The hammams (public bath houses) in Afghanistan, are a part of the country’s cultural heritage, which men and women use not only to bathe, but also to socialise and for entertainment. Much like the Vavs (stepwells) in Gujarat, India or the Roman bath houses or the Greek amphitheatres, heritage architecture has a social significance of its own that remains highly momentous to its glorious cultural history and past.
One such example is the famous Hammam Khisht-i-Kopruk in Kholm, Northern Afghanistan; built in 1848, the bath house was ravaged by the flood in the Khulm river in 2010. AFIR, a design and architecture firm (with offices in Kabul and Kholm), headed by Anne Feenstra, took up the restoration of the hammam in collaboration with local experts, the government of Afghanistan and the Prince Claus Fund under the Cultural Emergency Response Programme in the Netherlands.
A few years later, the hammam was completely restored and opened for use. Tanvi Maheshwari, an architect with AFIR, who had worked on the refurbishment, published a documented narrative in the form of a book, Life of an Afghan Hammam; Ignited. Extinguished. Rekindled that showcases the story of the incredible structure from its glory to its destruction and finally, its new life. The book was launched in the presence of Sohail Hashmi, Narayani Gupta, Rohit Jigyasu, Robert Mann and many scholars and diplomats, prominently M. Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Ambassador of Afghanistan and Alphonsus Stoelinga, Ambassador of the Netherlands at the India Habitat Centre, in 2013.
The photographs below narrate the enriching value of the hammam, focusing on the aspects that describe the journey to and life in Kholm, its people, the changing weather, the cultural emergency, the period of restoration and the ultimate sense of discovery. The author of the book, Tanvi Maheshwari, recounts the story in her own words through the description of the images.
An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.