Many foreigners who haven't experienced one often ask what happens in a Turkish bath. The question also seems to be of concern and hesitation as to whether they should experience this great Turkish tradition. We can assure nerves about indulging in traditional Turkish baths, also known as a hammam, are wasted energy. The Turkish bath is often touted as a tourist attraction, yet the tradition is firmly engrained through generations of Turks. This should prove the benefits and enjoyment of this social practice. Indeed, relax and let masseurs do their job, and we promise you will feel light, refreshed and distressed from the trappings of modern life. You might even become a fan, and if you come to live in Turkey permanently, indulge in one regularly, just as Turks do.
Guide to Turkish Baths and Hamams
1: The History of Turkish Baths
The history books say Turkish baths we experience today are derived from Roman baths. Arriving in these lands during the 7th century, the practice in those days was seen as cleaning the body meant cleaning the soul. So naturally, the Turkish hamam became a bathing ritual in its own right, and the practice focused much on social gatherings. Men would do business, and weddings and births were also celebrated there.
2: Do You Wear a Swimsuit in a Turkish Bath?
Yes, you do. We have read some articles that say only wear underwear, which is incorrect. While in some local, traditional Turkish baths, visitors remove all clothing, in most establishments, especially those aimed at tourists, wearing swimsuits is normal.
3: Does a Turkish Bath Remove Tans?
A Turkish bath removes dead skin. So, if your skin is in particularly bad shape, then yes, your tan will disappear. However, someone with a tan, who regularly goes for a Turkish bath won't see any significant difference. This is why all Turks recommend a Turkish bath at the beginning of your holiday. Be warned, though, when the dead skin is removed, the scrub reveals fresh, more subtle skin underneath, which can burn much more quickly. Hence always wear sunscreen after taking Turkish baths.
4: What are the Benefits of a Turkish bath?
As mentioned above, dead skin falls away, hence a less stressed, brighter and younger look. The massage also distresses and relaxes. Many people don't want to do anything after a Turkish bath because they feel chilled. Doctors say Turkish baths increase blood circulation, eliminate muscle pain, help cellulite, and get rid of body toxins. So, a Turkish bath is more than a tourist attraction, and something doctors recommend for good health.
5: Are Men and Women Separated?
In traditional Turkish baths, men and women go in separately. Most even have specific set days for women only. However, in tourist Turkish baths, men and women go in together. While most masseurs are men, you can request a women masseur if you want.
6: What Happens in a Turkish Bath?
The Turkish bath consists of four main sections; changing room, a steam room, a bathing room and an area to chill out, relax and drink tea. The staff will give you a towel when you enter and show you to the changing rooms. Put your stuff in lockers and head to the dry steam room. In more traditional places, water taps are at the edge of the marble seats to dose yourself down should you get hot.
This softens your skin, ready for the next step, the soap loafer. The masseur will run a Kese over your body. This removes the dead skin. Think of when you use an eraser to rub up a pencil, and there are little grey shavings left. This is what your skin will look like. They then take a large laundry bag to lather you with soap suds. Taking care and attention to details, they clean every section of you. Then dose you down with warm water. Take your towel, and head through to the next area. Finish your Turkish bath with a cup of traditional tea. But we strongly recommend paying the extra and opting for an olive oil soap massage. They are better than any therapist.
7: Hurrem Sultan Hamam – The Most Famous in Istanbul
If you find yourself in Istanbul's Sultan Ahmet district, experience a Turkish bath in the 16th century Hurrem Sultan Hamam, the most famous in Istanbul. Built by Mimar Sinan, the Ottoman sultan's most favourite and honoured architect, Mimar Sinan said of this building….
"I hope the kind-hearted friends who look at my work when the time comes when they see the seriousness and spirit of my effort can reach a fair view and pray for me by mentioning my name."
Part of the reason for fame is Hurrem Sultan, the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, commissioned the building. She was the Ottoman Empire's most famous woman, and their love story spans decades. She entered the Ottoman Topkapi palace as an enslaved person but became the sultan's wife and was very influential over his rule.
From 1910, the Turkish bath lay in disrepair and was even used as a storage facility and prison. In 1957, restoration work started to restore the bath to its former glory. But time was still not on its side, and the building became a carpet warehouse. That is until 2007, when its historical value was revealed and opened to the public. One unique aspect is that each section mirrors the others because they were constructed on the same axis. This structure differs from other Ottoman baths because of the 75-metre length bath shapes.
8: Other Famous Turkish Baths in Istanbul
Cagaloglu Turkish Bath: Dating from the 18th century, the Cagaloglu Turkish bath is the last of its kind, reflecting the traditional Ottoman hamams. With separate men's and women's entrances, the stunning architecture is hard to deny. They also operate a restaurant within the same premises, hence should you feel peckish after scrubbing down, you haven't got far to go. Cagaloglu offers six Turkish bath procedures and three types of massage after the ritual. They are also in the Fatih district, about a ten-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
Kilic Ali Pasa: Also built by Mimar Sinan, this 16th-century bathhouse honours the memory of Kilic Ali Pasa, an Ottoman admiral. The bathhouse originally serviced Ottoman sailors and was adjourned to the school and mosque complex. Sitting in the Tophane district of Beyoglu, the bathhouse is close to the Bosphorus shores and the old harbour district of Karakoy. This Turkish bath receives admiration and fame for the architectural style of the dome. Having received seven years of restoration, the building closely resembles the original structure.
Cemberlitas Hamam: Built in the 16th century, also by Mimar Sinan. Cemberlitas Turkish bath was another double bath, with separate men's and women's entrances, although today, both enter through one door. When entering the dressing rooms, look up to see the marvellous large ceiling domes. Many studies focus on this bath because of Mimar's architectural style, which was altered at every construction, despite him building many of Istanbul's Ottoman bathhouses.
Aga Hamam: As Istanbul's oldest hamam dating from 1454, Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror, commissioned this Turkish bath. The structure was part of a hunting house with living quarters on the upper two floors. It remained a royal hamam for many decades, and in 1844 Sultan Abdulmecid renovated it. Used by Sultans until the end of their reign, the house has undergone many private ownerships and renovations to carry on the services of a traditional Turkish hamam.
More About Turkish Traditions
About Traditional Turkish Houses: Many people, when thinking about traditional Turkish houses, assume them to be the old Ottoman style, yet there are many different versions. Their architecture reflects how locals used the land and topography to construct dwelling places. This article looks at traditional houses from the north, east, west and south and how they reflect Turkish traditions.
Traditional Turkish Culture: We hope we have given helpful information about what happens in a Turkish bath. However, this practice is just one snippet of Turkish culture that is extremely interesting. Many other cultural traditions, including weddings, births, workplaces and friendship, will be helpful to know if you plan to live here.
More About Turkey: We are Property in Turkey, selling holiday homes and investment real estate all around the country from Istanbul to Antalya, Bodrum, Fethiye and more. We have used our teams' collective knowledge and experience to form one blog about Turkey. Talking about the culture, traditions, history, places, food and more, we hope the blog helps people know more about Turkish life.
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