25 centuries of collective bathing (Near East, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula). Organized by Balnéorient, the Institut français du Proche-Orient and Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria.
The Near East and Egypt have often been seen as areas offering unique possibilities allowing one to follow the evolution of collective bathing during the course of two millennia. However, they are paradoxically seldom discussed in the very abundant bibliography on ancient baths. This observation is all the more surprising, since monuments, both ancient and mediaeval, are often in an exceptional state of conservation, and textual sources do provide additional information, increasing that given by the analysis of remains of all periods. It is this extremely rich source of data that Balnéorient is attempting to collect and whose value this research program is trying to emphasize. This is being done by mobilizing scholars from the entire Mediterranean region, all contributing to write a history of public and collective baths. Their aim is to emphasize the evolution of thermal practices, to isolate transitional periods and to stress local adaptations and differences. Within this very broad chronological framework - from the Bronze Age to the present day - participants from all disciplines are in the process of creating a corpus of textual, archaeological and architectural data, as well as also recording in the field new archaeological and historical facts or heritage.
The first Balnéorient symposium was held in Alexandria in December 2006. This gathering allowed us to assess current knowledge on the issue of bathing practices in Egypt, while confirming the scientific community's interest for the suggested approach. The conference held in Amman on May 2008, will enable scholars to make a similar assessment for Jordan. A third seminar organized in Damascus on 7-8-9 July by IFPO and by the Hammam group (European programme, see www.hammams.org), focused on current and future developments related to the hammam in the Mediterranean region.
The Damascus seminar (nov. 2nd-6th, 2009), in contrast with the previous scientific symposia, will favour a synthetic approach on ancient, Mediaeval and modern collective bathing practices, and will deal with an area extending from Egypt to Iraq and Iran (that also includes Yemen). These syntheses, which will be part of different thematic workshops, will nevertheless leave space for case studies meant to fill gaps in the record (texts and buildings). These case studies will be exposed to the public on posters. Field projects financed by the Balnéorient program since 2006 will of course constitute topics for presentations. In order to achieve the presentation of these syntheses, comparative studies on other regions relevant to thermal practices will be encouraged.
Thematic approaches (Proposed list of topics) - papers of 30 min in length, followed by 10 min discussion :
At this preliminary stage, five axes of research are proposed. These could be subjected to modifications resulting from the response to this call to participants, the aim being to gather, around common problems and issues, specialists usually separated by different fields, historical periods and geographical areas of study :
1 - Water, air, light and fire : architectural and technical aspects.
2 - Society at the baths : rich or poor bathers ; men and women ; baths in both the cities and the countryside ; professions relating to the baths.
3 - Images, symbols and practices : health, hygiene and leisure ; relations to the human body ; religious and juridical aspects ; reflections of the baths ; baths and cultural identity.
4 - Economical aspects of the baths : loss and profit.
5 - Baths and power : municipal and private construction projects and sponsors, elites and baths.
Comparative approaches :
Maghreb / Machrek, Near East / Central Asia, Orient / The West.
Papers 30 min in length followed by a 10 min discussion.
Case studies : results of fieldwork financed by Balnéorient, presentation of archaeological excavations or of unpublished studies (Egypt / Near East / Arabian Peninsula). Poster presentation.
After welcoming the participants and the opening speeches at the Damascus National Museum, lectures and discussions will be held in the Rida Said room of the Damascus University Rector's building. Lectures and posters in Arabic, French or English will be the object of translation in Arabic or French.
The gathering of a large number of specialists of ancient baths in a region as culturally rich as that of Damascus will be a unique occasion, the nov. 6th, after the symposium lectures, for visits of bath constructions belonging to all periods : the hammams of Damascus of course, but also, if time allows, the ancient baths of Southern Syria (Sha'ra, Bosra, Philippopolis, Sleim) of Northern Syria (the baths of the limestone massif, new baths excavated in Apamea, etc...).
If you would like to participate in this symposium, please send your proposal before June 1st, 2009 (at the latest). Please do so by sending this proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org (see application form here), as well as a summary written in French, English or Arabic (between 5,000 and 10,000 signs, in .doc, .rtf or .pdf format, with or without illustrations). If your proposal is accepted by the symposium's scientific committee, you will receive in September 2009 a second circular giving details of practical organization and presenting both a preliminary program and summaries and abstracts of accepted papers and posters.
Enrolment is free and the organizers can guarantee accommodation, transportation and daily living expenses for participants in the Syrian symposium or for the printing and translation of posters ; we nevertheless request of colleagues with a position to ask their institution, research centre or university to finance the airfare to Damascus, since travel grants are reserved in priority to participants without regular funding. We will attend and provide assistance to special cases. The symposium's proceedings will be published immediately after the event : co-publication will be the responsability of both the IFOI and IFAO, and the volume will be part of the Etudes urbaines collection, where the first symposium at Alexandria, now in press, will appear.
We will kindly ask you to spread this information as extensively as possible, in particular among colleagues studying contemporary periods, sociologists and anthropologists, who all work on current aspects of thermal activities and who are unfortunately still scarcely represented in our conferences and symposia.
With the hope of having the pleasure to welcome you in Damascus, please accept our warmest and sincerest salutations.
Text by M. al-Maqdissi (DGAMS), M.-F. Boussac (Univ. Nanterre - Paris X) and T. Fournet (IFPO Damas). Source.