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The True Turkish Hamam

The True Turkish Hamam

During our travels in Istanbul we indulged in many local authenticities: mosques, ruins, cuisine, markets. It was an indulgent experience for the entire family but we did keep in mind that we were there for research. We wanted to explore authentic Turkish Baths and use the knowledge to enhance our own bathhouse. The particular Hamam that we went to is called Gedikpasa Bath and we highly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Istanbul.

The Hamam continues to be part of Turkish culture, just as it was six hundred years ago. The concept of the Turkish bathhouse was adopted from the Romans, who presided in the area we now call Turkey before the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

A big reason why the baths became an integral part of Turkish culture was because of religion as the Qu’ran states that cleanliness is an essential part of Islam. However, the baths became much more than just a place for washing; they became a place where one could freely socialize outside the closed doors of their homes. The Hamam was especially important to women for this reason as many were restricted to their homes except for one day a week when they could go to the Hamam and socialize with other women.

Over time, washing became just one of the many aspects of the Hamam. Cuisine, musicians and belly dancers were a few of the additions to the ritual. Following a routine of a bath and massage, women would fix their eyebrows, dye their hair with henna, and wax. And though Hamams are not as important as they once were, you will still see numerous in operation, old and new.

The Hamam we went to is the oldest in the city being built in 1475 by the Ottoman architect Gedik Ahmet Pasha. When you enter you see several stories of cubicles where one can change. The actual baths are divided into two parts: the men’s section and the women’s section. Before entering, you are given a Pestemal, which is a is a large cotton towel that is fringed at both ends and is meant to be wrapped around the torso when you're between steams. Once you undress, you make your way into the main bath; it has a large domed ceiling (the largest out of all the Hamams in Istlanul) and is completely covered in marble. In the middle stands a solid marble block where visitors can lie down and receive massages and scrubs. From the main room you can enter  a series of smaller humid rooms that serve a similar purpose. Lined along the walls are sinks, taps and  tases, which are ornamented brass bowls that you can fill with water and rinse off any dirt from your body. The Hamam also includes a small pool where you can refresh after a steam. In addition to these rooms, there was also a small finnish sauna.

What surprised us was how different the Turkish Hamam was to a westernized Turkish steam room. Here most 'Hamams' have a device that creates steam artificially and a lot of it.  Authentic Turkish Hamams aren't very steamy or hot, and all the steam is created naturally from warmth and water. Hamams in Turkey seem to serve as a social place where you come to simply relax and get clean as opposed to get hot and sweat out toxins.

If you ever go to Gedikpasa Hamam, I strongly recommend getting the scrub and massage. It's a bit pricey costing 50 dollars per person, but it's worth the money. After you exfoliate in the Finnish Sauna, you lay down on the marble for the scrub. The half naked employee uses a traditional Turkish mitt called a kese on every part of your body. During the scrub you can literally see rolls of dirt coming off of your skin! After the scrub you rinse off and get your massage. This involves getting lathered with a mound of foam created by squeezing soap through a large bag, and having all the tension rubbed out of your muscles.

After the process your skin feels soft and clean, and you are so relaxed that you want to fall asleep. Instead, we hit the markets. The tiles and vase you see decorating our Hamam are from the oldest market in the world, the Grand Bazaar, or Kapah Carsi. It was built in the 15th century and covers over 54 square meters. From 4000 shops to choose from, I think we did well!












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