Bathing in a traditional Turkish hammam (sauna bath) is probably on most tourists’ to-do-list while they are visiting Turkey. It is partly because tourists are always interested in immersing themselves in other cultures’ traditions. Also, it is partly because they love to get involved in hands-on experiences when they are in a foreign land.
So, as a hammam towel retailer, I thought it would benefit our readers writing a blog post about Turkish hammams and what to expect when you are embarking on such an authentic experience.
Turkish Hammams are public indoor bathing places which have been a part of Turkish culture over 600 years. A lot of locals as well as tourists love bathing in these hammams. Hence the chances of meeting local people is pretty high, especially in residential neighbourhoods. In my view, this fact adds hugely on the authenticity of the experience.
Walking through the doors
When you enter the hammam through the doors, you will find yourself in a hall with the reception. Once you have done your payment at the reception, they hand you the hammam towels and direct you to men’s or women’s designated areas. Men and women have their separate quarters at all times. If you are going to a hammam with an other-sex friend or partner, then you will meet each other at this main hall at the end of your visit.
There are lockers and small changing rooms. You can safely keep your belonging in these lockers. Once you changed and ready for bathing, all you need to do is to make your way to the main bathing area. It is good to give a heads-up here for those having a health issues. Inside the bathing hall, the average temperature is 45° C. and 80-90% humidity.
In some hammams, there is one big hall and in bigger hammams there is usually a big hall and a few other small quarters for a more private experience with less people. Every bath can have a different lay-out depending on their sizes.
Floors and walls are generally marble in more touristy old hammams. In modern hammams in local neighbourhoods, tiles may replace the marble.
There are a number of wash-basins along the perimeter of the hall with a reasonable distance between them to give you a degree of privacy in the common room.
In the main hall where you are bathing, there is usually a central island with a large glass dome overhead for bringing lots of daylight in the bathing hall. The central island is mainly for resting, lying on it and sweating. Don’t forget to lay your towel before you sit yourself by the basin for washing or on the central island for resting for your personal hygiene.
Sweating a lot is a good preparation for the next stage which is massage. Massage is the highlight of the whole event. But it is optional. You don’t have to have a massage if you don’t want to. If you opt in to massage, then it is a good idea to build up a good sweat before you proceed to massage area. There is no rush in Turkish hammams. There is a serene atmosphere in here. You can take your time and calm your mind and body until you are ready for the massage.
Once you are in massage room, however, then you should mentally and physically get ready for action and total awakening. If you want your masseur or masseuse to be gentle, this is the moment to let them know about it. They have a reputation for being quite heavy-handed. Nevertheless, you will feel wonderfully rejuvenated after a deep cleansing and an expert massage.
Once you are ready to leave the washing and massage area, you go back to your locker to get changed. You will be in the mail hall when you step out of the changing area. Another heads-up here from us: it is a good idea to sit down in this area and have a cold drink before you leave the hammam. This will help your body temperature to stabilise after spending hours in a heated and highly moist indoors.
What to take with you inside a Turkish Hammam?
It is handy to bring a bottle of water to keep you hydrated. I would also suggest taking your own hammam towels with you rather than using the hammams’ towels. If you are taking your own hammam towels with you, then I would suggest taking a pair of them. One is to be used to wrap up at the duration of the bathing. This will eventually get wet. The second towel is to be kept dry and clean at the locker to dry yourself at the very end.
It is also advisable to wear a bikini or bathing trunks at all time for your own comfort and convenience. Flip flops are also essential for hygiene and also for avoiding slipping on the wet marble or tile floors.
I personally prefer to bring my own shampoo and soap bar. A washing mitten is also an essential especially if you are washing and scrubbing yourself to get rid of old skin. And finally, don’t forget to take a nylon bag or a pouch to keep your wet cloths.
It is a very relaxing and enjoyable day. I know quite a few foreign friends of mine revisiting a hammam right after their ceremonial first experience!