Chevalier Jean Chardin, a French traveller in Persia between 1673 and 1677, described 273 Hammams in Esfahan, few of which have still survived. They were considered as public buildings and were located in the centre of quarters, along the bazaar axis next to mosques and caravanserais. Hammams were used by both genders at different hours. As with houses, the inner part of the hammams was set deep in the middle of the building so as not to waste heat.
The hammams were divided into two main sections, the sarbineh, and the garmkhaneh. Garmkhaneh had some small underground labyrinthine tunnels that carried the smoke of the fire to warm the Garmkhaneh that comes from Toon. The log and charcoal for warming the hammam was fired some hours earlier by the Toontab who was the hammam care taker.
In Garmkhaneh, Dallak was always ready for the washing and bathing of their customers as well as the massage. Dallaks sometimes had the role of the barber as well and his customers could have their hair cut or their beards trimmed as necessary at the hammam. Cuppers were in the hammam for those who wanted cupping or bloodletting. Henna chambers were for those wishing to dye their hair, palms, and soles. The next space was for customers who required the removal of unwanted hair. Some Hammams had water pools with a desirable temperature and others even had diving boards.
The water necessary for Hammams came from wells and was pulled to the Abanbaar by oxen working in a dedicated space known as a gavchah. From there the water was transferred to the ponds of the Hammam through baked clay pipes and in this way, the continuous need for water would be satisfied.
Sarbineh was always kept clean so that if customers had to say a prayer urgently, they were able to do so. The hammams were the first and the last places to which the caravan people would go both on their arrival in the city and when exiting it to make themselves clean from dust or to be ready and fresh to hit the road. The hammams remaining from the Safavid era include: Hammam-e Shah, Hammam-e Shahzadegan, Hammam-e Shah Ali, Hammam-e Sheikh, Hammam-e Sheikh Ali Khan, and Hammam-e Ali Gholi Agha, the last of which has recently been converted to an ethnological exhibition.
The Old Bathhouses of Esfahan Delightful Centers of the Past for Preserving Sanitary and Public Health
In Islamic urban planning, a special role for the public bath (Hammam) was considered due to the importance attached to cleanliness in Islam. According to a Hadith (Islamic narration), 'Cleanliness is a sign of faith'. This is why during the different eras many public baths were built in Esfahan, but most of them are not in use today. According to Chardin (17th century), the total number of baths in Esfahan exceeded 273, but unfortunately, at the present time, there are only a limited number. Most of them are in poor condition such as Shah, Shah Zadegan, Vazier, Qazi, Shah (Shad) Ali, Sheikh Bahaie, Khosrow Agha, Ali Qoli Agha, Jarchi, etc. Recently, attempts have been made to revitalize them by selling to the private sector for using as Sofreh Khoneh (traditional restaurants), like Shah Ali Bath.
Their location was of high importance to the residential quarters, and the have been some endeavors to have as many baths as mosques. To prepare able temperature for Hammam, depth was very important to minimize the ex-change of energy with the outer space. To design the plan of a bath, a designer had to be very familiar with their functions, serviceability, and efficiency. The following are series of the functions that a public bath was expected to have, as some guidelines for its area divisions:
1- A public area called; Garm Khaneh (thermal house) was run by an experienced laborer called: Dallak (balneator), who with a woollen mitt (as large to cover the palm of the hand), and with a white material, called Sefid Ab means (white water, made from a mixture of spinal cord and the fat of sheep, rinsed the bodies of the clients. The woolen mitt functioned as a connecting element between itself and the skin to clean it in the best possible manner. In addition, for cleaning the feet (bottom), it was customary to use a kind of tiny, porous, black stone (magma) called; "Sang-e-pa' as large as a pear, to remove the additional skin on the sole of the foot. Meanwhile, it had a positive effect on calming the central nervous system.
2- A kind of traditional massage (Mosht va-mal) was also done for clients upon their request, in the final stage after washing at an area called; Bineh (the initial and final point at the bathhouse) by an experienced laborer.
3- The hair cut and shaving was done mostly by Dallak (sometimes means barber), or by a particular person, in a private chamber or at a public place.
4. Removing the additional hair from the body was done by using a kind of mixture made from orpiment (arsenic trisulfide), lime powder and water which called Noureh.
5- Phlebotomy (Hajamat or Fasd) which was done by a skilled laborer called; Fassad who decreases a particular amount of ones extra blood. The Fassad (phlebotomist) did his job cutting some of the arteries on the back of person, and using a kind of horn (Shakh-eHejamat) for sucking enough blood proportional to the age and weight of a person. 16- A swimming pool, which was used by people who cleaned their body by plunging into the water. The depth of it was normally 1.5 meters.
7- A space named; Bineh for the reception of people where a small space was provided for their bags and shoes, and after they finished bathing were supposed to pay money and tips to the Ostad or director.
8- The public thermal house was heated by an underground system of ducts in which the hot air was circulated with natural suction (wind tower) from the stove house called Toun. The person who was in charge of the Toun did the onerous labour with a minimum wage called; Toun Tab.
9- There were some platforms all around the thermal house that after washing, clients could sit on them, and be washed a number of times with a soft cotton mitt and soap by a laborer.
10- The bathhouses were sometimes a place for bonesetting (Shekasteh Bandi) and circumcision (Khatneh) of boy children. To make the indoors more pleasant, because of the high humidity and temperature, it was common to do some paintings with different motifs about the daily habits like: Ancient sports, hunting scenes, battlefields, some European people or buildings, some historical sites and some astrological signs or the zodiac on the walls or ceilings. In addition, on the lower parts, it was usual to use some high quality tilework with more realistic patterns for better cleanliness.
11- There was a smaller pool with warmer water and a small entrance for the initial washing of the people; the quality of its water, in some baths, was not so good.
12- A public place used as the water closet or toilet called; Kor-va-Maval'.
13- The lighting system was also of high importance during the day, by some particular natural lighting systems called; Jam Khaneh made of earthenWare. They were in the form of hemispheric shapes with tens of small openings that were covered by small convex glasses which optically functioned as convergent lenses for conducting the concentrated light indoors to light up and disinfect. At nights and in the early mornings, there was a lighting system lit up by burning oil in some tiny particular places, consisted of a small lamp made of plaster burning tallow called; Pieh Souze (tallow-burner)
14- The initial space of the bath (Bineh) should be clean enough to make it possible for individuals to say their prayer before sunrise or sunset, after being washed there.
15- There was a particular chamber for the towels.
16-There were horizontal covered ducts. existing all around the circumference of the stove house to heat the space with natural circulation of hot air.
17-The hydraulic system, including a wooden wheel and a big pail, was installed over a well and a ramp on the adjoining part, and was run sometimes by the movement of a caw based on the gravitational force. A basin filled with water, which designed in a higher level than the other reservoirs, was connected to them by an earthenware (baked) piping system, called Tanbusheh, to feed them).
18- A space for using natural dyes like henna for the hair, hands and feet, to make the skin more resistant, was devised, too.
The baths were also regarded as the initial and terminal points for travelers who decided to come back to the city or to leave it to take a trip, for cleaning their bodies from the dust of the road.
To sum up, there was no running water in the houses or plumbing systems to bring water from a reservoir to the homes, thus a main purpose for building baths in the cities was mostly based on endowment and public charity by rich people to guarantee public health, beauty, with a physical and spiritual balance. This is why they seemed sometimes as more necessary public places than mosques, caravansaries, theological schools, etc., for the public, in the urban and rural areas.
Esfahan 'Hammam-e-Sheikh' (bathhouse) With a Historical Enigmatic Heating System
About a hundred meters south of Nezam-ol-Molk' dome in the Jam-eMosque', and in the historical quarter of Dardasht, the remains of an old bathhouse abandoned in poor condition. At its portal, on a dark blue tile a line of poetry hints to the date of its completion. When one leaves the bathhouse, the poetic date is "health and sanity", which after summing the letters, we arrive at the date 1654 A.D.
Etymologically, the name Sheikh is related to Sheikh Bahaie (elite of his age) to whom the design of the bath was attributed, but his death in the history books 1S 1621 A.D. that is 34 years before the inauguration of bathhouse. However, the original mysterious heating system worked in a way that, without supplying any direct energy, it automatically heated the pool of water for hundreds of years.
There is an old manuscript written by Sheikh Bahaie elaborated on the construction of bathhouses, but he employed so complicated and unfamiliar technical terms that understanding its content is very difficult for experts. One of the topics, which he has emphasized, was the optimum method to isolate the inner space of the bathhouse in connection with the outer space. It should be noted that previous designers in order to isolate baths used to build them at lower elevations than the datum point of the ground level to minimize the exchange of energy between the inner and outer spaces.
Apart from all this, if we suppose the hypothesis of self-heating is correct, the prevailing belief among common people expressed by an exaggerated claim of an atomic heating system is considered. A more acceptable theory is the biomass' (bio-energy) theory that can be assumed; a utility which has existed in the civilized world of China at least since one thousand years. The method based on the exploitation of energy from waste materials. In this connection, we can assume that an underground earthenware piping system connected to the toilets of Jam-e- Mosque', 130 meters from the torch of the bathhouse, and by way of natural suction, methane gas (CHA) and some sulphur oxides (S02) conducted to the torch and burning all year long. Or this system could be designed from the waste material of the bathhouse with an excellent isolating method.
The present dimensions of the site are 40 meters by 24 meters and there is no access to inside. It was an active bathhouse up to 30 years ago, and it is narrated that there was a stone basin decorated with some carvings of holy prayers. To laypeople, whoever drank a bowl of water from it, all magic spells could wane and one would get one's wishes soon.