GUEST POST OVERVIEW: Turkey is high on my must-see list, both for the architecture and for a dip in the Turkish Baths. In this new guest post, Katherine tells us more about this long-standing tradition of Hamam.

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Turkish Baths -- photograph by
Turkish Baths — photograph by

You can’t really travel around Turkey without sampling one of the country’s most famous pastimes: the Turkish bath. They started to become popular in the West during the nineteenth century, but there is nothing quite like the experience of having one in its original birthplace.

(baths image courtesy Voyage Anatolia)

Turkish baths, or hamams, have existed for thousands of years. During the days of the Ottoman Empire they were the place to be seen. Men and women are always kept separate in hamams, and mothers used to visit with the aim of finding an appropriate bride for their sons. Today there are two choices for tourists: luxury hotel hamams or cheaper traditional ones. My friend and I went for the latter option.

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Arriving at the Baths

We arrived at the reception of the hamam in Bodrum with slight trepidation, as the only idea we had of what was going to happen was from the brochure pictures of the bath during the 1980s. Sadly not one person in reality had a mullet.

Turkish Baths in London -- Photography by Emily Webber --
Turkish Baths in London — Photography by Emily Webber —

At the reception you decide on a service: self service (you bathe yourself); traditional (wash and massage by an attendant) or luxury (includes an oil massage). We went for the traditional service (costing around $20), and, being prudes, checked with the receptionist that we were allowed to keep our bikinis on throughout, to which she replied yes.

(London Turkish Hamam photo by Emily Watson’s London Shop Fronts Blog)

First of all you are shown to the changing cubicles, and given sandals and a peştamal (cotton wrap) to protect your modesty. You are then led to a warm room to start working up a sweat, and on to a hot room to lie on a heated marble platform for 10 minutes or so.

After splashing yourself down with cold water from the basins around the room, prepare for the most thorough wash of your life. Before I had time to protest, my bikini top was whipped away by the attendant. She then started scrubbing my skin with what felt like sandpaper (but was in fact a mitt) and gleefully showing me the dirt that was coming off. The bubble wash that followed was quite enjoyable, but I was already fearing the massage stage that I could see my friend being subjected to in another area.

Bursa bano turco - photograph by Rafael Gomez --
Bursa bano turco – photograph by Rafael Gomez —

The massage happens back on the marble platform, and the attendant contorts every part of your body into shapes you didn’t even think you could make. Despite the pain it felt as though it really was doing some good, and if nothing else my cracking joints were providing good entertainment for the masseuses.

(photograph by Rafael Gomez)

After this you are taken to a cool room and offered a drink (unfortunately not a stiff whisky) before it’s time to get changed again. My experience of the traditional Turkish bath was, on the whole, far from a relaxing one, but I would encourage anyone to give it a go once. Good luck!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katherine likes to a get a feel for the history of the places she visits, and seeks out the bits which reveal something about the culture in different areas of the globe. She has travelled in four different continents and is looking forward to exploring the rest.

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Whaddya think?
Have you ever been to a Turkish Baths?
What was your experience like?