Filed under: culture, featuredarticle, hamams, turkish baths
Hamams in Istanbul: Not Only for Bathing!
If after all that sightseeing, climbing and walking around the many sites of Istanbul you wish to relax and experience a Turkish bath, you might as well do it in style. Istanbul has many hamams, old and new and several claim to be the oldest. One which is certainly old and a splendid example of Baroque and Ottoman architecture is the Cagaloglu Hamam in Sultanahmed.
Conveniently located on Divan Yoglu street, the hamam, built in the 16th century, has a rather narrow entrance set back from the street and you have to climb down several steep stone steps.
Once inside though, you are met with glorious views. A fountain sits in the middle of the lobby and thick carpets cover the floor. The walls are richly decorated and light floods in through ornate skylights. I must admit, that I am not partial to the pummelling, slapping and steaming of a Turkish bath, but that doesn’t prevent me from looking around and visiting the lovely ground floor shop. You can buy anything related to bath, towels, candles, even bathrobes but my favourite are the hand made soaps which are sold by the gram and sliced off for you, then beautifully wrapped and decorated with a bow.
Around the fountain and up a wrought iron staircase you find a shaded courtyard where you can relax after your treatment, or without it, as it is open to everyone and enjoy a particularly good Turkish coffee.
Men and women can use the hamam but in different sections.
Opening hours for men are from 7am to 10pm and for women from 8am to 8pm. A curiosity: if you hear shrieks, they’re not coming from ‘tortured’ bathers but from the tellaks, as the male attendants are called, who try to disperse dijans, bad spirits who are believed to dwell in the steam.
Full luxury treatment costs around TYL 75 (approx. $50). There are cheaper hamams around, but then, the atmosphere will not be the same.
In the olden times, hamams were a daily ritual for everybody to get clean as well as a social occasion for men to ‘talk business’ and for women to chat or even check out future daughters in law.
Habits changed over the years as internal plumbing was advancing and shortage of water prevented the opening of new hamams. The result was that many fell into disarray and ruin. That was the case of another very old hamam, the Tahtakale Hamam. Located up the hill from the Spice market in Eminönü on Tahtakale street, the hamam was used as a depot for cold storage in the 1980 until it was re-discovered, rescued and restored by a couple of entrepreneurs from Konya.
Today, the building is a must see with shops on the left and right and the Istanbul Khavehanesi as its center piece. A café, cool and inviting even in the summer heat with paintings of sultans on the walls, it has regained a new lease on life.
The example of Istanbul is spreading throughout Turkey and several hamams in other places are converted into cafes too.
Photographs are authors own.