A historical Turkish bathhouse, known as a hammam, is not just a place to get clean, but a sauna and massage parlor as well. Many people who visit Turkey, plan to visit a Turkish bathhouse, known as a hammam, but are not sure what to expect, or where and when to go. Here is the Turkish Hammam Guide specially for you!
In this guide, we hope to give some guidance for hammam first times, along with a few tips and tricks to make your bathhouse experience fun and memorable, whether it be in Istanbul or one of the many other cities which offer hammams.
Most hammams in Turkey accommodate both men and women, though separately through different bathing rooms, or separate days. It will not be possible to visit a hammam together with your spouse as all hammams are separated by the sexes.
What is a Turkish Hammam?
A hammam, a public bathhouse with a steam room, is found throughout the Middle Eastern world, and many parts of Europe. A continuation of the Roman-style public bathing houses, hammams do have multiple purposes.
They not only provide a high quality of hygiene, but it is also a facility for social gatherings. The domed architecture of this place can’t be missed in a Turkish city. Also, its level of ornateness can show a city’s wealth and prosperity.
Originally hammams were not accessible to women, but eventually, this idea changed, and the baths started offering facilities or separate times for female bathing, though at no time was there ever coed access.
Hammams remain popular in Turkey to this day, among both locals and tourists. While there are many famous hammams in Istanbul, it can also be an interesting experience to visit a lesser-known bathhouse in another city like Konya, Denizli, or Izmir. These cities are much less touristy and provide a somewhat more traditional Turkish Bathhouse experience.
What to do in a Turkish Hammam:
The first thing you should consider is where you want your first hammam experience to be. There are a ton of hotel hammams in Istanbul, most of which are happy to cater to non-guests and are the easiest choice for first-time visitors as they are well trained to answer questions in English or to help explain how the bathing process works.
The downside is that these places are not architecturally impressive but are still an enjoyable experience. The larger historic places in Istanbul are also used to hosting guests, but you will end up paying more than average. After all, it is not cheap to maintain a building from the 1600s.
Whichever you choose, make sure you have a reservation and a good idea of how to get to the building beforehand. Here we have prepared an example of how most hammam experiences go down:
- When you first enter a hammam, whether by appointment or as a walk-in guest, you will be greeted by a reception desk, with an employee who will confirm which service you require, will confirm the price of said services, and will direct you to a changing room with lockers.
- Inside the hammam changing room, you will remove all your clothes, and wrap yourself in only a hammam towel called a Peştemel. Do not feel shy or frightened, although Turkey is a conservative country, nudity among the same gender is normal. Here also, you will find slippers which you should wear throughout your visit, as the marble floors become slippery when wet.
- From the changing room, you will be directed into the sıcaklık, which is sort of like a sauna. The purpose of this room is to heat your skin enough to open your pores. There are water basins in this room to pour over your body and wash away the sweat as it accumulates. There is also a heated stone upon which you can sit or lie down.
- After about 15 minutes of warming up, relaxing your muscles, and opening your pores, an attendant will arrive with a special scrubbing brush and soap. They will use this coarse scrubbed to scrub all over your skin and remove any grime, dirt, or dead skin. This process is both intense and enjoyable. If you feel your skin is being rubbed too roughly, feel free to let the attendant know. Prepare yourself for cold water splashes on your head, the cold water is used to rinse off the soap.
- Once your skin is clean and clear, it’s time for a mountain of bubbles. The bubble soap will be heaped upon you, at which time you can relax and enjoy the gentle massage, no more cold-water splashes are coming.
- Just kidding, because the next step is usually a shampoo, head massage, and another cold water dousing atop your head.
- At this point in your first hammam adventure, the structured activities are about over, and it is up to you to do what you feel like next. You can go back to the hot stone for another rest, take this time to admire the beautiful architecture and stonework of the bathhouse. When you are ready to make your way out, you will be offered a puffy dry towel and maybe a bathrobe.
- Now that you feel cozy and comfy, it is time to drink tea and have a snack of Turkish delight. Hammams usually have a living room sort of area where you can transition back into the real world, chat with friends, and drink at least 2 cups of Turkish black tea.
- Feel free to stay as long as you want before venturing back to the changing rooms and reentering the outside world.
When you are de-stressing in the relax room you can enjoy the reading of some other interesting articles on our blog:
- What Are The 13 Best Turkish Desserts?
- What Is the Most Beautiful Place in Turkey for Hot Air Balloons?
- Clothing In Turkey, Modern and Traditional Clothing
- What Is the Best Place for Your Honeymoon in Turkey?
- What Is Turkish Kahvalti? Turkish Breakfast – A Cultural Heritage
- Should I Visit Ephesus, Cappadocia or Pamukkale When in Turkey?
The architecture of hammams
The design and construction of hammams in Turkey have always been linked to a complex balance between the outward presentation of power, and the religious obligation to charity and public service. Hammams can be used both for physical and as a meeting place for community members.
These building’s profiles are almost always dominated by a dome, which covers the main bathing area of the bath. The domes have slats that serve a dual purpose, letting in sunlight and venting access steam.
3 main Parts of a Turkish hammam structure:
- Entrance and changing rooms
- Entrance and exit hall, where people can undress to prepare for the baths, rest and drink tea after the baths, or simply take a nap. The entrance would traditionally include wood or stone benches. Here also you will find small tables and facilities for serving tea and snacks.
- Warm room
- The warm room is where you lay on a heated stone, begin the sweating process, and are scrubbed free of any dirt or grime on your skin.
- Hot room
- The hot room is where you will be soaped and bubbled and mostly relax. The first two steps are designed to get you to the hot room which is the apex of the hammam experience.
Historically significant hammams in Istanbul
There are some 237 Istanbul hammams; about 60 are still used today. Plus, however many more across Turkey, the previous Ottoman Empire, and throughout Europe and the Middle East. This is too much to cover so we will talk specifically about Istanbul.
Aya Sofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam
One of the best hammams in Istanbul – and perhaps the most opulent. Built in 1556 for Roxelana, a sultan’s wife, The Aya Sofya Hamam was operational until 1910. After a massive refurbishment, it reopened in 2011
Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami
This one was, you guessed it, also designed by the great architect, Mimar Sinan. This particular structure though, which is located in Istanbul’s harbor district, was designed to serve the Ottoman navy, not the sultan’s wife. The main dome is one of Architect Sinan’s largest domes in Istanbul
Another beautiful hammam in Istanbul is the Cağaloğlu Hamami, built in 1741. Decorated with marble fountains, an interior garden, and marble columns. Natural sunlight penetrates through slats in the ceiling. The hand-painted tiles are decorated with floral themes.
Catma Mescit Hamami
Yet another construction of the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, this building dates back to the 6th century. It has recently undertaken a 5-year renovation and takes the hammam experience to a higher level with its beautiful restoration work.
This hammam was built in 1640 on the Asian side of Istanbul. The hammam gets its name from the hand-painted İznik tiles which decorated the interior. These tiles did not survive the passage of time. The building was bought by private investment in 1964 and reopened to the public after renovation.
Built in 1454 under the orders of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and was used privately by the Sultan’s immediate family. Located in Istanbul’s Taksim district, the hammam was opened for public use in 1923. It is also thought to be Istanbul’s oldest hammam.
What NOT to do at the hammam:
If you plan to visit one of the more popular or historic hammams in Istanbul, do not just show up without an appointment. Maybe they will fit you in, maybe they won’t, depending on the season and time of day. Also, do not go if you have a sunburn. The scrubbing on your skin will be hellish.
Smoking is not permitted in any hammam.
Do not bring your camera or phone inside the hammam. Please leave all your devices with your clothes in your locker. Photography is not allowed inside, to protect the other one’s privacy.
Hammams, though not specifically religious, are based in a strong background of Islam, so try not to show up intoxicated, and certainly do not try to sneak any booze inside.
What to keep in mind
Some hammams allow private bathing. Mostly the touristic ones. This means you have the place for yourself and your partner. The local hammams, however, keep men and women separate. Even if you are with a friend, most likely you will have your bathing adventure with many local men or women on a separate day. If you are with a big group of friends, you could make a reservation for that group on a specific day and time. Just remember, even if it’s a group, men and women can’t be together.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you decide to have a rub, ask who will give it. If you prefer to have a massage by someone from the same gender, ask if that’s the case.
If you are not sure, you might end up with an inconvenient surprise and you will have a bad hammam experience. This is not worth it, because a hammam experience is something you have to have before you leave Turkey!