In absence of any stories, as of yet, of female intimacy or sexual encounters at the baths I offer you a glimpse into 16th century Ottoman Istanbul. The author of this account was a European, a Flemish ambassador to Istanbul named Oghier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522-1592). Oghier recounted stories of life in the Ottoman capital for readers back home and relished in gossip and intrigue (not to mention the requisite dash of Orientalism). Here he writes of a story that he may have heard second- (or third- or fourth-hand). A true story in the -mış gossip tense of unrequited love between women, male drag, and an unfortunate end – and to think that it all started in the baths! Where else would it begin?
“…THE GREAT MASS OF WOMEN use the public baths for females, and assemble there in large numbers. Among them are found many girls of exquisite beauty, who have been brought together from different quarters of the globe by various chances of fortune; so cases occur of women falling in love with one another at these baths, in much the same fashion as young men fall in love with maidens in our own country. Thus you see a Turk’s precautions are sometimes of no avail, and when he has succeeded in keeping his wives from a male lover, he is still in danger from a female rival! The women become deeply attached to each other, and the baths supply them with opportunities of meeting. Some therefore keep their women away from them as much as possible, but they cannot do so altogether, as the law allows them to go there. This evil affects only the common people; the richer classes bathe at home…
It happened that in a gathering of this kind, an elderly woman fell in love with a girl, the daughter of an inhabitant of Constantinople, a man of small means. When her courtship and flatteries were not attended with the success her mad passion demanded, she ventured on a course, which to our notions appears almost incredible. Changing her dress, she pretended she was a man, and hired a house near where the girl’s father lived, representing herself as one of the slaves of the Sultan, belonging to the class of cavasses; and it was not long before she took advantage of her position as a neighbour, cultivated the father’s acquaintance, and asked for his daughter in marriage. Need I say more? The proposal appearing to be satisfactory, the father readily consents, and promises a dowry proportionate to his means. The wedding-day was fixed, and then this charming bridegroom enters the chamber of the bride, takes off her veil, and begins to chat with her. She recognises at once her old acquaintance, screams out, and calls back her father and mother, who discover that they have given their daughter in marriage to a woman instead of a man.
The next day they bring her before the Aga of the Janissaries, who was governing the city in the Sultan’s absence. He tells her that an old woman like her ought to know better than to attempt so mad a freak, and asks, if she is not ashamed of herself? She replies, “Tush! You know not the might of love, and God grant that you may never experience its power.” At this the Aga could not restrain his laughter; and ordered her to be carried off at once, and drowned in the sea. Thus the strange passion of this old woman brought her to a bad end.”
From Life & Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, C. Kegan Paul & Co., London, 1881, pp. 231 – 232.
Excerpted from here.
Last summer, I was in Çanakkale for one evening for a stopover. Naturally, I did what travelers have been doing since the beginning of bathhouse history – I parked my things in a lodging and promptly went to the hamam to wash away the long travel day. The hamam is in the older alley-riddled quarter of the town nearest the harbor. I went in at about 10:00 at night and no one was there. The bath is a standard hamam with modern embellishments: a large room, small compartment rooms around the side for changing, and a TV in the center for post-bath relaxing. Past this room is a narrow axially arranged area with showers, toilets, and a more secluded kese/massage area that is moderately heated, and then the hot room itself is of medium size (as far as these go) with a central göbektaşı and an installed “Finnish” sauna to one side, an increasingly popular addition. I was the only one there and found myself longing for at least one other person to observe/check out. Before long, I found the emptiness meditative and the heat just right. The keseci, not from Tokat but from Sivas and not burly and hairy but wiry and thin and graying, beckoned me to the ‘tepidarium’ area. He conducted the kese entirely with me seated rather than lying down, which I found refreshing. Maybe in Sivas they have a different style. As the Turkish elections were just around the corner, he also regaled me with his views on Turkish politics and American politics and I found them to be equally refreshing. He was cold towards Erdoğan, frigid towards US foreign policy (which he referred to as the ‘policing the world’), and lukewarm about Obama (not entirely convinced by what he has done). The kese was basic and fine. After I went back into the bath and a group of young men came in the bath, loud and boisterous, two by two. They, in fact, kept coming in, until there were ten or twelve, each sitting in their own area on the edge of the room near a basin. I would say they were around 18-20 years old, in the army. What I was first struck by was that young Turkish men still came to the bath at all. What I noticed next was that for them this was not a quiet peaceful moment to wash away the day’s toils but an evening in water theme park. They were cavorting, using the plastic hamam bowls to whip water at each other, and chasing each other as best as they could on the slippery floor. Their shouts reverberated around the hamam, the wet plastered walls amplifying, their voices bouncing off the walls.
The bath of many names, Şıfa hamamı is where one could find a good deal of male-male “action.” Usually reference to it involves many desperate foreigners unable to find it and being horribly lost. It is actually quite easy to locate. From the Karaköy metro head to the other Golden Horn bridge, that is when standing at the metro facing Sultanahmet take Tersane Caddesi to the right until you get to the other bridge. The bath is all by its lonesome in an uninteresting boxlike building on the right side. The Sokullu Mehmet Pasha mosque is on the left.
I went with a friend. Not just any friend. One that I met last summer a year ago at a club and went home with. He was French. We reconnected randomly and he suggested that we meet and go to the bath in the late afternoon on a Saturday. A lovely idea I thought! I had never gone to a bath date, let alone with a lover or “one-night stand.” I let him lead, as he goes there on a semi-regular basis, I gathered.
The building was quite unappealing, which is rather deceiving. Inside the changing room and reception were very clean and rooms arrayed around the court on two levels. We were given one changing room for the two of us, the closest near the concierge area. As we changed we stole sly looks at one another in the brief moment when we were…well…briefless. We wrapped ourselves and headed into the bath. Ahead was a door to a bath complex of at least two rooms that we didn’t go into. More on that later. Rather we hung a right, walked down a long hallway with some peştemal clad men and turned left into the main room. It was quite impressive. A real historic bath, clean, marbled with a central gobek taşı and alcoves in every corner that had entryways. I was impressed. This was no dank mildew peeling basement. Men were everywhere. On the gobek taşı, on the sides, in the alcoves. Everywhere. They were mainly hairy and some balding and some with big bellies and older, mainly 40s and up, working class by the looks of it, bus drivers, cab drivers. Most were alone, glancing at us as we walked in. No, scratch that. Staring. And staring hard. Only one or two were interacting with one another. We picked an alcove with the least amount of people in it; there were two. We sat together in a corner opposite them. Within minutes one had his peştemal open and was rubbing himself while staring at us. The other soon did the same. My friend and I were leaning against each other, shoulders touching, knees touching, feet touching. We were quietly chatting, occasionally pouring water over ourselves to cool down, ignoring the surroundings. It was sweet, relaxing, and I felt myself begin to let go, despite the staring strokers. We touched each other gingerly on the hands and shoulders, and then he kissed me. It was romantic and erotic…and I was freaking out. Just a little. Why? From my wanderings, I had constructed a highly sexualized top/bottom active/passive binary view of Turkish male – male sexuality. This affectionate display of intimacy had no part of it. Never once in a bath did I see men kiss. But this felt revolutionary. I loved my friend’s bold move in…well…just kissing me. I thought (my thoughts changed rapidly), well, all of these Turks who are constrained by showing public affection can feel comfortable watching this and perhaps feel bold or inspired to follow suit. Here in this bath we were safe. And they were all watching us. Of course, no one followed suit. To my dismay, not soon after we started, the keseci interrupted to inform us that he was ready to give us our massages. I felt like dad just walked in on us and quickly resumed composure and arranged my peştemal delicately.
The keseci was kind of hot. Perhaps the fittest one I’d ever seen. I thought this maybe a feature of more sexualized hamams where men know to go but then saw the other one, a rather large man with an unfortunate and massive tumor in his abdomen. I was reminded of Cihangir Sauna where there is a hunchback keseci. Is it that here in the seclusion of the hamams, these men with visible disfigurements can feel hidden from the public throughout the day? I was glad our keseci was the hot one. He gave us our massages and keses on the bench in the long interim hallway between two marble basins. I wanted to follow my friend out to watch his massage but the keseci and interestingly, other bathers, indicated that I shouldn’t. Maybe this was a private bond. My friend took my hand and I followed him. Another revolutionary move, I thought. I watched in relaxed disinterest as he scrubbed, soaped, and massaged my friend. It was kind of fun to watch, actually. After, during my turn, I enjoyed the scrub/rub. It was better than most. Not the longest, but he was really working hard as he massaged me and making heavy breathing and grunting noises reminiscent of tennis players at Wimbledon.
Afterwards, we returned to the bath and to another corner alcove. The stroking man from the first somehow materialized and poised himself across again, picking up where he left off. We left and wandered down the hall and let ourselves into the bath across the hall of the entrance. It was closed off, or at least I assumed this judging by the broom angled across the entrance and through the door handle. Inside was beautiful and empty. Feeling guilty we went back in the main bath. Now on the side of the main bath is a door that men were randomly going in and out of. I had observed this for the entire time and we went to check it out and it looked like two small semienclosed sauna type rooms with men in them and men waiting outside in the small narrow entry and so we didn’t linger. That is for next time. We returned to an alcove, and to our little corner. The bath was still full of men. Two men were talking with their arms around each other’s shoulders. They were younger but with chest hair and facial hair and muscular bodies. They stood out. At this point when we returned to the alcove I realized that my friend and I were smooth or nearly smooth chested with no facial hair and easily the most attractive. We were the main attraction. We settled into our corner, and began kissing again, moving further, exploring under peştemals. The stroker had appeared yet again, sitting across, and going at it fully now, his extended foot rubbed against mine purposely. My friend and I were a live show for the bath, despite our attempts at discretion and privacy. I so wanted to stay and enjoy the moment to completion but this nagged at me a little too much. I whispered in his ear that we should go back to his place, and so as we were both hot and heavy, the air charged, the stroker stroking, we got up and left. Upon leaving I peeked into the closed off bath again, hoping we can resume there, and to my surprise there were two figures: a man and a woman who was topless and laying down a pestemal for the man. Embarassed, I hurried out. A hired masseuse? Prostitute? I never did find out.
My friend and I changed and headed back to his house, caught a movie, he cooked me dinner, and I spent the night. And so the bath was but a prelude, an erotic and intimate one at that.
Aziziye Hamam. Kadıköy Haydarpasa Rıhtım Cd. Recaizade Sok. No:17-19 Kadıköy. Mens bath: 0216 349 14 65
Ladies bath: 0216 449 06 13 Cell: 0216 449 06 13 E-mail: email@example.com Hours: Seven days a week
Mens bath06:00 AM to 23:00 PM Ladies bath06:00 AM to 23:00 PM. Fees: bath: 15 YTL, kese and massage 15 YTL.
My mother wanted to go to a Turkish bath while she was visiting me, and while going to a hamam has been on my list of things to do since I arrived in Istanbul six months ago, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Mom would have been happy to go to the “hamam” in her hotel, which offers “an authentic Turkish bath experience” in their state of the art spa, but I was dubious. I was also sort of dubious about Aziziye Hamam http://www.aziziyehamam.com/ – the website is in perfect English and it offers directions from Europe, two sure indicators that it’s geared to tourists- but the website promised beautiful Ottoman architecture, and showed pictures of old guys wrapped in towels, so I figured we were bound to have a more authentic experience than making an appointment at the concierge’s desk for a massage by the lap pool.
The building had an unassuming salmon facade, with separate entrances for men and women. We went in the ladies’ entrance and down some marble steps into the entrance room. A half naked woman stood before us, vigorously toweling herself. An old woman in a headscarf was laying on a bench to our left, gently snoring. The room was lined with two stories of wooden cubicles, the upper level reached by a tiny set of marble stairs. In the a cubicle on our right there was a woman, stark naked except for slippers, applying deoderant and picking her toes and other private activities. We stood there, uncertain what to do. We stood there, uncertain, and tried not to stare. The naked lady in front of us stopped drying herself and disappeared into a cubicle. I noticed a modern drink machine in the corner, incongruous against the marble and dark, old wood. After a few minutes the door at the opposite end opened and a middle aged woman wearing nothing but a pair of black panties and some rubber slippers emerged in a billow of steam. She ushered us up the tiny, twisted marble stairs into cubbies, (the wrapper from a sanitary napkin was laying on the bench in mine) made sure we each had a pestemal and slippers, and left us. Mom and I had a brief conference through the wall separating our cubbies about how much to leave on, and then we both emerged in our underwear, wrapped in our pestemals.
Downstairs two more plump, middle aged ladies wearing black panties and slippers ushered us through the door into the steam room. There was a large navel stone in the middle, and areas on either side with low stone shelves and stone basins with taps. The bath attendants put us in a corner, each with her own basin, and gave us plastic bowls and demonstrated that we were to pour water over ourselves. They disappeared, and we looked at each other, perplexed. Another woman came in and sat in the corner opposite ours. She unfastened her wrap and began dousing herself repeatedly with water, so we did the same. Aside from the weirdness of sitting there half naked with my mom, it was pleasant. The steam room was gorgeous. There was a dome over the navel stone with a window at the top that let in a little light that filtered down through the steam. The tile work on the ceiling and in the dome were exquisite. It was nice to sit there in steamy drowsiness on the beautiful, warm marble benches and pour water on myself when I got too hot.
There was an old woman on the other side who was taking an inordinate amount of time to shave her nethers. Across from her were a group of young woman laughing and chatting and soaping each others’ backs. I was surprised at their youth; I’ve been given to understand that young Turkish people don’t go to Hamams much anymore. For the better part of an hour we were the only foreigners there.
“Better than the hotel, huh, mama,” I murmered. “This is a real Turkish experience.”
She nodded, pleased.
After a while I started to get restless. I’ve never had the patience to sit in a sauna or take a long soak in a tub and I was beginning to get very thirsty. I was just beginning to fidget in earnest when the trio of middle aged ladies in their underpants came back, and with a series of grunts and gestures, got us to lay down on our pestemals on the navel stone. First my attendant scrubbed my back and legs with a rough cloth in long strokes. She slapped my thigh to indicate that I should flip over and then she did my front. Then she took me over to a stone basin and rinsed me, and rinsed the gray pills of dead skin from my pestemal, and pushed me and grunted at me until I was laying down on the navel stone again in the correct position. She soaped me up with a bit of bar soap and a washcloth, front and back, (I think she used the same cloth for me and my mother) Finally I was taken back to my basin and she rather lovingly shampooed my hair and left me to finish rinsing myself.
Full disclosure: I worked in spas in the US for years. And the whole time I was there the voices of every beauty school teacher and every boss I’ve ever had was screaming in my head about the sanitation, which, by OSHA standards was non-existant. I’ve never been a germophobe, but if you are, perhaps you should stick with the hotel spa. Everything was covered in soap and hot water, and the worst I believe you could catch in such a place would be ring-worm or a touch of athlete’s foot. Also, if you’re expecting some TLC in the massage forget it. The whole thing took ten minutes, tops, and was rather rough. Also, perhaps because I worked in a spa for so many years, I’ve lost some of my boundaries about nakedness and touching, but I feel I should warn you, ladies: your boobs will be manhandled. They will be scrubbed and soaped along with the rest of you, as will your inner thighs. The lady wearing only underwear and a grim expression will move your underwear wherever she needs to- pulling it below your butt cheeks one minute, yanking it into your crack the next.
Over all it was a nice experience. I left feeling softer and smoother than I have in a long time, and profoundly relaxed, and it was nice to do something that’s normally so private, bathe, in such a communal atmosphere.
Büyük Hamamı (Kasımpaşa/Beyoğlu, Potinciler Sok. 22)
The entrance to the women’s side of this hamam is around the corner from the men’s. It is smaller and almost resembles a service entrance (see the male side).
The communication barrier was absolute, but we (myself and two other lady friends) been armed with a few hints from our trusted guide, Asa. One important hint was not to let them rush you from the steam room to the bath slab for the kese.
We were tossed in a small room with vinyl benches and given wraps. Being small, the wrap more than covered me, others were not so lucky. I’m not sure they cared.
We were ushered into a marble room with a low shelf to sit on, each by a marble sink. Hot water was run and we were cautioned that it was very hot. We were able to turn on the cold water and each had buckets with which to douse ourselves. Water ran everywhere. We sat and sweat.
Ushered into another room and set on a very hot, very beautifully carved marble slab. Above was a dome with many small windows. The clouds and the sky were perfect. It was a place to reflect. It was a point to stare at if one were uncomfortable with looking at one’s friends naked. It was a point to look at to calm down.
Having no idea what to expect made me anxious. Two women walked in, wearing only underwear. The women were voluptuous, cellulite abounded, but strong, very strong looking. Their underpants were flesh colored briefs, not completely dowdy, though. No lace detail, but not baggy 100% cotton. The three of us shifted over so they could lay down next to us.
Each of them smacked separate edges of the slab and pointed at one of us. The third of our party was left to sit and watch us get washed.
The washer women did not try to talk to me and I think they might’ve been talking to each other. My fellow bathers and I spoke in the ante-steam-room and while we waited to be washed and then in-between washings, but during this part, the washings, we were all quiet.
I was told that this would be the best scrub ever, that it would be hard and my skin would feel softer and more invigorated than ever. Much to my chagrin, the scrubbing was light, the soap was the cheapest liquid, most obnoxious smelling Proctor & Gamble nastiness. I was reeling from being washed by a topless woman. And, yes, I was worried that I’d be taken advantage of. It was a very sexual thing for me. I was scared. When it was time for me to flip over, she just smacked my thigh. There was one moment when my clit was grazed and it just felt awkward. I wondered if they were going to wash my private parts, which, by the way, were left unrinsed.
It was done quickly and I was told to sit on another marble shelf. Cold water was doused over my head from my bucket. This made me lose my breath and it was very uncomfortable, not exhilarating. By that time I was in a panic.
We waited for the third to be done and walked back to our little room in our wet wraps. Towels were eventually brought to us.
We hit the streets shortly after drying off and paying. Had a chicken sandwich and some soda. The men in our party came sauntering out 45 minutes later, having been given hot towels, tea and television.
Büyük Hamam (Kasımpaşa/Beyoğlu, Potinciler Sok. 22)
I visited the Büyük Hamamı male baths with four friends in May 2009. For two of us, including myself, it was our first trip to a hamam. This was something that I’d been looking forward to since we’d finalized our trip to visit our friend in Istanbul and overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing experience. The Büyük Hamamı was at the foot of a steep hill and I have to confess that I was expecting it to be a bit of a dump based on its drab exterior. However, the internal space was clean and pleasant, if a little tired.
We were welcomed by the manager, provided with a peştemel, flip-flops in exchange for shoes, and keys to individual changing rooms on an upper level that overlooked the communal waiting area. The changing rooms were basic, but clean. This might be stating the obvious, but the bath was hot and steamy and we initially spent some time trying to acclimatize to the heat while we sat and laid on the insanely hot stone or göbek taşı. It was a midweek afternoon and the baths were quiet with only a few other patrons, all who appeared to be Turkish. The massage was conducted on the göbek taşı by the tellak and took about 10-15 minutes. I’ve not had a huge number of massages before, but it was firm and even included some back cracking. This was then followed by the kese or scrub which was pleasant, but something of a surreal experience given that the last time I was washed and scrubbed by somebody else in this manner was as a child by my mother. It was shocking to see the amount of dead skin removed during the scrub and it made me doubt whether I clean myself sufficiently well on a daily basis. The soap was rinsed off thoroughly by the tellak with gallons and gallons of water. It was another unusual experience and one need to learn quickly to take a large breath of air between buckets…
Following the wash and massage we returned to the communal waiting area where we were bundled up in towels and directed to sit on a couch in front of an inordinately large TV. We cooled down with çay and soda before returning to the changing rooms for a short nap. I left Buyuk Hamamı feeling refreshed, very clean and with every intention of visiting another hamam as soon as possible.
Click on those that are linked to take you to bath-specific posts.
*not all information might be correct!
Sultanahmet, Eminönü, and around
1. Çemberlitaş (Çemberlitaş, Vezirhan Cadd. 8 ) M W
2. Cağaloğlu (Cağaloğlu, Prof. Kazim Ismail Gurkan Cadd. 34) M W
3. Park Hamam (Sultanahmet, Divanyolu Cad. 10 Dr. Emin Paşa Sok.))
4. Köşk (Cağaloğlu, Alayköşkü Cad. 17) M G
5. Örücler (Beyazit, Kapalıçarşı Örüculer Kapısı Sok. 32) M
6. Süleymaniye (Beyazit, Mimar Sinan Cad. 20) M G
7. Şifa (Sultanahmet, Şifa Hamamı Sok. 26) M
8. Çardaklı (Kadirga)
9. Kadirga (Kumkapı, Liman Cad. 127) M W
10. Gedikpaşa (Gedikpaşa, Hamam Cadd. 65-7) M W
11. Vezneciler (Vezneciler, Bozdoğan Kemeri Cad. 2) M
12. Havuzlu (Nişanca, Derinkuyu Sok. 16) M
13. Nişancı Paşa (Kumkapı, Türkeli Cad. 45) M W
14. Merkez Efendi (Zetinburnu, Merkez Efendi Mah. Merkez Efendi Cad. 5) M
15. Küçükpazar (Küçükpazar, Hacı Kadın Cad. 134) M
Fatih, Balat, and around
1. Sofular (Aksaray, Sofular Cad. 66) M W
2. Horhor (Aksaray, Hamam Sok. 8 ) M
3. Mihrimah Sultan (Edirnekapı, Fevzi Paşa Cad. Eroğlu Sok.)
4. Paşa (Edirnekapı, Avcıbey Mah. Paşa Hamamı Sok. 9) M
5. Çavusbaşı (Balat, Çavuş Hamam Sok. 11)) M W
6. Arabacılar (Balat, Yatağan Hamam Sok. 1) M W
7. Tahta Minare (Balat, Vodina Cad. 95) M W
8. Haseki Bostan (Haseki, Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Cad. 30) M W
9. Küçük (Şehremini, Altımermer Cad. 1) M W
10. Hacı Kadın (Kocamustafapaşa, Abdi Çelebi Mah. Hacı Kadın Cad. 85) M W
11. Kocamustafapaşa (Kocamustafapaşa, Kocamustafapaşa Cad. 441) M W
12. Davutpaşa Iskelesi (Samatya, Samatya Cad. 21) M W
13. Hacı Evhadüddin (Yedikule, Hacı Evhadüddin Cad. 67) M
14. Mehmet Ağa (Çarşamba, Beyzeyiz Mah. 46) M W
Atatürk Airport and around
1. Polat Renaissance Hotel (Atatürk Airport, Sahil Yolu Cad. 2)
Beyoğlu/Taksim and around
2. Çukurcuma Süreyya (Çukurcuma/Tophane-Beyoğlu, Çukurcuma Cad. 57)) M
5.? Kiliç Ali Paşa (Tophane, Karaköy, Kemankeş Mah. Hamam Sok. No:1 34425 ) M
7. Hürriyet (Dolapdere/Beyoğlu, Gölbaşı Sok. 80) M
8. Marmara Hotel
9. Cesme (Karaköy, Voyvoda Cad., Yeni Cesme Sok. 9))
10. Cihangir (Çukurcuma, Siraselviler Cad. Altıpatlar Sok. 14)) M
11. Aquarius Sauna (Taksim, Istiklal Cad. Sadri Alışık Sok.))
12. Nur Hamam (Beyoğlu, Istiklal Cad. Hamalbaşı Cad. No. 14)
13. Şıfa Hamamı / Yeşildirek Hamamı / Hammam Azapkapi Sokullu (Azapkapı, Tersane Caddesi, Yolcuzade Sok 74)
Bosphorus Villages and around
1. Swissotel the Bosphorus, Amrita Spa & Wellness (Maçka-Beşiktaş, Bayıldım Cad. No. 2)
2. Istinye Park, Sanda Day Spa (Istinye, Istinye Bayiri Caddesi)
3. İstinye (Istinye-Sarıyer, Değirmen Sok. 35) M
4. Yeşildirekli (Azapkapı, Tersane Cad. 74))
5. Beşiktaş (Beşiktaş, Ihlamurdere Cad. Şair Veysi Sok. 12) M W
6. Sarıyer (Sarıyer, Yenimahalle Cad. 65) M W
Üsküdar, Kadiköy, and around
1. Ağa (Üsküdar, Gündoğumu Cad. 65) M W
2. Çinili (Üsküdar, Çavuşdere Cad. 204) M W
4. Şifa/Eski/Mehmet Paşa (Üsküdar, Doğancilar Cad. 54 Dari Sok) M W
5. Bulgurlu (Üsküdar, Bulgurlu Cad. 47) M W
7. Çarşı (Kadiköy, Söğötlüçeşme Cad. 34) M
8. Beykoz (Beykoz, Fevzipaşa Cad. 14) M W
9. Beylerbeyi (Beylerbeyi/Üsküdar, Yalıboyu Cad. 70) M W
10. Yalı (Maltepe, Yalı Mah. Hamam Sok. 4) M W
11. Şifa (Kartal, Hürriyet Cad. 3/A) M
12. Yakacık (Yakacık/Kartal, Çarşı Mah. Vezirçeşme Sok. 4) M
Firuz Aga Hamamı, Çukurcuma Cadd. 6., Çukurcuma, Beyoğlu
Often in baths talking is limited. While chatting can happen, the space is public even in its most private sense, and the echoes and reverberations, sounds of the washing and splashing, and the heavy walls can mute the space and make having a full on conversation difficult. Unless one shouts, which one would not do. As a result, although my friend and I went together and chatted throughout, there were some things we were not able to talk in depth about, foreign language or not. This was partly in deference to not interrupting our experience but partly in preserving the quietude of the bath. This post follows my friend’s post as a part II impression on a bath from a straight perspective (his) and a gay perspective (mine). Oddly, it is the first time we have shared our experiences with each other about it. From the silent hamam to the “loud” blogosphere…. (continue reading…)
In the tradition of communal bathing, here are several experiences from Bursa’s fine and venerable Eski Kaplıca.
From the male side, accounts from four bathers, all non-Turks, some experienced bathers, some new bathers, some return customers to the bath itself…
In Bursa we visited a very old bath, it was early in the morning, yet it was nicely populated by the time we entered. This was a huge building, impressive from the outside, and upon entry the building had domed ceiling entirely. This time we only opted for the bath experience – no keseci, etc. we were shown to a changing room, we changed, and with wooden shoes walked into the bath. We entered the first room – it was large, but barren, there were some benches on the side, but not much else. If one was to walk to the adjoined room on the right, there was a place for bathing (seating, basins) but I did not enter, so I could not write much more to that room. Walking forward, there was a door we passed through into the room that had a large pool and further basins. The room was nicely heated.
It was spacious and featured a beautiful octagonal pool in the hot room where one could swim. The pool was fed continuously by a stream of water cascading and creating a wonderful sound.
This was my first hamam experience, and what a better place to do it than Bursa’s finest. My reluctance to bathe naked with other men, was soon turned into an absolute enjoyment, partly because we were covered with thin towels, which minimizes the impact of the ‘first sin’ (you Jewish and Christians out there, know what I mean) and partly because the whole atmosphere made you relaxed. It felt so natural, as if men (and women) were meant to enjoy bathing not in the solidarity of their homes but rather in the company of others. Will I do it again? Most definitely I will! PS: Good company might be the key for a good first experience.
The mood of this bath was very nonchalant; in the past I had been able to keep account of time (for example, how long I spent in the complex, etc) but in this one I have no idea if I spend 30 minutes of 2 hours. The water was a very nice temperature; the room was very light and had a nice presence. There were about 7 men inside, all keeping mostly to themselves, however they seemed to know one another and at times would wash each other or have small conversations.
One man asked me if I could kese his back for him, which I did. He bade me to do it harder than I was. I’m not sure if I was the perfect keseci stand in. Certainly I was excused for not being Turkish. Which, I think, may have trumped any underlying eroticism intended. He also then did me.
We eventually left, passing back into the first, plain, room and changed into dry wraps. It was nice not to be handed the clothes, they were on a rack and there was a partition to change behind – the “nice” part of this was that it was entirely up to the bather when he wanted to leave the baths, there was no one handing you the towels and dry clothes signaling when you should leave, or you didn’t have to walk outside and ask for them.
The changing/lounging room was a vast domed bricked cavernous and beautiful space with beach lounge chairs and a bar and little cabana like dressing rooms.
We stopped by the “bar” – I had an ayran, which was very refreshing after the bath (it may be my favorite drink, after a bath or not) and relaxed a bit on the stools. Many men, most of whom we saw in the bath, were reclining on chairs in this area. Eventually, we made our way back to our shared changing room and relaxed a bit in there before leaving; I could have almost fallen asleep.
I had been to the Bursa Kaplica before by myself, and found the employees to be hostile bordering on the sadistic. But this time around, surrounded by a cohort of 10 friends, I loved it.
We left, returned our key, and were given lemon cologne for our hands (a smell I definitely recognized from having been in Turkey, yet not one that I had been given yet.) I feel that I could have spent many more hours in the bath, maybe all day with intermittent food, drink, cigarettes, etc.
I think this bath, in the Cekirge district, might be my favorite in Turkey currently. It was beautiful and clean, without being kitschy or swarming with Istanbul tourist groups.
And now for something completely different, from the women’s side (written by a Turkish woman)…
The women’s side in the bath was very small. I had a kese and massage. It was very similar to the ones I had in Ulus in style. There were only two spots for women to get kese or massage. Also unlike the hamam in Ulus, this one had a small pool. It was nice, but I really prefer a larger bathing area than a pool. Also there was no gobek tasi. The other thing that I found different was that we had to pay (including for kese and massage) beforehand. Also the entrance area was looked like an entrance for a gym rather than for a hamam. There was no place to hang out. The staff was not very helpful or talkative either. In general it was more professional, touristic and less friendly than my hamam in Ulus. Also it was not very impressive in terms of architecture, no dome or anything like that. But as I said the women’s part was very very small… it seemed like an appendix to the building was converted into women’s bath…
For a little history check out:
I’m so glad that Mark Twain agreed to blog for our post and project!
This is a wonderful excerpt from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim’s Progress; being some account of the steamship Quaker City’s pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy Land; with descriptions of countries, nations, incidents and adventures, as they appeared to the author. It was published in 1870, though you may find his narrative eerily appropriate for today’s Istanbul baths.
“When I think how I have been swindled by books of Oriental travel, I want a tourist for breakfast. For years (continue reading…)