A Turkish Hamam Decoded

November 7, 2016

kilic ali pasa hamam
Last year when I went to Turkey I knew I had to go to Hamam. I just had to. I knew it was a public bath, very popular in early Turkey but that was pretty much it. While in Turkey, I had a chance to go tot he Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam and spoke to Ayse at the hamam a little about the Hamam culture of the past and its place in Turkey now.

Hamams are public baths similar to Roman Baths that are quite popular. Two of the biggest differences are the cold pools at the end of the ritual are not present in Turkish baths because in Islam it is not permitted to bath in still water. As a result, in Hamams people rather splash or pour water over themselves instead of immersing themselves into pools.

Hamams in this form have been around since the Ottoman Empire and many hamams were built as extensions of mosque complexes, bathing being a big part of Islamic culture. Hamas from this era are still standing and the popular Çemberlitaş Hamamı was built in 1584. Architecture fascinates me so I’ll skip the rest of what could be a long prologue!

What can I expect at a hamam?

Most Hamams that tourists will visit are very welcoming and will always have someone available to make you at ease. The situation felt a lot like a spa to me. When I arrived at the hamam I was given a locker and robe to put over my underwear. You only need to keep on your bottoms and some hamams will provide a pair of disposable underwear to wear if you need. Fancier hamams don’t require you to bring soap or towels to the hamam and will require an apppointment. It’s always best to check their website or give them a call if you aren’t sure

Most hamams offer a variety of services and you can definitely select a package that  will have an attendant scrub you down (roughly) from head to toe, rinse you off and then give you a fantastic massage. You can also elect to do the scrubbing to yourself.

I was lost at the hamam but my attendant found me in the changing room and basically directed me through the entire process. At the Kilic Ali Pasa hamam, I entered from the change room into the warm room of the hamam which contains basins on the outer wall and a large marble platform in the centre. I was then left to lay on the platform in the centre of the room. Laying on that platform was bliss. My attendant returned to scrub me down with some soap and my hair washed with shampoo.

What about a cheaper Hamam? Most hamams are well looked after but if it’s your first time or you’re not used tot he experience, choose one that you’ve seen has great reviews. I chose Kilic Ali Pasa before even arriving in Turkey because they had a fantastic track record on Tripadvisor. And the reviews were correct, the hamam was magnificent, very clean, great value for money and welcoming to foreigners.

What about a co-ed hamam? Traditionally Hamams are not meant to be co-ed at all and co-ed establishments usually appeal to tourists only.

Where can I find hamams in Turkey? You can find hamams all over Turkey. You can start by searching the area you’re in and go from there. I would always check their reviews on Tripadvisor as well.

I highly recommend the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam. The location is close to the Istanbul Modern and Galata bridge and is within (a long) walk of Istiklal street.

 

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