Akko’s Hammam Museum Recalls The Heyday Of The Mideastern Spa

New York, NY- September 8, 2006: One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, the Mediterranean port of Akko (or Acre in English) is located at the north end of Haifa Bay. Its beautiful natural harbor has drawn sailors, traders and visitors over the centuries, and it became the last capital of the Crusader Kingdom in the twelfth century.

The El-Basha Turkish Bath – or hammam – was built by the Ottoman Turks in 1795, and has recently been been transformed into one of Israel’s most charming museums.
Abandoned since the late 1950′s, the El-Basha Hammam is today a giant and elegant network of marble-lined steam rooms, domed massage areas, ornate scrubbing rooms and relaxation chambers. Here, in a ritual invented millennia ago by the Romans, Ottoman Turks would soothe away the day’s aches, sweat and grime in an atmosphere where gossip was exchanged while bodies were soaked, near-boiled and then lain atop marble slabs to be scrubbed clean by beefy masseurs.

The whole experience has been captured in the new “Hammam Museum” that was the first in a series of restorations undertaken in Akko since it’s old city was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2002. Audio-visual elements tell the story of the place. Pewter sculptures of bathers recreate the sultry atmosphere of the Turkish Bath. Towels hang out to dry. Light is exquisitely admitted through the ancient windows in the hammam’s dome.

Akko, twenty minutes north of Haifa and an hour and half from Tel Aviv, is a delightful port. Waves crash against the ramparts and fishing boats bob in the harbor. Its Ahmed Jazzar Mosque is Israel’s largest outside Jerusalem. Akko’s underground Crusader City has been magnificently restored and its fascinating network of vaulted halls and chambers has been artistically illuminated. Other landmarks include several Crusader-era churches, the massive fortress built by the Knights Hospitaller, the Turkish Caravanserai market and the Akko Jail (the 1946 raid on Akko jail was immortalized in the movie Exodus), and the tiered Ottoman clock tower.

Akko is one of the six sites in Israel awarded UNESCO Heritage status. The others are at Megido, Hazor and Beer Sheba, the Spice Route in the Negev which includes the remains of the ancient cities Mamshit, Avdat, Haluza and Shivta, the Old City of Jerusalem, Masada, and the Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv’s “White City.”

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