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Turkey Holidays: The Turkish Bath

If you have ever been to Turkey, you must have heard the Turkish bath or “hamam”. Turkish bath is a traditional public bath similar to Roman baths. Istanbul is a good place to try hamam for the first time. Antalya and other holiday resorts are also suitable for foreigners.

There are said to be about 100 old Ottoman baths, called hammam in Istanbul, of which about 80 are still in use. There is little doubt that their popularity will continue, as the fuel shortage makes a weekly visit to the hammam an attractive proposition. The degree of all-over cleanliness it produces is way beyond what most of us ever achieve through our daily baths and showers. As a British clergyman wrote in the 1930s during his stay here: They hold impurity of the body in greater detestation than impurity of the mind, ablution being so essential that without it prayer will be of no value in the eyes of God.

Your bathing options would be either self-service or traditional. You bathe yourself with your shampoo, towel and soap if you prefer self-service. The traditional style would offer real Turkish bath experience including massage but may cost more.

Ottoman marriage contracts stipulated that a husband had to give his wife bath-money. If he failed to do so, it was grounds for divorce.

Mixed bathing is not permitted except in some of the larger hotels, and the penalty for a man entering the women’s hammam used to be death. The women’s baths are delightfully relaxing places, with fat homely masseuses in black briefs with colossal swinging bosoms, often smoking cigarettes in between customers. Nakedness is the norm among foreigners in a women’s hammam. Since you are probably only going to do it once, have everything on offer – the rub with the rough glove to shed years of grime from your front and especially your back, the soaping, the face massage and even the foot massage. Even with all the extras, the whole experience is still remarkably good value. Each person has a locker for their valuables. The men’s baths, by contrast, sound a lot less fun, with towels wrapped firmly round waists.

The baths recommended for foreigners are the cagaloglu (Yerebatan Caddesi), the (cemberlitas (Vezirhan Caddesi 8) in Sultanahmet, and the Galatasaray in Turnacibasi Caddesi, Beyoglu. Some of the big five-star hotels also have small Turkish baths, but they lack the authentic atmosphere. Other local hamams are not very good for Tourists and visitors.

Susan S Jones