Hammam al-Sabaghine (Baths of the Dyers)
Hammam Sidi Bel-Hasan
Taking the Kissaria, the main arterial road of the old town, towards the gate of Sidi Boumadyan, a small passageway on the left, directly opposite the Sidi Mess Oufa Mosque, leads to the lane of the Dyers, Tlemcen, Algeria
Hegira 5th century / AD 11th century (?)
The hammam (baths) of the Dyers, also known as Hammam Sidi Bel-Hasan, owes its name to the alleyway on which it is situated. Sidi Ahmad Bel-Hasan al-Ghomari was a pious man who lived in a cell adjoining the Great Mosque where he spent his nights reciting the Qur'an. He frequently visited al-Sabaghine hammam, where, some time ago, one was still shown the place in which he liked to sit. He became the patron saint of this place where, according to legend, he would appear in the guise of a necklace of gold coins, transforming himself into a serpent protector of the baths.
It is difficult from the outside to discern the structure of the building, given the extent to which it has been embedded within the urban fabric. The entrance door is the only element of the façade that was created during the colonial period.
The spaces in the hammam – the zigzag sqifa (entrance hall), the reception, the hot steam room, the intermediary room, the private room and the lavatories – still exist, and are set out within a more or less square layout. Today, however, the transition from the reception to the hot steam room – originally designed to go through a warmer intermediary room, a sort of interior sqifa – is now direct, detracting greatly from the enjoyment of a more gradual adjustment to the heat. The sqifa is equipped with two benches. The reception, where one disrobes and where one also rests after coming out of the hot steam room, does not appear to have undergone any major changes. Twelve massive stone columns form a central square, surrounded by four elevated galleries. Barrel vaults cover the galleries, and the square is covered by a dome, which is supported on an octagonal drum held up by the four central arches of the galleries and the four arches that span the corners of the square. The hot steam room is covered right across its length by a barrel vault. At each end of this rectangular room, two arches, each supported on a central column, mark out two opposite areas designed to trap heat: one of them acting as a buffer between the small intermediary room and the hot room, the other being the hottest area.
The alleyway's narrowness does not permit one to step back and appreciate the sheer volume of the place, which, to all appearances, is dominated by the dome over the reception.
Originally, the hammam lacked any kind of decoration, but 'embellishments' that were added later have not diminished the strong and robust aesthetic quality of the reception and rest area, whose central space, arranged around a fountain and basin, is enhanced by a domed roof with smaller cupolas on each corner.
The building does not seem to have undergone any notable changes in its structure or use.
This hammam (baths) is accessed via a zigzag entrance with benches that leads to the reception room in which 12 massive columns form a central square crowned with a cupola and surrounded by barrel-vaulted galleries. Beyond an intermediary room, the long hot room is covered with a barrel vault and has an arch with a central column at either end, which serves to trap the heat in the room. The original layout, which was approximately square plan, included a private room and latrines.
Through stylistic analysis and a comparison with certain baths in Spain, in the Balearic islands and in Sicily, G. Marçais thought he 'was able to date these baths to be from the 11th century', while oral tradition maintained the period during which the hammam was used by Sidi Bel-Hasan.
Marçais, G., Tlemcen, 'Les villes d'art célèbres' (collection), Paris, 1950; Blida, 2004.
Ali Lafer "Hammam al-Sabaghine (Baths of the Dyers)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;dz;Mon01;3;en
Prepared by: Ali LaferAli Lafer
Architecte diplômé de l'École nationale d'architecture et des beaux-arts d'Alger, stagiaire du Centre international pour la conservation et la restauration des biens culturels (ICCROM) à Rome, Ali Lafer a été architecte en chef des Monuments au ministère de la Culture pendant son service civil. Directeur de l'Atelier Casbah chargé des études d'aménagement de la médina d'Alger, il a également enseigné au cours de Tunis pour la formation d'architectes du patrimoine maghrébin. Membre fondateur de l'association “Les amis du Tassili”, il est aussi chercheur dans les domaines de la numérisation de la documentation graphique et du relevé photogrammétrique.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Maria Vlotides
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: AL 03