On Imagining the city as an enclave of constructed civility

From this article “The Public Bath and the City” published in the Water issue of the Alphabet City series by MIT Press.


The urban bath is basically viewed as a zone of non-city, wherein one can enter a place of de-densification and re-humanization.

The urban public bath attempts to capture the power of a wild landscape and its water, and to bring about a catharsis in the bather through its rituals. The rituals that rule the public bath are designed to encourage one to linger and ultimately lose one’s sense of purpose, allowing a peaceful space of silence to emerge.


In the West, the act of entering a discreet realm within the city and disrobing with others can symbolize a return to nature, to paradise, or to the amniotic bath from which we are born. The bath in the city may act as a kind of container for a socially constructed version of nature: once inside, we are paradoxically freed to act “naturally” through ritualized rules. Its accepted status as a space governed by ritual makes possible behaviors that the rest of public life rejects.

This part on how the culture of urban bathing is embeded in the “code” of Istanbul’s city plan I found particularly interesting.

The plan of Istanbul reveals cells of residences and businesses, each served by a central hammam and mosque

In the closing the author argues for the ritual of urban bathing an almost religious experience, allowing one to commune with their larger urban/human community.

However the public bath is framed, its cultivation allows us to continually renew its role as a free zone of peace and contemplation. Searching for meaning amidst the pleasures of the bath, we find instead our minds silently wandering on the peripheries of perception. Deep reflections are glimpsed through shifting mirror-mazes of light and water. Our private bathtub expands in the public bath, where we find ourselves in our broader home of human community.


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