Visitors to Acre’s Old City can tour the incredible Turkish bathhouse, Pasha’s Hammam. The 18th-century bathhouse was once an important part of city life. The hammam was where men met, discussed business, and talked about the issues of the day. Today the traditional bathhouse is fully restored to its former glory, complete with a domed roof and marble floors. It no longer offers steam baths and massages but has been turned into an experiential museum. Visitors are swept back in time with the help of music, an entertaining audio guide, and sculptured characters that are brought to life with special lighting.
The Ottoman governor of Acre, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar built the bathhouse in 1781. Hama al-Jadid (New Hammam) came to be known as Hammam al-Basha (the Pasha’s Hammam) in honor of Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. The Ottoman governor may even have had a hand in designing the bathhouse. Its construction was part of Acre’s transformation from a small fishing village to a busy port city. Hammam al-Basha was built on the remains of an earlier bathhouse and was the largest Hammam in the country. The hammam was one of two Acre bathhouses where local men gathered regularly to meet and relax. In 1918 the Ottomans were forced out of Palestine by the British, but the bathhouse continued to function until 1947.
During the British Mandate of Palestine, the Acre citadel was used as a prison for members of the Jewish underground. In a 1947 prison break, the Jewish resistance blew up the southern wall of the citadel, which was right above the bathhouse. This caused so much damage to the bathhouse that it had to close. It was only in 1954 that the bathhouse became a municipal folklore museum. In the 1990s, the municipality made new plans and began restoring the bathhouse to replicate the bathing experience in Ottoman Acre.
The hammam has several sections, starting with the entrance courtyard and summer dressing room where visitors would change their clothes into bathing robes and sandals. Then they would go to one of the four middle rooms for various treatments such as massages and skin treatments. Next is the hot room, or steam room, at the heart of the hammam. Here visitors could use a heated pool and steam bath. They could also have treatments here, such as scrubbing, soaping, and massages. There are small cubical rooms around the steam room where visitors could have private treatments.
At the Acre Bathhouse, you can experience what it would have been like as a functioning bathhouse over 200 years ago. Visitors get an audio guide (available in 8 languages) to listen to as they walk through the hammam. The soundtrack features five generations of fictitious bath attendants telling their stories about the hammam. Visitors can listen to the characters talking about the latest gossip in the hammam and the history of Acre during the Ottoman era. The stories on the audio guide include historical facts so you learn about Ottoman Acre while being entertained. There are static sculptured characters in each room of the hammam, each illustrating a typical activity that took place in the bathhouse. Together with the soundtrack and sculptured figures, there is atmospheric music and lighting. As the audio guide leads you through each section of the hammam, you can virtually experience what it would have been like all those years ago.