March 11th, 2017
The Ottoman rule in Cyprus between 1571-1878 unsurprisingly led to the appearance of a number of public baths (hamams) for the cleansing, relaxation and social networking of the people of that time. Both of the two hamams which are still in operation within the walled city of Nicosia – the Omerye Hamam and the Grand (Buyuk) Hamam (largest of the two) – were built on the site of preexisting medieval churches after the Ottomans conquered the island.
According to the 1881 book “Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus” written by Louis Salvador, Archduke of Austria who visited the island in 1873, there were 8 hamams in the town at the time.
The entrance of the Buyuk Hamam is located two meters below the current level of the road and the baths are located even lower, at 3 meters. Historical records show that the church erected in the 14th century by the Lusignan rulers of the island flooded from the Pedieos river in 1330, causing the death of thousands. The height up to which the water rose is marked by a nail inside the wall of the current structure.
Being a curious spa junkie, I have visited both of the Nicosia hamams and this is what I have to say about that:
Both Hamams have days and times designated for visits only by men, or only by women or by both sexes. You can see the visitation schedule here: http://www.hamamomerye.com and in the photo below for the Grand Hamam (their website is not functioning).
The current administration of the Omerye Hamam, following its most recent temporary closure and renovation under the Nicosia Master Plan, is the same company that runs the Dessange Spa and Quick Spa locations in Nicosia. I have visited both of these spas and can only speak in favor of their professionalism and the high quality of what they offer. The inside decoration of the Omerye Hamam is very nice and luxurious, which is also reflected in the higher cost of the services, compared to the Buyuk Hamam.
When I first visited the Omerye Hamam in 2008, I took a photo of the sign that remained on the wall before entering the baths section, as a memoire of the prices charged in the past for the services there. As you can see in the photo, the cost of a wash-Loúma (Λούμα) was 20 shillings, the cost of a rub-Trípsimo (Τρίψιμο) was an extra 10 shillings and if you also wanted a massage-Masiás (Μασιάς, the correct spelling should have been Μασάζ) you had to pay a whooping 2 Cyprus pounds (Líres/Λίρες) 🙂
How do the services compare? Like I said, you pay more in the Omerye Hamam for a “richer experience” (e.g. more comfortable relaxation cabins, tea, water and raisins or nuts upon arrival, more welcoming reception staff). To give you an example, the use of just the Hamam will cost you 30 euro for one person in Omerye, compared to about 10 euro (30 Turkish Lira) in the Buyuk Hamam. The kese borek (foam massage with body scrub) treatment costs 55 euro for 55 minutes in Omerye and about 35 euro (100 TL) for 50 minutes (Sehrazat treatment) in the Grand.
Although I would personally vote in favor of “budget” over “expensive” for more or less equal services, I have to say that the scrub and massages I received in Omerye were of higher quality. In other words, for me a stronger scrub + stronger/longer massage = better body detox, especially considering I don’t get to visit the hamam on a regular basis. Having said that, I’m more than happy when I receive a discount voucher for use in the Omerye.
I am personally aware of two other (still standing but not in use) hamams on the island:
1) The hamam in downtown Paphos, also built on a preexisting medieval structure, was renovated in 2015, as part of the monument restoration project undertaken in the last 10 years by the Bicommunal Technical Committee for the (preservation of) Cultural Heritage.
2) The hamam in the walled city of Famagusta, which is also in dire need of restoration (see photos).
From what I have read, there is another complex of ottoman baths in Paphos, the baths of Hasan Aga, which are on the list for future renovation by the Bicommunal Technical Committee.