Without a doubt, one of the quintessential Turkish experiences is visiting a traditional hammam. Here is everything you need to know about your first Turkish hamman experience. We’ve got a step-by-step guide to make sure you have the best Turkish bath experience.
Not only will you leave feeling cleaner than you’ve probably felt since the day you were born, but it’s also a very relaxing experience. Of course, you’re also experiencing Turkish culture and traditions that date back centuries.
Before you have your first Turkish bath experience, there are a few things you’ll want to know. Not only to avoid embarrassing yourself but also to prevent upsetting anyone!
What Is A Hammam?
Hammams exist all over Turkey, and in Istanbul alone, there are 237 in place, with 60 still used daily.
Hammam is the Arabic spelling of the word, but in Turkish, it is actually ‘hamam.’ You’ll see Hammam referred to in different ways and spellings, but they’re all identical. You’ll also hear ‘Turkish bath’ used commonly in tourist resorts, but they’re referring to the same experience.
A Hammam is a steam bath, but the Turkish version has a few added extras, i.e., it’s far more thorough and leaves you squeaky clean.
The History Of Hammams
In the day, hammams were built very close to mosques or within mosque complexes as a cleansing ritual before prayer. As a Muslim, it’s extremely important to wash and purify the body before praying, especially before going into a house of worship.
When taking a hammam, you are not only clean but also go through the sauna, which means you sweat out any toxins and impurities, leaving you as clean as possible. Not only are you physically clean, but spiritually clean too.
During Ottoman rule, hammams were considered to be a social activity too. If you think about the ruins of Roman cities we find these days, there are usually remnants of public baths – this is roughly the same kind of thing. Istanbul was formerly under Roman rule, and the Ottomans carried on this tradition and tweaked it to fit in with local life.
Traditionally, hammams were places to discuss events and even gossip. Hammams were (and many still are) separated for men and times for women, which gave women a chance to get out of the house and gossip with their friends. This could even be considered a great time to find potential matches for their sons to marry.
These days, hammams are much less formal; however, in Istanbul and other large cities, you’ll find that they tend to resemble those from back in the day. Most large hotels and tourist resorts have more modern versions of hammams, with extras offered, such as pedicures, fish pedicures, and Swedish massages.
Different Types Of Hammam
It’s important to know that there are different types of hammams.
The hammam you’ll experience in the Turkish hotels differs from the traditional Turkish baths you’ll find in cities, especially those in Istanbul.
If you’re new to the hammam experience and you’re feeling a little nervous, perhaps try a hammam spa in a hotel first though you should know that these Turkish spa experiences are not the same as you’ll find in the traditional hammam!
Each hammam service varies slightly. For first-time visitors to a Turkish hammam, be sure to select a service that includes scrubbing and bubble washing. You can also opt for an additional oil massage.
What To Wear In A Hammam
You will be given a wrap to wear; this is known as a peştemal. It is up to you what you wear underneath the wrap. Most tourists keep their bikinis or swim shorts on.
What Do Men Wear To Hamman
The traditional way is for men to wear the wrap around their waist and remove their underwear.
What Do Women Wear To Hamman
However, women should keep their underwear on, although it is acceptable to remove your bra, as the wrap covers you at all times.
For either sex, be sure that you do not accidentally flash! This is not a good thing to do in a traditional Turkish hammam and will be highly frowned upon!
What Shoes To Wear To Hamman
You’ll be given your own slippers to wear, so there is no need to bring your own shoes to wear inside.
Booking A Hammam
You should book in advance. To be sure not to miss out, some places offer separate times for men and women to come.
Turkish Hammams Options In Istanbul
- Hurrem Sultan Hammam
- Suleymaniye Hammam
- Kilic Ali Pasa Hammam
- Tarihi Çeşme Hammam
What Happens In A Turkish Hammam
Let’s concentrate on the traditional experience here, as most hotel versions follow the same pattern, although they are a little more laid back.
No Mixed-Sex Coupling
You will be separated if you’re a mixed-sex couple; no mixing of sexes is allowed in a traditional Turkish hammam.
The person performing your hammam will also be of the same sex as you.
You’ll be given your wrap and slippers when you arrive and shown where you can change. You leave your clothes in a locker and keep the key around your wrist on an elasticated bracelet or pinned to your wrap.
From there, you’ll be taken to the sauna area, which is sometimes on the same floor as the hammam itself and sometimes downstairs.
This is the hard part for many – you have to sit and literally sweat all the impurities and toxins out of your body for around 15 minutes.
It’s hot, hot, hot!
This is referred to as the ‘hararet,’ and this part of the hammam is iconic. It is what you would have seen in many magazines and websites promoting hammams.
Some hammams allow sexes to mix in the sauna area and some don’t; this will again depend on where you go. Once you’ve sweated all those impurities out, you’ll be taken into the hammam itself.
Next, you’ll be asked to lay on a marble slab on your back. This is called the gobektasi. You’ll be left there for a few minutes, and then your attendant will come into the room.
You’re first soaked with warm water, and a lot of soap suds come your way. While these suds are coming at you left, right, and center, you’re massaged with what can only be described as a huge loofah known as a – kese – this mitten with scrub off the dead cells of your skin (though it may feel like a layer of skin comes off too!).
Time To Get Clean
This loofah will eliminate all the dead skin cells and impurities that the sauna released, and you’ll be asked to move around the slab as it’s happening, from your back, onto your stomach.
Does A Turkish Hamman Hurt
It’s meant to be that way because you can’t become as clean as you’re supposed to without a bit of scrubbing! Once the cleansing is over, you’ll be rinsed with cold water, and yes, it is cold! It’s not pain, but it’s sometimes a little uncomfortable.
This is part of the process and not torture they’re inflicting on you; it’s designed to eliminate all the cells that have been scrubbed away and improve circulation.
You’ll feel as smooth and fresh as a daisy afterward, so remind yourself of that when the cold drench comes your way!
Time To Relax
Once the rinse is over, you’ll be taken to a cooldown area where you sit and relax. This is the best part; you will feel like you’re floating on air. There are usually toilets and showers here, too, so you can have your own rinse-off if you please.
If you choose to go down the route of a hotel hammam, it’s at this point you’ll typically receive an oil massage and be offered many other services (pedicures, fish spa, etc.). Be warned, they will try and give you the hard sell, so if you really don’t want them, be firm and say “no thank you.”
Hammam Tips To Remember
So tell us, will you try a hammam on your Turkey travel!?