Omeriye Ottoman Baths. Restoration and Reuse

Athina Papadopoulou, architect - conservator, Nicosia Master Plan
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Ιn March 2006 the project Restoration of the Omeriye Ottoman Baths, Nicosia, Cyprus was awarded the top prize in the category Conservation of Architectural Heritage of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards.

The Omeriye Ottoman Baths (hamam) are located in the Omeriye Quarter, in the heart of the walled city of Nicosia, Cyprus. It stands to the north of Omeriye mosque, a very important monument of the old city. The mosque was probably named after the prophet Omar, to whom it was dedicated, after the Ottoman conquest of the island in 1570-71.

The Omeriye mosque was once the church of St. Mary of the Augustinians, part of the homonymous monastery of the Augustinian order, dating to the 14th century.

The Omeriye hamam, built by Lala Mustafa Pasha, the first Ottoman administrator of the island, dates back to the late 16th century (around 1571), at the very beginning of the Ottoman rule. Furthermore, the hamam is one of the three public baths in Nicosia and the only one of them that has been fully restored.

Partners and objectives
The restoration of the Ottoman baths is part of a wider rehabilitation project, implemented within the framework of the Nicosia Master Plan, primarily funded by the European Union through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) / United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) – Partnership for the Future Programme. Funds for the realization of this project were also granted from the Nicosia Municipality and the Ministry of the Interior (from the listed buildings incentives scheme).

The restoration of the Omeriye Ottoman Baths is one of the three sub-projects in the Omeriye Area:

• Stage 1: Road Rehabilitation, resurfacing and upgrading of infrastructure (Tillirias Street);
• Stage 2: Restoration of the Omeriye Bath complex and the open space surrounding the monument;
• Stage 3: Restoration of the north façade of the Omeriye mosque and landscaping of its garden.

Taking into concern the multicultural character of the old city of Nicosia, depicted mainly on its well preserved architectural character and the historic urban tissue, this project is a perfect example of restoring and re-adapting an old building to contemporary needs, preserving its original use and fabric.

The aim of this project falls under the general objectives of the Nicosia Master Plan for an integrated regeneration of the walled city of Nicosia and the conservation, protection and enhancement of its architectural heritage. The Nicosia Master Plan has been the result of the collaboration between the Nicosia Municipality, the Department of Town Planning and Housing of the Ministry of the Interior and the UNDP, since 1980.

Intervention philosophy
The project aimed at restoring the specific historic building based on international good practice principles and charters regarding interventions on architectural heritage. The safeguarding of the authenticity of the structure, the principle of reversibility and the use of compatible methods and materials were of primary importance in the restoration plan. Retaining the original use of the building as a hamam was also a primary consideration.

Building and use
The Omeriye Bath is a stone, load-bearing structure built of calcareous limestone quarried in the Nicosia district. The domes and ochre exterior stone walls make it a significant landmark in the profile of the old city.

The building has a north and a south entrance. The south entrance is reached through a small courtyard. The sequence and use of spaces follows the characteristic typology of Ottoman baths of the time. One enters into a large square room with a dome and cupola at its peek. This space, the “sadrvan” (cool chamber), is where one would undress and prepare to proceed into the warm chamber (“kapaluk”). The dome-covered “sadrvan” has a small octagonal pool located in the centre and divans along the peripheral walls. The divans are sheltered by drapery hung on their outer edge providing privacy for dressing and resting after the bathing experience.

The warm chamber or “kapaluk” consists of three main spaces, which are covered by domes and pointed vaults and host sanitary uses. The intermediate temperature of these spaces helps the body prepare for entering the hot chamber (“mejan”), which follows in sequence. Traditionally, while acclimatizing oneself to the gradual increase in temperature, the warm chambers were used for body-grooming activities such as shaving, cutting and dying of hair.

The climax of the sequence of one’s visit to the hamam is the hot chamber or “mejan”. This space is square in plan covered by a central dome and has smaller chambers, the halvets, one in each corner. Each halvet includes two marble basins with running hot and cold water and is lighted by round and star-shaped openings in the dome above. At the centre of the hot chamber stands an octagonal stone bench of about 50cm high, which is used as a massage bench. All the hot chamber spaces are heated via the floor under which hot air flows. The air is heated by a burner at the east end of the building at a level under the hot water tank. The water in the tank is heated to produce steam for the hot chambers simultaneously as the air is heated under the floor. The room temperature in the hot chambers reaches the range of 36°-38° Celsius.

After bathing in the hot chambers, one follows the reverse sequence of spaces and temperatures in order to reach the cool chamber where the divans offer a pleasant resting place before leaving the hamam.

The restoration of the bath, together with the redesigning of its immediate exterior space, has contributed to the upgrading of the built environment of the area and to the social enhancement of the complex, which brings new activity into the old city.

At the same time the building itself is an important example of Ottoman architecture in Cyprus; therefore, its restoration contributes to the preservation of the island’s architectural and cultural heritage.

The whole project is an example of respecting, preserving and promoting the multicultural character and history of the city of Nicosia, which is not only an integral part of the multicultural heritage of Cyprus, but also part of the common European heritage.

The Nicosia Master Plan continues to plan and implement projects in the walled city within the general framework of a sustainable urban regeneration approach.

Visiting and using the hamam
Since March 2005 the hamam has been in full operation for the general public.

One can visit and use the hamam according to the following opening hours:
Mon 11:00-17:00 (guided tours only), Tues-Sun 09:00-21:00 (alternating days for men and women)

The Omeriye Ottoman Baths is located at 8, Tillirias Square, 1016 Nicosia, Cyprus. Tel.: +357 22 460 570, +357 22 750 550.