The atmosphere of a place is a fundamental element of human perception as it is the way that people feel and perceive the concept of space they exist in. In other words the atmosphere forms the space where a person exists as a whole: his relation to the environment, to other people, etc. That is why atmospheres are exceptionally important for the theory and practice of architecture. Architecture consists essentially of the production of the atmosphere and thus the most genuine way of approach is through the physical presence.
The present study is an attempt to approach the hot bathing facilities in the light of their atmosphere. In the first part, a study of the concept of atmosphere through contemporary theoretical and philosophical theories is attempted. An effort is made to analyse and explain various questions that rise, such as : What does the term “atmosphere” mean? What is its connection to architecture? How are “atmospheres” created? Which elements are related to their creation? What part does the physical presence play in space? How does each person perceive atmosphere? In the end, an effort to compile certain elements that contribute to the creation of atmosphere is being made.
The second part focuses on the atmosphere that dominates the bathing facilities throughout the years .The use of the baths is as old as the history of man. An effort is made to compile the elements that compose the atmosphere, as the baths apart from being places for relaxation and physical well-being, are meeting points ,places for social gatherings, disputing, tension etc. The baths are considered to be important for the social-religious part they played in the societies throughout the centuries, as it is sure that their use was not only limited in the sense of cleanliness and personal hygiene. The baths are places of mental and spiritual purification, places where the bathers escaped from their everyday problems and could experience and feel a kind of freedom. It is the need for cleanliness, care and attention that all civilizations recognize, regardless of religion and tradition, that contributed to the evolution of the baths. On the other hand, the baths were considered to be immoral places and were critized strongly many times. Above all, the architecture of these buildings still continues to have one and only requirement : the creation of such a spatial condition, which will make their interior environment ideal for the peace and tranquility of one’s body and soul.
This study is completed by mentioning the characteristic example of the hot baths of Polychnitos, in Lesvos. The baths are located in an exceptionally atmospheric place where hot waters spout from springs and steam and vapour cover the area, while there are a lot of traces that tell stories of the past, as the facilities of the baths go back to the times of the Turkish domination. Through my personal wanderings on the spot, combined with discussions with bathers and villagers I met at the hot baths of Polychnitos, I have attempted to write about the elements that compose the atmosphere of the hot baths, as well as the overall bathing experience there.