Ottoman times, stresses the head of the Ephorate, Stamatios Hondroyiannis.

Source: ekathimerini [July 04, 2015]

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