If you are like me, you like to experience the culture of the country that you are visiting. When I visited Turkey as a tourist a few years ago, I was intrigued by the Turkish bath culture. I was kind of talked out of going on that trip, but a couple years later as a temporary resident I had time to explore! During this time, I was able to visit a number of different Turkish baths in different cities. It was quite honestly, one of my favorite things to do in Turkey.
First a little background about the Turkish baths (hammams as they are called in Turkey):
Public bath culture was a part of Turkish culture before the time of Islam. However, the focus on personal hygiene plays an important role in the Islamic religion making for a good match with the religious and cultural needs of the people. So these baths have played an important role throughout the Arab world for centuries.
The architecture of these baths is spectacular. Inside the baths you will see the marble floors, basins and a large round marble slab. The marble slab is heated and centered in the middle of the hot room. I thought the water system that is set up was also ingenious. I noticed that there were little troughs carved into the marble that drained the water so that dirty water was continuously filtered out. There are also small holes in the ceilings to allow light to filter in.
What to expect:
You pay an entrance fee when you first walk in, which is never very much. At this point you will also pay for any additional services that you would like, for example, massage, traditional scrub by a female attendant, waxing and even nail services. I suggest going for everything! At the very least, go for the scrub and the massage.
You will then be shown to a changing area or room where you can leave your clothes in a locker. You will need to strip down to nothing but panties! You will also be given a pestemal (turkish towel) to wrap yourself in as you walk to the bath area.
When entering the bath area, you will be greeted by a lady that will be your scrubber. FYI, there is a separate men’s side and the scrubbers there are men in case you were wondering. You will first sit in the hot and steamy room and she will splash you with water. This is supposed to get your skin soft and ready to scrub. You will then lay down on the large hot marble slab and she will scrub you using a cloth mitt called a kese and soap. She scrubs you all over and the top layer of skin actually comes off! It sounds excruciating, but it isn’t at all. I’ve never felt so clean! She then splashes you with warm water again and you are ready for a massage.
You just hang out, chat and relax for as long as you want to stay. Most Turkish ladies make a day of it.
I was once invited by a few local women for a day at the baths. They packed lunch and we all rode in a van to another town were we visited a large bath. This particular bath had a huge hot mineral bath inside and it was all self serve. The ladies and I sang songs and just lounged around after bathing at our separate marble basins. The day is one that I will never forget. These ladies let me into their circle and gave me a glimpse into their culture.
These are my favorite Turkish baths:
1. Çemberlitaş Hamamı
Vezirhan Cad. No: 8, 34440
Çemberlitaş / İstanbul
Telefon: +90-212-522 79 74, 212-520 18 50
Anafartalar Mah. Anafartalar Caddesi, Denizciler Caddesi, Acı çeşme Sok.No:3 Altındağ-Ulus/ Ankara