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Πέμπτη, 12 Μαΐου 2011

Spas in Ottoman Greece

Evangelia A. Varella

Based on ancient travelers’ chronicles and architectural remnants,
as well as on manuals of a remote academic past, the following paragraphs are tracing the outlines of the spas, which flourished in nowadays
Greece during the Ottoman period, e.g. up to sometime between
the early 19th century and the 1920’s. From the mountains of Thrace,
Macedonia and Epirus to the plains of Thessaly and Central Greece,
from the Peloponnesian seaside resorts to the hot springs of the Aegean islands, outstanding examples of a rich tradition are carefully investigated as to the services and comfort offered to the patients.
The systematic construction of public baths proved to be one of the most durable inheritances of the Greco-Roman world to the Islamic, prone to adopt any institution supporting the meticulous purification rituals ordered by the Koran. Warm, sometimes sparkling or slightly sour, often bearing a characteristic sulphuric smell or a hardly discernable color, most mineral waters are displaying their unusual constitution even at macroscopic level. However, the scientific tools of the period are not capable to explain the pronounced peculiarity of certain sources by the presence of compounds since ever used in the pharmaceutical praxis. Hence the beneficent activity remains a fact simply approved by experience, and correlated with the general hygienic function of baths, or is often ascribed to godly intervention.
Sometimes, as in northern Greek Aghia Paraskevi, the presence of dark red iron oxides points to a place of martyrdom; at other moments the sulphuric stink is attributed to the incidence of a delinquent: most significant among them the high priest Caiapha, Jesus’ illegal judge, who tried in vain to find relief in the homonymous Peloponnesian baths, and spoiled them for ever with the odour of sin.
Hardly less metaphysical is an Islamic anecdote about bath facilities in the sacred Macedonian site of Yanitsa. Around 1660 the great Ottoman voyager Evliya Ηelembi [1] will consider the high temperature of the water as a heavenly gift to the pious owner sheikh Ilahi, and speak of seven immortal flames, which disappear when impious eyes look at them. Although usually less articulated, the approach is steadActa- Congressus Historiae Pharmaciae 2001 ily nurturing the ambiguity, swinging between theological interpretations and physiological facts. Only at the end of the 18th century the chemical analysis of about eight hundred known springs will elucidate the causes, define the possibilities, proceed to imitations.
In spite of all theoretical doubts and practical inconveniences, well known antique or medieval spas keep on greeting the patients.
Near Thessaloniki, Byzantine Langadas is disposing in the 17th century of a very well equipped spring with vivifying warm water, producing a moody marsh when poured out of the pool; those suffering from hydropicy, leper or syphilis enter the pool and are fully healed if they stay into the water for half an hour; when cherry trees blossom, upper class citizens from Thessaloniki arrive equipped with tents and provisions to take baths, finding recreation for one or two weeks, or even a whole month. This is not the only choice. Referring obviously to Thermi with the attractive Ottoman pool, the watchful Russian pilgrim Vassilij Barskij [2] will mention around 1725 three mineral springs used by the population of the city. The concurrence obliges Langadas to invest: thus at the end of 1806 decent lodges surround a marble pool amphitheatrically led. Later on, the army of the Orient will discover adjacent Souroti, since 1916 a provider of excellent drinking mineral water. Further east, in late Ottoman Eleutheres the progressive tenant Z. Zachos is endowing the community with excellent bath equipment and six hotels; the steamer needs just two hours to Kavalla. Venerated in Roman times, Traianoupolis at the river Evros is disposing of a magnificent vaulted construction of 1375/80, probably credited to ghazi Evrenos, a famous warrior of the conquest years, while after almost four centuries Thessalian Smocovo will be connected with another leading personality. Indeed, the barracks built 1662 by local monks will be enlarged to welcome Ali pasha of Ioannina, and fall in ruins after his extermination. Slightly to the north, Tsayesi at the river Pinios gains in the last decades of the 19th century an outstanding economic importance, as it is exporting many thousand bottles of mineral water to Greece, Turkey and Egypt.
Easy to reach Ypati is preferred by the notables of Central Greece: the health resort will be thoroughly renovated when assigned to Greece, together with Edipsos, an elegant spa having once welcomed emperors, but utterly destroyed at 1814. In the Peloponnesian coast isolated Methana is saving Medieval Latin memories and keeps being en vogue, along with cosmopolitan Loutraki and picturesque Kyllene, both bearing perfect pools for all social classes, good service, shopping, coffee houses and theaters.
The fame of Melos is vivid for centuries in the Aegean sea of de Mirone, Thomson, Ferriθres Sauveboeuf, or Sonnini [3]. In fact, the mineral wealth of the island gives birth to naturally sheltered hot sources, excellent against rheumatic affections and venereal diseases.
In the same part of the Cyclades, the Byzantine baths of Kythnos are mentioned by Boschini around 1650, and by Tournefort [4] in the beginnings of the 18th century: they shall be renovated in 1782 by the Constantinopolitan notable Nicholas Mavroyenis. In later times, exemplary equipped complexes are built on Lesbos, once a resort for the aristocracy of the Asia Minor coast, and on Nissyros in the Dodecanese.
The municipal sources of the latter will be subsidized 1884 by Greek immigrants in the USA, while the local physician P. Pantelides will inaugurate around 1895 a luxurious private health establishment.
In the framework of a multicultural world lasting for roughly five centuries, medieval medicine and occidental updating were reconciled in a complex interaction of scientific knowledge and social acceptance.
Open to both traditional approaches and a rationally documented curative quality, the spas of Ottoman Greece are interesting interpretations of a therapeutic reality that succeeds in combining the venerated Hippocratic heritage and the newest research results, while at the same time pioneering in the field of high class specialized tourism.
[1] Evliya Ηelembi, Sehayatnβme, Istanbul 1927
[2] Vassilij Barskij, A Pilgrimage …, Kiev 1725
[3] M. de Mirone, Nouveau Voyage … des Echelles du Levant, Lisbonne 1702
- Ch. Thomson, Travels Containing Observations on … Turkey, Reading 1752
- M. de Ferriθres Sauveboef, Mιmoires Historiques, Politiques et Gιographiques des
Voyages faits en Turquie …, Paris 1790
- Ch.N.S. Sonnini de Manoncourt, Voyage en Grθce et en Turquie, Paris 1801
[4] M. Boschini, L’ Archipelago, Venice 1658
- M. Pitton de Tournefort, Relation d’un Voyage du Levant, Paris 1717

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