Visit a Hamam in Istanbul
29 July 2013
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What to expect when you visit a Hamam in Istanbul
What once formed the fabric of life during the Ottoman Empire has become a must for anyone visiting Istanbul. A place where you can step back in time, experience the Istanbul of old, leave the daily stresses at the door and indulge yourself with some luxurious pampering. We are of course talking about a visit to one of the city’s famed Hamams. The ritual of visiting a hamam in Istanbul can be quite daunting for the uninitiated, so before stepping through the door let’s go through what you can expect.
The first thing to do is talk with the receptionist and decided what kind of treatment you want; usually there are three options available Self-service, Traditional and Luxury. The first is pretty self explanatory, the second offers the authentic Hamam experience and the third involves a massage with oil. Once you decide on what you want the attendant will lead you to the changing room where you will get undressed and leave your things.
Your state of undress depends on you, men usually wear the pestemal, a small towel worn around the waist, and nothing else. Women can choose to go nude or wear bikini bottoms; again the pestemal is used to protect your modesty. You will then make your way into the hararet.
The hararet is the hot room where you will spend about 15 minutes building up a sweat, the idea is to open the pores and prepare you for your wash. The striking feature of the haraet is the raised marble platform, göbektasi, which is directly over the heat source. You are expected to loll around on it in preparation for the next stage of the hamam experience.
The keseci, bath house attendant, will then usher you over to the side of the göbektasi where the wash will begin. This process begins with you being doused with warm water and then given a very thorough scrubbing with the kese, a rough mitt. Depending on the skill of the keseci it can either be very painful or very pleasurable. Be warned, if you have been working very hard on getting a tan it will almost completely disappear during this step.
Following this step, every inch of you will be covered in a rich lather of soap, think of taking a bubble bath without being in the bath and you get the idea. After you will be rinsed off with cold water and left to your own devices. Once the process is finished you are free to stay and enjoy the hamam as much as you like or you can move into the cold or intermediate room before making your way out.
Two of the best Hamams in Istanbul
Cagaloglu Hamami: Built in 1741 it is one of the oldest in Istanbul. Well worth visiting for the amazing architecture alone.
Cemberlitas Hamami: Built in 1584, this hamam offers a truly authentic experience.
Other things you should know.
- Most Hamams are strictly segregated with either separate bathing times or entrances for men and women. More tourist orientated Hamams are often mixed.
- It is expected to give the attendant a tip, usually 10%-20%.
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