Indulge in a Turkish Bath: What to Know About this Ancient Tradition
First-time visitors to Turkey often put a Turkish bath on their bucket list, but it is essential to know that this is no tourist gimmick. It is a time-honoured tradition that stems back centuries. Many people assume that when the Ottoman empire invaded Constantinople in 1453, they brought the idea with them, yet even during Byzantine rule, public bathhouses were a standard feature.
The practise is also about much more than washing and scrubbing. This is Turkish culture encouraging friends to catch up, discuss current issues, and share their news. Much like the Brits meet in the pub, Turks often go to the local Turkish bathhouse.
The version of a Turkish bath house we see today is the merging of the Roman bath practise and central Asian. Hence, we have the word Hamam, which means heating. Records show that in the 17th century, Istanbul had 151 hamams, some of which were attached to kulliye centres, which were buildings aimed to help the poor that contained kitchens, schools and other amenities needed for daily living. The royal Ottoman sultans also had their own private Turkish baths which can be seen today in the Topkapi and Dolmabahce Palaces.
Another difference is the separation of men and women, although these days, mixed Turkish baths are common. Such was the cultural importance of the Turkish Hamam experience; each family also had their own set of bath tools which included bowls, soap dishes, combs, mirrors, and loafers to scrub off the dead skin.
Nalin, which are wooden clogs, played an important role, and in many museums today, old examples are on display. Some may wonder at their high height which often makes them look like Japanese shoes, yet the height was to keep feet away from soapy water. Last, a pestamel was the bathing cloth. These days if you want a Turkish bath, just pitch up, because bath houses supply everything.
If the practise of a Turkish bath and the history behind it interests you, read a book called Turkish Baths: A Light onto a Tradition and Culture by author Orhan Yilmazkaya. In this book, he looks at the traditions, etiquette, and historical culture of the Turkish bath, as well as giving an insight into some of Istanbul’s most famous and oldest establishments. But otherwise, let us look at what to expect from a Turkish bath today.
What to Expect From a Turkish Bath?
These days, most large 5-star hotels have public baths. They can be suitable for people who have never enjoyed the practise before; however, the best authentic experience should be in baths that the locals use.
Also, ignore any rumours that you must go in naked because many people wear their bathers. While you can drop into one, make a reservation to ensure you do not visit on their busiest days when they hold events like pre wedding baths. Most still also hold women’s days, in which the masseur is female.
When you have paid your entrance fee and gone through to the changing room, you will be given a key to a cubicle and a towel, although you can also take your own. When ready, proceed through to the steam room. Sit there for ten to 20 minutes, and dowse yourself with the cold water, before the masseur enters for the best part of exfoliation.
They will lie you down on the marble slab in the middle of the room and pour a large pillowcase of soapsuds all over you. Using loafer mitts, they scrub every part of your body, and the dead skin that comes off will amaze you.
It is worth mentioning two things. The first being that after your bath, your skin will be cleaner, fresh, and sensitive to the sun, so laying in 40 degrees without sun cream is not wise. Likewise, if you have a Turkish bath with a tan and you have not exfoliated, it will rub your tan off.
After the soap suds massage, go through to the cool room, and enjoy Turkish tea, but we always opt for the additional choice of olive oil body massages. It is relaxing and completes the experience. Otherwise, some Turkish baths have a plunge pool to relax in.
Famous Turkish Baths in Istanbul
Although there are Turkish baths throughout the whole of Turkey, the most renowned sit in Istanbul and are worth seeking for a bit of nostalgia and indulgence. The 18th century Cagaloglu traditional Hamam has hosted famous visitors like Kate Moss, and John Travolta, and the 1001 Places to Visit Before You Die travel book also lists it.
The 16th century Suleymaniye Hamam keeps much of its original décor and offers a 90-minute session. The 16th century Cemberlitas Hamam is ideal for nipping into if you are near the Grand Bazaar and want the women only experience. The 16th century Mihrimah Sultan Hamam offers both traditional baths with a modern jacuzzi twist, while a favourite of the locals is Galatasaray Hamam. Read more about these baths and others to visit in Istanbul here.
Also of Interest
Mud Baths of Turkey: From a steam room and massage to splashing around in mud baths, Turkey offers it all. Mud baths in places like Dalaman are also known to have soothing qualities for the skin and are a top visited tourist attraction. Read more about what to expect and where to find them.
Turkish Spa and Wellness: Did you know wellness and spa centres make a roaring trade from tourism? People come from all over the world, to indulge in first class pampering, a top notch spa treatment and rejuvenating trends. In this article, we highlight which destinations are leading the way by setting trends.