My first hamam (traditional Turkish bath) experience happened when I was a kid. I remember my grandma taking me to a historical hamam, but I didn’t like the heat and was ashamed of seeing naked women all around. However, I still went there couple more times because we were riding in a horse-drawn carriage afterwards which were my favourite trips. Years later, when I realized that I like sauna and steam bath so much, I wanted to try hamam again and see if I can stand it. I don’t know if it was my patience for the heat or maybe I was no longer ashamed of naked bodies, but this time I discovered the joy of this healthy experience that turned out to be an addiction for me today. If I don’t go to hamam and get scrubbed I don’t feel like clean. This deep skin cleansing at hamam has lots of health (physical and mental) benefits and now I’d like to share this tradition with you here.
Hamam as a word has Arabic roots and means “heat” in general. It can be considered as a wet relative of the sauna. During the Ottoman Empire, lots of hamams were built as monumental structural complexes. “Çemberlitaş Hamamı” was one of them, a finest sample indeed. As a work of the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, it was built in 1584. Located in the heart of Sultanahmet, it’s also one of my favourite spots in the city. It has got separate sides for men and women and before you enter the bath, you can select one of the bathing options and get your tokens. I always get scrubbing and 15 minutes soap massage followed by the half an hour oil massage package which is a great relaxation. After undressing in the dressing room area ( this resting area is called ‘soğukluk’ in Turkish), I put on the “peştemal”, a printed cotton body wrap that’s given at the entrance and go into the hot area (called ‘sıcaklık’ in Turkish). There’s a large, round shaped, hot marble stone (göbektaşı) in the middle and bathing basins (kurna) and private bathing cubicles (halvet) on the sides. Lying on the hot stone while waiting my body to perspire is the most relaxing time. If it’s a day time , I love to watch the light entering from the small windows at the top because it looks so magical. Then the ‘tellak’ (attendant who massages and bathes the customers of hamam) comes and starts the scrubbing and washing of my body. She uses ‘kese’ which is a rough mitt for massage and gives 15 minutes of soap massage. This removes any dead, dry skin which has accumulated, leaving skin glowing, smooth, and soft. Once she’s done, feeling all cleaned up, I go into the other room with the hot pool and hang out there for a while. Then I go out of the hot area and enter the massage room for my half an hour oil massage. When I’m all finished, I always feel so light like a feather and relax in the cold area while sipping my soda.
It’s a common fact that steam rooms, steam baths and steam showers offer so many healthy benefits like; helping alleviate congestion, inflammation, reducing spasmodic breathing. They are also good for the skin by opening skin pores, releasing trapped oils and dirt, increasing the blood circulation to the skin, relaxing tense facial muscles and loosening dead, dry skin. I can stand the heat for long periods but you should note that high temperatures and steam may cause faintness, dehydration, overheating and even rare sudden death in some people. So I’d suggest to take an advice of a physician before you go to hamam.
There’s a famous Turkish saying; “Hamama giren terler!” which translates as “Whoever goes into a hamam sweats!”. It means if you have a task to do, no matter how hard it’s, you have to take the rap for it. So get ready to sweat, if you like to discover the great pleasures of hamam experience!
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