Photo report: Hamam al-Samra of Gaza, a thousand years later

Artisans and laborers repair Hamam Al-Samra, or the Bath of Samra, one of the main Ottoman architectural sites in Gaza. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff

Hamam Al-Samra, or the Bath of Samra, is one of the main, and few remaining, Ottoman architectural sites in Gaza. Although it has been around for hundreds of years, it is still operational.

The Palestine Chronicle joined craftsmen and laborers in Gaza as they spent the day repairing the place in hopes of reopening Gaza’s famous bathhouse in the near future.

The etymology of the name is not entirely certain. Some historians believe that “Samara” refers to the Samaritans, an ancient community from Gaza that lived in this area until the end of the 16th century. The name Samra, however, also refers to something dark or brown. Thus, the name could also mean the “brown bath”.

The bath consists of several rooms, each with a different temperature, hot, warm and cold. It is managed by Haj Salim Abdullah al-Wazeer.

The owner of the bath offered The Palestine Chronicle a different historical account of when Hamam al-Samra was established. “The bath is at least a thousand years old,” al-Wazeer told us. Although the exact date cannot be verified, al-Wazeer said there is a wall sculpture at the entrance to the bath, which dates much of the site to the early Mamluk era, specifically 1960s. 685 of the Islamic calendar. , that is to say more than 750 years ago.

“The bath is divided into different sections, starting with the underground chimney, which is invisible to guests,” al-Wazeer said. “The fireplace is always fueled by wood, as it is the safest fuel available in Gaza. The smoke is channeled through a chimney 15 meters high.

“The second section is the rest area. This is where guests can sit by a swimming pool, covered by the only dome of its kind in Gaza, the checkered dome, which allows entry of the sun but somehow protects those outside. inside the rain above. This is the most beautiful part of the bath.

“Another section is where the steam reaches up to 55 degrees Celsius,” al-Wazeer continued. “Our clients are of different ages and classes. Rich and poor, young and old, all interact here. There are also sections where patrons, who often suffer from medical conditions and joint problems, receive massages.

Al-Wazeer told The Palestine Chronicle about the health benefits of his historic bath:

“These are the benefits of bathing,” he said:

– it opens the pores,

– it stretches the joints and relaxes the body;

– it reduces tension;

– it accelerates blood circulation and therefore strengthens the cognitive abilities of the brain;

– it helps with back problems and spinal problems;

-It helps patients with rheumatism;

– It activates the parts of the body responsible for controlling toxins;

– It strengthens the immune system.

We asked al-Wazeer how many times in the past this bath had been repaired. “At least four times. Presumably the first time was over 750 years ago. Then, it was repaired again in the 1970s, and I then participated in the reconstruction of the bath. It was also restored in 2001 with a grant from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), run by the Islamic University of Gaza.

According to al-Wazeer, the current repairs follow the latest methods used to repair ancient sites. He promises that the Hamam “will reappear as beautiful as it was when it was first built a thousand years ago.”

(All photos: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

Jack C. Nugent