Saturday, March 8, 2014

That One Time I Went to a Turkish Bath in Istanbul

Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque 

Hamam (Turkish bath) has longed played a role in Turkish history and society. They date back to the Ottoman Empire, where the hamam had three basic functions: a place for social gatherings, ritual cleansing connected to the Muslim faith, and an architectural witness to the sultan’s greatness. No expenses were spared in the lavish construction and decorations of the hamams. Most of the baths are still functional and in use today. 

We went to the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, which I found does cater more to tourists, but still provides an authentic experience. Here’s what happens:

First you will walk into a lobby and sit at a table. You will be brought a warm washcloth to wipe your hands and face so you can begin your warm up. Next, you will be brought a red tea drink. You will think it tastes a little weird, but you drink it all anyway.

You are then brought a key with a number on it. This number will become your identity for the next few hours. You are led upstairs to a locker room (one that is associated with your key number). But a very nice, enclosed bamboo locker room.

There, you will undress. Undress means to your liking and comfort. You then wrap yourself in a provided towel, slip on the provided shoes and walk downstairs to the entrance of the hamam. You will now have to will all your shyness away.

This is what the inside of the hamam looks like. A room with a raised heated marble slab surrounded by basins of hot water. 

You will be brought next to one of the basins by a therapist. She will, without warning, sling away your towel and tell you to sit down next to the basin. You will be a little confused and exposed, but it’s a new experience so you go with it. You look around and there are many women lying on the marble slab while others are sitting next to basins as well; all at different steps in the hamam process.

Once you sit down, the therapist, again without warning, will start dumping buckets of warm water on you. You don't mind, because it’s warm, but it’s not done in a necessarily delicate way as you gasp at the smack of water across your face. You spit water out of your mouth and unplaster the wet hair across your face. Your therapist says for the first time, “Lady, relax”.

She then points at the marble slab. This means go lay on it. Your friends are already there, lying down, and you say to them, “Well, this is interesting.” The idea of lying on the heated slab is to sweat, loosening dirt and toxins in preparation for your wash. You realize by the look on your friends faces that you probably should have taken off your makeup, particularly your mascara, as you now look like a soggy raccoon. 

You lie there, close your streaky eyes and will your body to relax. It’s a new experience you tell yourself, enjoy it. You do start to relax. After a long German winter, this slab feels warm, the air is warm, and you start daydreaming of sunning on a beach. With your eyes closed, you’re actually there. After about 30 minutes, your therapist comes to get you and bring you back to the basin.

She again aggressively dumps warm water all over you. Then, she takes a rough mitt and exfoliates your entire body. You can actually see your rolled up, dead skin falling off you. You think how gross that is, so you close your eyes and enjoy the “pampering”. Next is the soap. Your therapist will work up a pretty legit lather with an enormous sponge and squeeze it all over you. You are literally now taking a bubble bath without the bath. The foam will be worked into every centimeter of your body.

Next, more scrubbing followed by a very short, but lovely massage. While you’re still soaped up, she will wash your hair with shampoo and conditioner, followed again by the buckets of water to rinse you off. Every few minutes, she reminds you to, “Lady, Relax”.

Now you are as clean as you probably will ever be again. She takes you into the drying room, where she wraps you in a fresh towel and wraps a smaller one around your wet head.

You are then taken into the relaxation room, where you lounge on couches, read magazines and rehydrate with ice water. This, honestly was probably my favorite part.

The hamam was a great experience, and probably one of my top things I did in Istanbul, so I would definitely recommend getting your clean on if you go! 

1 comment:

  1. What a weird experience. Weird in a *good* way :)


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