The Turkish Hamam Bath – A Must Do When in Turkey
Istanbul is a beautiful and lively city. On the streets you can always find Turkish people and visitors´ roaming around as the city is full of interesting shops and attractive locally made products, restaurants and nice sights to discover. As you are walking along you may notice old buildings with Hamam written on the facade above the main entrance door; You have just reached The Turkish Hamam Bath.
Roman & Ottoman Public Bathing Culture
Taking a bath with friends or family is a common thing in Turkey. This is a tradition that has been followed since the Ottoman Empire (though replicated from ancient roman bathing ritual) and is still practiced to date, thus you should not miss out on experiencing a Turkish Bath when visiting Istanbul or Turkey.
The inside of ancient hamam building is gorgeous and elegant with walls and flooring made of marble and huge columns. The main hall where the bathing is usually held is massive with surrounding vaults that are used as sauna or bathing rooms. A big slab of elevated marble is to be found in the center of the hall and natural light enters through round openings from the dome shaped ceiling.
The Procedure: What To Expect Of A Turkish Bath
On my very recent visit to Turkey I made plans to go to one of the hamams when in Istanbul. I had already been to a hammam in Morocco and I really wanted to see how it compares to a Turkish bath.
There is really no need to make a reservation as hamams tend to open for long hours in the day, from early morning up until midnight. So before lunch I made my way to a traditional hamam, built in 1584 and located in the old city area in Istanbul, very close to the famous Grand Bazaar.
Should you prefer to make a reservation you can always do so. I was told that peak hour is between 1600h-2100h so try to avoid this busy time if you can.
A variety of bathing sessions is available;
a) basic hamam ritual or self bathing
b) assisted traditional hamam ritual that include resting in a hot room, assisted exfoliation and bubble soap bathing.
c) the luxury and complete version of the assisted bathing and besides the above you will also get a 30-min aromatherapy massage.
Additional services are available should you wish to indulge; foot massage, head massage, face mask and other full body massages.
And here is my experience.
At reception, you will select from the above choice of hamam sessions available and pay in advance. You are then walked to a changing room where you are given a pack with bath slippers, a special massage glove and underpants, as well as a wrap around Turkish cotton towel called Peshtemal.
If you have opted for the self bath, then you have to bring your own everything.
There are private changing cubicles and lockers where you can leave your belongings when you change. The locker key is attached to a wrist band that you can wear and keep with you at all times.
I was personally concerned if I should take the bag with my purse and money etc. with me and found the lockers very convenient.
After you have changed into your Peshtemal wrap around, you walk to the main hall that is steam warmed and you lie down on the marble slab in the middle of the room, on your towel, whilst waiting for your turn to be bathed. You tend to relax when lying down as the marble is heated and the sound of water falling around you is quite pleasant.
Because the room is heated this is where you unwind and your pores start opening and prepare you for the scrubbing. Ideally you spend 10-15 minutes here.
Rejuvenate Body And Mind
The bathing. When it is your turn you are called by an attendant and after a quick chit chat on where you´re from and if this is your first hamam experience, you are asked to lie down once again, this time at the edge of the elevated marble slab, on your towel, and the bathing begins.
The assistant will literally dump several buckets of water, lukewarm or at room temperature, onto your body to clean the moisture off your skin, as most probably you would have sweat during the waiting and relaxation time.
Soon after the scrubbing and exfoliation begins. You will see and be amazed on how your dry dead skin sheds off. After the peeling it is time for the foam bath. A big amount of soap is squeezed out of a sack like shaped cloth onto your body, and the foam literally slides along your whole body. This is a really nice caressing feeling and beautiful sensation on your skin. Whilst covered in soap bubble the assistant will give you a quick massage. This cleanses and refreshes your skin and lasts for about 10-15 minutes.
Afterwards more buckets of water are thrown onto you and then you are asked to walk to one of the alcoves where there is a marble washbasin and tap water. You sit down on your towel and the marble step and you are rinsed until the soap is all gone.
If you have an oil massage included, you are guided to another room, always with your peshtemal wrapped around you. If you cannot avoid rush hour, most probably you have to wait for your turn. However, this should be relaxing and enjoyable unless you are in a hurry and start getting nervous instead.
I am quite used to massages and I was surprised on how this masseuse could give an entire body massage in such a short time. In only 30 minutes, the lady managed to massage my whole body including head and feet. Very professional!
I have to admit though, that I found myself longing for more. This is because I was pretty tired after a 10-day trip touring the country.
When ready, you have the option to take a shower. Towels are provided to use after showering. Aromatherapy oil is very nice and one can decide to leave it in and not shower. The oil used for the massage was orange blossom essential oil, especially prepared for this particular hamam place. All the products used during your bathing are available for purchase at the store within the same hamam complex. The glove and pants were gifted to me.
As a final treat you can have a herbal tea or juice and should you wish you can hang about in this pleasant environment. The hamam is a place to socialise for the locals and it does give you a sense of repose and relaxatio
The whole process lasted about 2.5hr, including the waiting time in between treatments.
Benefits Of The Hamam or Turkish Bath
- If you are a local it is a place to socialise.
- Relax and unwind.
- Cleanse your body and improve mental clarity.
- Good for blood circulation.
- Ease muscle tension.
- Anti stress.
- Rejuvenates your skin.
- Ideal for respiration issues.
- Detox the body through sweating.
- Enhance the immune system.
- Helps the Lympatic drainage system.
Check This Video of a traditional Turkish bath
The Final Words
Men and women go separate and it is usually men to men and women to women assistance, though mixed hamam also exist in Istanbul.
Prepare some small cash to take with you to be able to tip the masseuse before you leave.
If it is your first time all this might seem a bit overwhelming, however the ambiance is relaxed and nobody is staring at you as people generally go to a hamam to relax and let go. Should you find it hard to go to a public bath, you can always try a hammam at your hotel. It is still very pampering and a wonderful experience.
I hope you find this information useful and it does give you an idea of what to expect should one day you decide to try the hamam. Please do ask me if you have any query.
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12 thoughts on “The Turkish Hamam Bath – A Must Do When in Turkey”
Wow, this all sounds fantastic! I was hoping for more photos to really get a sense of what to expect on the inside. Are there any good websites that you know of that include photos of what it looks like inside a hamam bath? Also, is this experience going to be standardized everywhere, or will it vary a bit depending on which location you choose? Thanks so much for sharing. It’s definitely something I will do when in Turkey!!
Hi Aly, many thanks for writing. Unfortunately it is not possible to take pictures of the inside of a hamam (for obvious reasons). Below is the link of the hamam I´ve been to, but they don´t show many pictures either.
The hamam ritual varies depending on the country, usually practiced in islamic countries though there are now many spas in the west that offer a turkish bath. The concept is similar but the services and type of massage offered may vary. Hope this helps.
PS. I just added a video that shows the procedure of the traditional Turkish bath.
I love this article because I am planning a holiday to Turkey and I will like to experience a Turkish Hamam bath when I visit old city area of Istanbul in my next overseas holidays trip.
Your specific detailed list of 11 benefits of this Hamam bath is my major takeaway from this post and I will be willing to devote the estimate 2.5 hours to enjoy this special ritual.
Thanks for this post. I will share it.
Hi Chris, I highly recommend giving a hamam a try if you plan to go to Turkey. It is very beneficial for the skin and health in general. Just keep in mind that this is a tradition and the locals go to a hamam on a weekly basis. Thank you for writing and for sharing, and hope you will enjoy the hamam experience.
WOW, what a luxurious treat, what is the history of this culture?, are they other cultures that has such routine for a bath?
its a pity I do not travel anymore, this would have been one of my fantasies; seems ripe for exploitation and scandals; Is there a dark side to this culture? You are a story teller, Thanks for sharing.
Hi, in the past the public bath was common with many cultures including Romans, Greek and the Indus Valley. Check this out for more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_bathing
In the west we have these baths within spas and Turkish bath is quite known in Europe also.
I am not sure what you refer to exactly with ´dark side´, but I think it´s a beautiful tradition, apart from hygiene and health benefits it is a nice way of connecting and socialising in a relaxing environment. Thank you for writing. Cheers!
Hello Marisa, i once had a chance to visit turkey some time ago but had no knowledge of such bath. The benefit of this bath are really amazing. I haven’t heard of any form of bath that could possibly do so much benefits to the body of an individual. Well, I’m quite anxious about the possible content of this water for it to be able to do all these. Are there some things that are added to it ?
Hi Benson, it is plain fresh water and there´s nothing added to it. The health benefits are from the steam, exfoliation and massage.
Hot temperature and steam opens your pores, make you sweat and remove impurities, eliminates bad toxins and also breathe deeply.
Exfolation removes all the dead and dry skin and the end result is smooth and younger looking skin.
Massage helps with circulation and ease muscle tension.
The relaxing atmosphere around you relieves stress and tension.
Just imagine the locals do this every week and at the same time they are socialising. The hamam is highly beneficial and I wish it was a common thing in our culture.
Hope this helps. Thank you for writing. Marisa
Of course I would love it if I ever visited Istanbul going to a hammam. Above all, I would visit these types of places to chat with Turkish people.
It shows that they are first class places where people can find a good place to relax.
I have visited here in Buenos Aires similar places not as good as in Istanbul.
Hi Claudio, glad to hear about your interest in the hamam, and to chat with locals. The Turks are lovely and happy people and the old hamam buildings are gorgeous. The atmosphere takes you to another time in the past.
Are the Turkish baths or spas in Buenos Aires similar to the ones in Europe or in Turkey? I have never been to Argentina. Thank you for writing.
These Turkish baths,are quite famous all round the world ,we used to have one in Johannesburg, when I was young but I think it has closed down.I don’t think they are a big thing in our culture,which is more into public swimming baths.
The rituals of such a place are very interesting,with your bathing pack,and the waiting on the heated marble slab allowing the humid atmosphere to begin opening your pores of your skin,preparing you for the rinsing off and then the exfoliation of dead skin,followed by the foam bath.
The work of the professional masseur sounds very soothing as your muscles are worked and pummeled, with essential oils,then you can relax afterwards and have a nice cup herbal tea,before you rush off into your everyday concerns.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a morning,getting rejuvenated and relaxed,than in a genuine Turkish bath or Hamam
Hi Robert, you have the whole ritual figured out. It is a truly a pleasant experience and it´s amazing how the baths are situated in the hectic city centre and you can manage to get away from it all and relax.
Many thanks for writing. Cheers!