In the beautiful ancient city of Isfahan, Iran, Ali Gholi Agha Hammam is a traditional bath and also a museum of anthropology. Ali Gholi Agha, who was a courtier of two Safavid kings, Suleiman I and Sultan Husayn, founded the hammam in 1713. Since the earliest times, bathhouses have played a significant ritual role in Islam, as cleanliness is an integral prerequisite of religious activities. Thus the hammam played a crucial role in the everyday lives of Iranian Muslims. It also became a place for social gathering, as both men and women gathered there regularly (at different times). Massages and haircuts can also be included in the services provided there including full-body depiliation for women to comply with Islamic hygiene tradition. It was built in the late Safavid period and its architectural style is Isfahani. The structure is composed of a big hammam, a small hammam, and a Howz as well. Each of these hammams consists of a dressing room and a Garmkhaneh (hothouse) so that males and females could use them separately at that time. Most hammams were situated near the local bazaar in densely populated areas. They were also founded on the grounds of madrasas or hospitals funded by a waqf (religious institution funding endowment). The use of hammam has declined markedly in recent years, as indoor plumbing has become widely available. In Iran, many hammams are no longer used or turned into museums or even restaurants. The Hammam-e Ali Gholi Agha is one of the few surviving Hammams from the late Safavid period. Hammams were commonly used at various hours for both genders, although there is an exception to that Hammam. This Hammam had two sections, each in its own section, where men and women could attend at the same hours of the day.
(Inside view of Ali Gholi Agha Hammam)
This place was built in such a way that the ceramics and tiles reflect the lights beautifully as the beams of lights shine into the house. In order to sterilize and heat other parts, the water inside the tank was heated by burning wood and coal and the smoke from it was carried into the pipes under the floor of the bathhouse. In some areas, one-meter, white, one-piece flat rocks can be seen in the bathroom next to the ponds, the surface is ribbed and has a gentle ridge to be used as a masseur. A hole can be seen on top of each rock, from which warm water used to flow on their surface so that they can play a masseur’s position. There are four major parts of Ali Gholi agha Hammam:
- Miandar, which was the bathhouse entrance. It was specially built to hold the steam and the heat inside the bathhouse in an angled way.
- A venue for meetings, debates, and even prayers was Sarbineh or the dressing hall. Therefore, there were benches elevated by a few steps above the central pool across the perimeter of Sarbineh where visitors could lounge.
- The main washing field, with some small underground labyrinthine tunnels that carried the smoke of the fire to warm the place, was Garmkhaneh (Thermal House).
- Chahar houz was the center’s largest swimming pool. This pool is a regular swimming pool four times, which is why they call this part Chahar houz, which means “four pools.”
Ali Gholi Agha Hammam is almost in the middle of the glorious Isfahan, or half of the world, as people call it. The building is at present, a museum and can be viewed by visitors. At that time, Ali Gholi Agha and his brother Khosro Agha, who founded the Hammam of Khosro Agha, were two well-known benefactors. It is fascinating to know that the fun sound of running water that can be heard in all the bathroom space is made up of lots of fountains and water streams. The building is now a Museum of Anthropology, and visitors can visit it, enabling them to learn the traditions and lifestyle of the Iranian people.