If you are in Istanbul, you must pay a visit to a Turkish hammam (a traditional Turkish bath). A Turkish bath is exactly the perfect thing to do after a tiring day of sightseeing. This tradition has been passed down from the Romans to the Byzantines to the Turks. The Islamic emphasis on personal cleanliness and purification resulted in hundreds of baths being built throughout Istanbul over the centuries starting around 1400. Traditional Turkish baths have separate sections and entrances for men and women. It has always been intimately bound up with everyday life — a place where people of every rank and station, young and old, rich and poor, townsman or villager, could come freely and gossip.
On the top of the dome of every Turkish bath you will usually find a lantern for illumination. There is a sirvan in the camegah with rooms for undressing. The sogukluk is entered through a double door from the camegah. The domes are supported by arches and columns. In the center one finds a marble Gobektasi, surrounded by halvets in the four corners and three sofas in between. The sofas are covered with semi-domes.
Among the most well known visitors to Istanbul’s hammams are Kaiser Wilhelm, Franz Liszt, Florence Nightingale, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Tony Curtis, John D. Rockefeller, Richard Harrison, Omar Sharif, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Cameron Diaz, and Kate Moss.
A typical hammam experience
A usual session lasts an hour to 90 minutes, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you desire. You can rest on the platform as long as you like before completing your bath. Beautiful tile work, hot, steamy rooms, a wonderful gentle massage, a long sauna and vigorous loofah scrubbing are all part of the hammam experience. Big fluffy towels, more soap lather than you’ve ever seen, lavender soap and a rub down with oils complete the treatment.
Take your first bath on the day you arrive. It will relieve the stress and tension of travelling and may just be the best cure for jetlag. You will sleep like a baby.
Top Hammams in the Old City
The most well known hammam and the one most frequented by celebrities is Cagaloglu Hammam (built in 1741 with separate sections for men and women). Cemberlitas hammam (built in 1584) is another jewel not far from Cagaloglu hammam. Both are in the Sultanahmet district.
If you are going with your husband or boyfriend and want to bathe together, go to the Suleymaniye hammam, which does not have separate men’s and women’s sections. It is open to families and couples only. Single males or females will not be admitted.
If you want a truly historic hammam that dates back to the 15th century, go to the Gedikpasa hammam, one of the oldest in the city.
Hammam in the Beyoglu district
If you are staying in or near Beyoglu, go to the Galatasaray Hammam (built in 1481) which is quite popular with residents of this district. It is open for group events such as dinners with an orchestra or belly dancing. There are separate sections for men and women.
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I would like to thank Ugur Ilgar for providing a history of the Turkish bath, as well as his list of favorite hammams in Istanbul. Ugur is the founder of LuxuryIstanbul, a luxury travel company that organizes tailor-made holidays and special tours (shopping, history, archaeology, art and more). His firm can advise you on which hammam to visit and make a reservation for you.
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