The Hamam Experience in Istanbul

Ligeia and Mindy had been looking forward to a visit to a Turkish bath, or hamam, even before arriving to the country. We learned there are many to choose from, especially in Istanbul. We decided on Çemberlitaş Hamami because of its historical significance, having been first opened in 1584.

So in case you’ve ever wondered what an experience at a Turkish bath is like, here’s a detailed description:

After choosing a “Traditional” from a variety of menu options ranging from various specialty massages such as the Indian head massage, to reflexology, we entered the area marked “women section”. Inside was a strikingly beautiful marble fountain with rose petals inside and wooden benches around its edge:

Along the walls were nicely cushioned benches and tables where you could relax afterwards, perhaps with a drink. Some women, wrapped in green towels, were making use of this. Additionally, the walls were bedecked with a couple elaborately-framed mirrors.

A woman greeted us and handed us a small towel, a little red bag with black bikini bottoms in it and a body exfoliator packaged in little cardboard box bearing the name of the hamam. A little square yellow token with the word “traditional” was placed on top of the pile. We were told to go up a spiral staircase to the change area, put all of our things into a locker and come back down wearing the towel we were given. The towels were quite small but covered all the necessary parts, thin and of a white and red plaid design:

When we descended the stairs again wearing our bikini bottoms and towels, we were ushered to the doorway of the bath area. We opened a big, heavy wooden door and found ourselves in a decagon-shaped room all made of white marble. Conveniently placed around the edge were marble basins with gold taps and bronze bowls to pour water over yourself. On the outside of each basin was a place to sit for this purpose, making it difficult not to feel like a fair maiden bathing herself in a mountain stream somewhere in an exotic land far away. In the center of the room was where the action was. A large circular section of marble with topless women lying on their red and white towels in various positions dominated the room. Standing along the edge of this were three attendants wearing bikinis who were scrubbing, cleansing and massaging the women, each in her turn. The domed ceiling had circular skylights the size of softballs letting in bright beams of the midday sun.

We enjoyed laying on the warm marble for a while, the heat and humidity of the room opening our pores. When it was our turn, we made our way over to the attendants who gave specific instructions of “lıe down”, “turn over” and “sit”.

Water was poured over us first as we lay on our backs. Next came scrubbing and these women were neither gentle nor shy. If there were a fleck of dirt somewhere on us, they would have found it. After the scrubbing came the bubbles. We were all lathered up and then more scrubbing. We could feel the aches and pains of all the walking we had done slowly dissipate. The last phase was relocating a few feet away to a wash basin where our hair and body were washed and rinsed. We were then told to relax a little and when we were ready, we could go shower and rest in the first room we had entered with the marble fountain.

We left feeling smooth and smelling like coconut. Wrapped up in a bigger green towel, we relaxed in the fountain room with an apple tea and a lemonade. We reflected on how privileged we felt to be able to experience this together, as straight couples had to be separated. All in all, it was a fantastic experience and we left with two newly purchased towels and feeling rejuvenated.

Ligeia and Mindy :):)

2 thoughts on “The Hamam Experience in Istanbul

  1. Anonymous

    Lucky girls – this sounds like a fairy tale! Soon you will be back in oh so cold Canada (from 32 to 12 contrast program. So enjoy the summer there. Love Oma 🙂

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