A Turkish Hammam Experience

If you’ve been curious about the communal hammam baths in Turkey but also a little apprehensive about giving it a go, this article by my husband Zulfikar will give you a good idea of what to expect. We both tried a hammam while in Turkey. This is his account. I will interject just a little in the below write-up with my experience from a lady’s point of view.

No trip to Turkey is complete without experiencing a trip to the Hammam. Now although I have no problem going for a spa treatment at home in SA, I was not sure about trying the hammam. So after having done a little bit of research I figured there was no harm in trying.

It turns out humankind has for centuries cherished the idea of communal bathing and as a matter of fact, found comfort and pleasure in making it a time for socializing. In my modern mind of shower cubicles and bathroom privacy, it’s quite a mind shift to bathe in public. I must admit the last time I can remember bathing in a communal area was at high school on a hockey tour when we stayed a weekend at the boarding school hosting the tournament. Not happy memories for a teenager and a Muslim to boot. Getting back to the Hammam, if you look at any historic culture from the Japanese, Russians or Finns, you can find some form of communal bath experience. The Romans too had developed this into their lifestyle and after conquering most of the known world left this legacy in the empire. Ancient Constantinople (now Istanbul) then the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire had a strong Hammam culture. Istanbul now has Hammams on literally every corner and of course, the tourist component requires any worthy hotel to have one on-premise.

I had my Hammam experience in Konya, and needing to give my better half some work time, I and junior went to explore the hotel facilities. One level down we found the Spa and Hammam. The attendant was dressed as you would expect at any spa facility and in broken English/Google Translate we worked out the price and the time required and he agreed there was no charge for junior to tag along.

A quick run to the room to get swimwear and we were ready for the Hammam experience. First things first, the Hammam is done in swimwear, and the facility is gender specific. Male attendant with male patrons and the same for women folk.

Ladies view: I was told when I made my booking my one-piece swimsuit would be fine during my experience. It was impractical though and inevitably had to come off. They did provide a cotton towel cover to maintain modesty as far as possible. It is worth noting though that as I was finishing 2 other ladies had gotten started and modesty is not an issue for everyone. I guess it’s like taking a shower at the gym. You’re gonna see what you’re gonna see… lol.

You start off with some time spent in a sauna. This is to open all the blocked pores in the skin and to start the calming effect you expect from an experience like this. Junior didn’t find the sauna calming, in fact, he spent most of the time trying to get out to cool off before getting back into the heated room. Eventually some fifteen minutes later I decided it’s time to move on to phase two.

Ladies view: My experience was in a different hotel and the sauna itself was a mixed gender facility. So do ask about this where you go and request a full-length cover/gown if possible. I don’t normally enjoy a sauna, but when I surrendered to the heat I found I really enjoyed it and found it utterly relaxing. I was thankfully alone when I used it.

We were ushered into a room with a flat knee height octagonal tiled surface in the centre with multiple water faucets set in the walls around. There were low stools next to each water faucet, much like you would expect in a wudhu khanna. The attendant made us sit by the taps and with a hand bowl let us mix the water to a comfortable temperature and pour it over ourselves. Junior was in his element. It’s not often that a child gets to play with water and splash and mess as much as you like. I must say it’s more fun when you as an adult can join in this childish water play.

Not long after the attendant appeared again, sans his spa attire…. He was wearing nothing but a lungi-type skirt.  Mildly surprised as I was not expecting this, he got me to lie face down on the centre octagonal table. This guy really made an effort to keep junior busy, so with me on the table, he got junior to keep an endless supply of warm water to drench me with. At some point though he got serious and told junior to keep himself busy whilst he got on with the work at hand.

Using a rough cloth, he began to quite firmly remove dry and dead skin from my back and shoulders working his way down to my feet. This was a slightly uncomfortable experience. But with language being a barrier I decided to let him do what he does best. There was more running water to get rid of the evidence, but not before he showed me what the glove looked like. The sauna and the warm water douche was getting the better of me and calm had set it. No amount of dead skin was going to ruin that for me.

I waited patiently whilst he prepared the next part sort of dozing off. I was brought back to the present by juniors’ amazement. The attendant had whipped up a soap lather into foam about as tall as junior, using some kind of muslin cloth and soap. This foam column was plonked on my back and then he began to massage it into my skin from neck down to toes. Stopping only to give me a short foot massage, something reminiscent of reflexology. This of course was followed by another rinse cycle. This must be what our clothes go through in the washing machine.

I was asked to turn over onto my back and the whole process repeated for the front of my body. The last part of this exercise was some kind of bath oil that was rubbed into my now cleaned new skin. This too was washed off.

Lastly, he indicated that the wash was over and held up a lungi of my own for me to put on. We then went to the next room where there were pool loungers for me and junior to rest in a cool environment whilst we drank water to wash out the toxins from our blood due to the treatment. It turned out this gave the attendant time to have his bath and clean all the water out of the wash area ready for the next patron. He returned dressed like he was right at the beginning, which signalled that my experience was now over. There was no rush and he let us stay on the loungers until we were ready to leave.

All in all, the experience was enjoyable and different enough from a spa treatment to be uniquely remembered and ticked off the bucket list. For the rest of the trip, any time we had a few minutes to kill, junior would suggest we go for another hammam, needless to say, he had enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

Find more content on Turkey in our collection here: Turkish Travels


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