Ottoman Heritage in Greece

I have a soft spot for the often overlooked Ottoman-period remains in Greece. I think it has to do with the fact that they’re still in many ways contested places. How does (and how should) Greek society cope with the ruins of an occupying force that throughout the nationstate’s history has been marked as the ‘Other’? Those are not easy questions.

In recent years, the Greeks have generally done a good job of preserving and presenting many of them. A good example is the 18th century Tzistarakis Mosque near Monastiraki Square in Athens that has been beautifully restored and is now a museum of traditional potterymaking (although its official homepage curiously doesn’t mention the building’s original function as a religious building). I was also very pleased to discover last week in Thessaloniki that a full-colour brochure presenting the city’s Ottoman-period monuments is being distributed for free to tourists. One of these, the Bey Hamam om Via Egnatia, is also regularly open for visitors.

Pasha Hamam i Thessaloniki
Pasha Hamam, Thessaloniki. Photo: TMK, April 2007.

Another of the Ottoman-period monuments in Thessaloniki mentioned in the brochure is the Pasha baths close to the Church of the Holy Apostles. The building’s history goes back to the 16th century and it was, in fact, in use as a public bathhouse until as recently as 1981! It’s now in a rather sorry state, and I wonder what many tourists would feel if they had taken the effort to visit based on the recommendation of the brochure. An Ottoman heritage trail would serve Thessaloniki well, perhaps also to diversify a bit from the expectable (and fully justified) focus on its Byzantine churches. Perhaps it could even be a way for the city (and the Greek nation) to come to terms with a sometimes troublesome past.

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