Lonely hamam

Very close to the stand of oak trees there’s a structure that has interested me for many years. Having only seen it as a blink and you’ll miss it structure from the highway I was delighted to go and see it up close.

Beside a typical Turkish water fountain with a low trough to allow animals to drink, there are a few rough stone walls. Most interesting are the remains of a dome above some of the remaining walls. It immediately reminded me of a hamam, or Turkish bath.

It also reminded me of watching a program on British television years ago. The challenge was to build or restore a historical replica of something each week, generally on a tight time scale. One week they built or renovated a Turkish bath. Now I can’t remember if they were in Turkey or elsewhere, maybe Bulgaria, but I do know there were communication problems with the local builders. The locals were completely bewildered by these British builders and their big hurry and there were complaints from all involved. The hamam got finished but not very successfully, having laid marble on still-wet walls. The plumbing was another challenge.

It was clear that the fountain was frequently visited by herds of animals, probably goats and sheep from all the hoof marks in the mud. The water was flowing freely from a pipe anchored a little way up the hill and could clearly be seen to follow a path through some reeds to an underpass.

Beside the fountain was a tiny room with an arched doorway. A furry animal was sleeping in the shelter of the doorway when I arrived so I froze. Wild dogs in Turkey are not always friendly and may carry rabies so it’s best to be cautious. But I was spotted and the furry animal turned out to be three puppies and their mother who welcomed me and followed me around as I wandered. They were quite used to strangers coming into their territory.

The interior was one small room with the arched doorway and a slightly larger room topped with a dome. Two of the walls under the dome were missing and it was obvious the structure had once continued beyond the dome. There were some pillars and rough stones lying around and the fountain had probably once looked much more impressive.

It didn’t take long to confirm that this was the remains of a hamam, though a small one. Hamams normally have several sections, a dressing room (or rather undressing room), a warm room, a hot room, a cool room and a furnace section. However, the hamam in Ozbek was probably a konak hamam or residential hamam; very small and not open to the public. The warm room is the one with the curved entrance and the dome covers the remains of the hot room. The dressing room and furnace have been destroyed. The whole structure was probably only about 7.5 m by 3.5 m, and formed a single line of small rooms. The hamam was most likely built in the second half or at the end of the 19th century. It was quite a walk above the village itself.

The village of Özbek may have been founded as far back as the time of Mehmet the Conqueror but other records state it was founded by migrants from the Deliorman region in Bulgaria, by a family of wrestlers. Deliorman is south of the Danube and the area was settled by some Selcuk Turks as early as 1261 before being joined by Ottomans later. The area was a focus for migration in the 1500’s with over 2000 Muslim households in the region, many coming from Yörük villages in Anatolia possibly around the time of Selim the Grim. However, during the various Russo-Turkish wars through the 1800’s, the Turkish population migrated back to Anatolia. Özbek was settled probably in 1878 after the Russo-Turkish war that ended Ottoman rule of Bulgaria. Today it’s a small village with a population in the hundreds, 7 km north of Çanakkale city.
Maps of the area from 1916-1917 mark a Halil Paşa Farm in the area and it’s possible that the hamam was linked to this farm. There’s no trace of the farm after this so it and the hamam may have been destroyed during the First World War.

View of the Dardanelles from the hamam

Discouraging the puppies from jumping into the car with me, I left this quiet and lonely reminder of times past wondering about how much history has been forgotten in this land.

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