PIATA LIBERTATI (Liberty Square), in the city of TIMISOARA was the site of a magnificent “Turkish Bath” during the Ottoman Era (152-1716). In September, 2014, archaeologists had unearthed a 400-year-old bath-house known as the GRAND HAMMAM.
The archaeologists had found more than just the Turkish Bath House. Crews, who were digging in several areas of the historical centre found the city’s Oriental past literally emerging from the ground. — TIMISOARA was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in July 1552. Under the command of Albanian-born Kara Ahmed Pasha, an army of roughly 16,000 men took the city and soon transformed it into the capital of the Banat region. For more than 160 years, TIMISOARA was controlled directly by the Sultan. The city was on the forefront of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian struggle for territory that would shape the region for centuries to come.
The ancient chamber areas and air circulation passages, in the GRAND HAMMAM are slowly being restored. The piazza is centrally located between PIATA UNIRII (Union Square), a popular meeting spot with bars and cafes and PIATA OPEREI (Opera Square), which hosts some of the city’s most important community and cultural activities. The two “buzzing squares” make PIATA LIBERTATI feel like an “oasis” of relative calm, its trees offering shade to anyone who cares to sit and watch life sweep past.
Back in the 17th century, the piazza must have been an ideal spot for watching people too. Turkish baths, in various parts of the world, continue to be more than just places for bathing and relaxation. They play a part in civic life by bringing people together in such an intimate setting. The excavation at PIATA LIBERTATI revealed that the GRAND HAMMAM contained 15 rooms arranged around a large central hall. The floor of the baths was suspended on brick pilasters (square columns) to allow the circulation of hot ait, which was produced in an oven chamber. Each room was equipped with air passages and smoke chimneys. Outside, the area was surrounded by gardens and interior courts of nearby buildings, creating an atmosphere that was private and calming and ideal for conversation.
PIATA Sf GHEORGHE (Saint George Square) is less than 100metres to the west. It is a small square tucked between Viennese-style buildings. Important discoveries have recently made in PIATA Sf GHEORGHE, too, leading Romanian archaeologist Florin Drasovean to proclaim the spot “the world of the gods, the world of the living and the dead world”.
In the first half of the 18th century, Captain Francois Perette with the Imperial Austrian military, drew up a map of TIMISOARA, on which he marked several key landmarks from the Ottoman period. Evliya Celebi (1611-1682), a renowned travel writer from the Ottoman period, described the MOSQUE OF SULEIMAN, in his journal, as a “great sanctuary for prayer”. After the Austrian conquest I 1716, the Mosque was transformed into a Christian Church, and later demolished. A new Church, built on the site, erased nearly all signs of the Mosque, until 2014 excavations. After centuries “in absentia”, the Mosque’s foundation and artefacts from the period are finally emerging, allowing Drasovean to rediscover the “world of the gods”. —In addition to the Mosque of Suleiman, archaeologists, digging in PIATA Sf GHEOGHE, have uncovered the remains of wooden houses and aqueducts. The aqueducts were among the first urban water management systems to be constructed in Romania. While the Turks did not originally build them, they did organise them to supply water to public buildings.
The wooden houses date back to the medieval period before the Turks arrived and were maintained until the Austrians began to modernise the city in the 18th century. Archaeologists have also excavated 160 graves around the Mosque, most containing commoners who were wrapped in a single piece of cloth in accordance with Islamic tradition.
To maintain peace and political control during the Ottoman period, the Turks accepted people of all faiths and ethnicities and did not interfere in the locals’ lives. While this kept TIMISOARA safe from within, the city still faced threats from the outside. So the Turks reinforced the city’s defences. Taking advantage of the nearby rivers of BEGA & TIMIS, the Turks created moats around the city, as well as a fortress. Towering above the water were walls up to 3 metres thick, guarded by Ottoman soldiers. The defences of TIMISOARA were so effective, that when the army of Eugene of Savoy did conquer the city in 1716, it was because the Turks surrendered following a long siege and unusually bad weather.
Archaeologists believe their recent discoveries are just the beginning. TIMISOARA’s history dates back to “antiquity”, and many “secrets have yet to be unearthed” ——– giving all of us yet another good reason to visit TIMISOARA.
———-Urooj Qureshi (BBC)