Suitcase and World: Hamam-a-Mamas.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


'm not a spa girl. I don't do saunas. I don't do hot tubs. So, when Lei said that we would be going to a hamam in Turkey.....well, my initial response was "no way".

What's hamam, you ask? It's a Turkish public bath. Public baths are a centuries old tradition in Turkey, going back as far as Roman times. Today, hamams exist mainly for tourists and there are several very well known ones in Istanbul including Çemberlitaş Hamami.

Public baths became an integral part of Turkish life during the Ottoman Empire and it was because of Islamic belief spousing the importance of hygiene. While hamans started as places for cleansing the body, over time they became social gathering places where one could enjoy the company of friends or conduct business. The haman played an important role in the lives of Ottoman women providing them with a way to socialize in their restricted lives outside the closed doors of their houses. Even the most wealthy women, who had their own private hamams in their houses, dropped by the hamam in their district once a month. Ottoman women celebrated important occasions at the bath such as weddings and birth and that tradition has continued to today.

The hamam experience is based long standing ritual. There are a variations on the theme but the gist of the ritual seems to encompass several basic steps.

The ritual begins with taking a shower to cleanse off. Next, you enter a steam-filled room that includes the central heating stone platform. This area is called the "hot area" or the sicaklik and includes the large, hot stone which is surrounded by bathing basins (kurna) and private bathing cubicles (halvet).

The purpose of spending time in the sicaklik is to perspire either by lying or sitting on the hot stone platform or pouring hot water on yourself by sitting next to one of the basins.

Next, you get up and wash yourself at one of the basins and either call it a day at the hamam or else pay for an attendant to give you what has been described as an "invigorating, exfoliating" head to toe body wash. From all that I've read, the full body scrub down can be a pretty painful experince.

Here's how one blogger described it:

"....your sadistic attendant will remove the cloth protecting your modesty before scrubbing you like a filthy floor, pummeling you to a pulp and grating you like parmesan cheese until dirt you never knew you had comes rolling off your body. You'll then be led to a basin where the same ritual will be performed on your sorry scalp."

After your *invigorating* body wash, you can return to the hot room for more sweating, opt for a massage or else retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation and drink. All in all, I think you could easily spend half a day in a hamam.

Hmmm.....after doing my reading, I'm still debating whether or not to go to a hamam. I hate heat and humidity so sweating to death, while wrapped up like a pig in a blanket would not be something high on my must-do list. I'd rather be shopping or sipping a cup of Turkish coffee. I'll try and keep open minded for now but you'll have to wait unti I get back from Turkey to find out if I end up in the hamam or not.

...and as much I would like to be able to record our experience on camera, I don't think mine will hold up in the hot and ultra humid environment of the hamam. Besides, Lei would kill me if I posted up a picture up of her in anything less than full body clothing so here's a "mocked up" picture of what we could look like - just use your imagination to fill in the gaps *grin*.