Istanbul's Bath Houses: A Step-by-Step Guide
If you're in Istanbul and eager to experience the age-old delights of a Turkish hamam, but find yourself unsure of the rituals, fear not! We've got you covered with a simple guide to keeping your cool and soaking in the rejuvenating experience.
1. Choose Your Treatment: Speak to the receptionist (who usually speaks English) and decide on the level of treatment you desire. Whether you opt for a DIY wash, a wash with an attendant, or an oil massage, pay at the reception and head to the change area – typically a private lockable room – to undress and store your belongings.
2. Attire (Or Lack Thereof): Depending on the hamam, you may find separate steam rooms for men and women. Men are generally expected to maintain modest coverage, but for women, the choice is yours. Most Turkish women discreetly drape themselves with a cloth when not bathing, but if you prefer to bask freely, that's perfectly acceptable. If you feel shy, a part or all of a swimsuit is a suitable option. In some mixed-sex hamams with male attendants, keeping at least the bottom half of a swimsuit is customary.
3. Keep Your Cloth On: Upon entry, the attendants will provide you with a cloth, often resembling an oversized red gingham tea towel. Keep this on while transitioning from the change rooms to the hamam.
4. Beware of Slippery Surfaces: The attendants will also give you shoes – either traditional wooden clogs or fluorescent flip-flops. Embrace them, as wet marble can be treacherous terrain.
5. Start Sweating: Once inside the hamam, relax on the heated marble. In some hamams, you'll find a göbektaşı (belly stone), a central platform where you can bask like a sunning python. If not, take a seat and lean against the walls. The goal is to sweat, allowing the dirt and toxins to loosen in preparation for your wash.
6. DIY or With an Attendant: If you've chosen self-service, follow up with a loofah-and-soap rub-down, and rinse yourself with water from the marble basins. If you've opted for an attendant, they'll join you after about 15 minutes of sweating. They'll lay you down on the edge of the göbektaşı, sluice you with tepid water, and begin the treatment.
7. The Delightful (or Turbulent) Kese Massage: The attendant will start with a dry massage using a kese, a rough mitt. Depending on your attendant's touch, this can be a delightful or tumultuous experience. If it feels too intense, use gestures to communicate your preference.
8. A Soapy Bubble Bath: Next comes the soap – the attendant will create an immense lather with an enormous sponge, covering you in foam from head to toe. Prepare to be worked into cleanliness bliss. More sluicing follows, along with a shampoo to complete your squeaky-clean transformation.
9. Optional Oil Massage: If you've chosen an oil massage, you'll be escorted to another room for this indulgence. Keep in mind that these massages can be brief and less refined, and the oils might not be luxurious.
10. Relish the Afterglow: After your massage, soap or oil, take your time to enjoy the serene atmosphere. Don't rush off like many tourists do. Let yourself overheat, cool down with a refreshing dousing, and repeat the cycle. Feel your muscles relax and your mind drift into a state of blissful relaxation. This is the essence of the hamam experience.
Three Noteworthy Hamams in Istanbul:
1. Cağaloğlu Hamamı: Renowned for its stunning architecture, the steam rooms are adorned with lavishly arched and domed ceilings, adorned with tulip tiles.
2. Çemberlitaş Hamamı: A classic hamam experience built by the famous architect Sinan in 1584.
3. The Four Seasons on the Bosphorus: For those seeking a more modern equivalent, the hotel's spa offers an indulgent and luxurious take on the traditional hamam experience.
So, next time you 1find yourself in Istanbul, embrace the hamam culture and treat yourself to a deeply relaxing and invigorating cleansing ritual. Steaming away travel grime has never felt so good!