Hammam Guide

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Not Nearly Hot Enough

by admin on Feb.28, 2009, under Beyoğlu hamams


Ağa Hamamı. Turnacıbaşı Sok. No. 60, Beyoğlu.
Hours: 24. Prices: Hamam 29 YTL, 5 for Kese, 5 for Massage.
Visited Dec. 28th, 2008, Sunday, 3:30 pm

It was a raining day, and after my friend and I walked back to Galatasaray
hamam to take photographs of the interior and exterior, and we had
planned to take a trip to another hamam on the same road as
Galatasaray – being that it was raining, and seeing the sign
for Ağa Hamamı as we walked to our destination we decided to
walk in and check it out. The entrance was not street-level;
we had to walk down a few marble steps to get to the lobby. It
was very dim; even after the lights were raised for our
arrival (there no one else there at the time) it still stayed
quite dim. Discussing, and then settling on a price, the two
of us opted to receive the base-hamam experience, as well as
massage and scrub. We changed, and entered the hamam. The
dimness there was not an issue – it was much nicer than the
florescent colored lights of Galatasaray. As we lay upon
the stone I was surprised that it was not as hot as expected.
There was either condensation gathering and falling from the
dome, or there was water leaking in from the roof, dripping on
the two of us. The stone was also not nearly hot enough –
throughout the entire experience, until after my massage and
scrub and sitting in a side room (including a request for a 15
minute delay for our services to begin) I did not break a
sweat! Regardless, the experience was relaxing, and the keseci
was decent enough. The keseci did, though, react in a
particularly odd way concerning my body – for example, as he
scrubbed my arm (and this happened for both) he was, from how
it appeared, purposefully placing and rubbing my hands
particularly on his body- it was not offensive, but quite
surprising.
Another odd note – during the visit a small group of women
came into the hamam, at first using one of the side rooms,
but then laying on the central stone. I felt no objection
other than shock – this happened after the two of our massages
and as we were sitting in the side rooms – even a regular to
this particular hamam was in shock!
Overall, this was an “ok” experience – apparently, this hamam
is open twenty-four hours, which sounds great, say, after a
long night out. The prices were much more reasonable,
especially for the neighborhood (located just off Istiklal)
and my only chief complaint was the heat of the central stone!
To have been waiting to break a sweat was taxing on my relaxation!

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Üsküdar’a giderken: writing about a 1640 hamam

by admin on Jan.21, 2009, under Asian side hamams

Çinili Hamamı. Murat Reis Mahallesi,  Çavuşere Caddesi No. 204, Üsküdar. Men’s section: 0216 553 15 93; Women’s section: 0216 334 97 10, hours available most days, all day, but call ahead. Women’s section prices: 18 for hamam, 5 for kese, 5 for soap and massage, 3 for peştemel.

http://www.cinili.com.tr.tc/

The Çinili Hamamı was built in 1640 as part of a mosque complex ordered by the Valide Sultan Mahpeyker Kösem, wife of Ahmet I (r. 1604-1617) and mother of Ibrahim I. Kösem Sultan was one of the most powerful women of the Ottoman 17th century and gained unprecedented influence in political decision-making when acting as regent, which she did three times, for her son Murad IV, and her grandson Mehmed IV. She made enemies as well as allies and was murdered in 1651 at the age of around 70.

Her complex has been divided by modern roads; the baths stand at the junction of Çavuşere Caddesi and Çinili Hamam Sokağı. The hamam’s unofficial website lists the neighborhood as Murat Reis but taxi drivers may better understand Bağlarbaşı.  It’s a 5 minute 5 lira drive from the Üsküdar Iskelesi.

This is a double bath, with separate sections for men and women. Each has two central domed areas, one for the central room and the other acting as a large vestibule for relaxing. The name Çinili (tiled) apparently comes from the quantitities of Iznik tile that decorate both the mosque and the men’s bath, though I have seen neither.

I spent a Sunday afternoon in January at the women’s bath. Here, the vestibule has been extensively remade to include small changing rooms on two levels. These have their own charm, but any sense of a gracious space under the dome has been lost along with any original tile – an effect not greatly helped by a quanitity of new, bathroom looking tile, cheap plastic patio furniture, and a space heater. The last is an unfair complaint on a cold day; like most 17th century buildings, this isn’t equipped with central heating. And all the chairs were occupied: the hamam was really crowded.

The bathing section was less steamy than in past visits when the göbek taşı (the ‘belly stone’ under the big dome) was sometimes almost too hot to touch. Around the main domed room are a series of small alcoves alternating with small chambers. These house the faucets and basins which bathers themselves control. These are elegant marble, possibly 17th century, and the rooms are high ceilinged with niches for one’s peştemels (special hamam towels) and other bathing equipment. One of these small chambers is now a sauna; it’s bare-bones but hot and the wood is fragrant. The hamam is very clean and provides plastic flipflops; on this Sunday, though, the employees had to work to tidy discarded soap slivers, gazoz bottles, and the odd sponge.

The other bathers were mostly Turkish women and mostly seemed to be from the surrounds, though not necessarily the immediate neighborhood – several had come from Bostancı (further up the Asian coast of the Marmara). The mix was well-distributed between old and young – all other distinctions of dress, hair-style, make-up (and certainly headscarf) are lost. One sees the occasional tourist here but not often. Discussions between strangers revolved around other hamams, often new ones on the Asian side of Istanbul.

There was a striking difference between this and the hamams I’ve visited in other parts of the world: on this afternoon, no small children were present. This could indicate a variety of factors: the hamam as a space of adult sociability or work – children were not included in either; that most people come to the hamam for something other than necessity, as they have hot running water at home and children can be washed there; small children are offered an option to stay home or go elsewhere which requires someone else to look after them.

There was a usual array of bathing attire. Some younger women wore two-piece bathing suits; older women wore panties and sometimes bras, some wore peştemels around their waists. There is a kese (scrub) and soap & massage service, which is administered by one of several employees. The scrub is good though my keseci was unhappy that I’d applied moisturizer at some point a few days before which prevented the kese from adequately stripping the dead skin away. “Kremi kullanma!” The soap & massage is less recommendable, being really only a soap. This all takes place on the central stone, from which one can be dripped upon, pleasantly, with water condensing on the dome above.

The habits of the bathers range from social to serious; some are there to take care of their nails and hair as well as their skin. Clipping and filing is a public activity, but shaving goes on as quietly as possible, usually in a corner. Having a complete wash, which means nudity, also was done discretely, and a clean peştemel or bathrobe donned afterward.

The hamam strikes a good balance of the elegant, utilitarian, and local. On a winter’s day, it was crowded but still friendly and provides a place to escape domestic routines and the cold. It may not satisfy those who demand absolute luxury but it provides a comfortable experience nonetheless, without any of the hurry and pressure for tips of a more tourist-oriented hamam.

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The 24 Hour Bath

by admin on Jan.16, 2009, under Beyoğlu hamams

Ağa Hamamı. Turnacıbaşı Sok. No. 60, Beyoğlu. Hours: 24 (although presently in Dec 2012 it closes at 10pm). Prices: Hamam 20 YTL, 5 for Kese, 5 for Massage.

Visited Dec. 28th, 2008, Sunday, 3:30 pm.

On a particularly cold Sunday, my friend and I ventured to find another hamam to spend some time in. We wanted something cheaper but still close by. After waling by Galatasaray Hamamı to take some pictures, we continued left down the same street and came across Ağa Hamamı, not even 2 blocks away. I found it strange that two hamams would be so close to one another. Both are equally old, in fact the Ağa was from 1454, 27 years older than Galatasaray. We descended into the substreet level atrium area which was cold and dark (the light was turned on for the photo). The central fountain was not flowing but filled with colored stones. The room was so cold in fact that the attendant wore a heavy pea coat as he showed us to our rooms to change. The atrium was not ugly. I gathered it was kept this way in efforts to conserve heat and heating bills.

The heated portion of the bath was quite small. A main room with a central marble stone and 2 alcove rooms off of it. It was not terribly hot either. My friend and I laid down on the slab, only slowly feeling the sweat start to bead on our bodies. It felt nice and relaxing, and the no-frills space was fine. Granted, it was not sparkling; there were some dark water stains on the walls, however, the (rather old) hamam was clean and simple. We were the only ones inside.

After 15 minutes, the keseci, a tall thin older man in his 50s, asked if we were ready and I asked for 5 more minutes. He was not pushy which I found refreshing from other baths that assume foreigners know nothing about the procedures of bathing. After a while, he returned and attended to me first. He led me to the side near a washbasin and began to kese my skin and soap me up with a bar, rather than the long soap ‘bag.  I thought it strange the he didn’t do it on the marble slab and I was sitting. He spent a long time on my arms and hands. He had one arm outstretched, my fingers reaching evenly between his legs. As he kese-ed my arms and soaped them he manipulated the slight opening and closing of my fingers, which I soon realized in my relaxed sweaty torpor, were stroking strategically against the bulge of his pestemel. At first I thought to pull my hand away but then realized that this was so innocent, so opportunistic, and harmless (and thankfully brief) that I didn’t move my arm. After doing my other arm (the same way), he then moved me to the marble slab and massaged me. At some point, he partially climbed up on the slab to get a better vantage on my back. The now larger and uncovered bits from under his pestemel grazed along my arm. I was cautiously amused at this game of subtle yet intentional self-eroticism. Through all of this there was very little talking. He also made no attempt to ‘accidentally’ grope me. I wondered if my friend realized what was happening? I looked over and he was lying peacefully on the slab, his eyes closed. At the end of the massage and kese I also felt quite relaxed and blissful.

It was my friend’s turn next and the keseci made me go into the side alcove area which I found interesting as he hadn’t really directed me around the bath until then. I then wondered if our kese at the side of the bath and away from my friend’s gaze, was intentional. I of course was insatiably curious whether my friend would get similar treatment. I leaned against the wall, occasionally pouring water from a basin onto myself and angled to see what was happening. Whether he was doing the same things to him or not was difficult to discern from a distance. Then, after his kese, my friend was relocated to a part of the marble slab that was blocked from my view, rather ‘coincidentally.’ At that point a middle aged late 40s-sh Turkish man entered and joined me in my little alcove. We made small chatter. His voice was basso and gravelly, like Harvey Fierstein. Then 2 women walked in, both tall with long black hair and looked like twins. I could not tell if they were Turkish or not but thought they were. Their pestemels were higher around their chests. They went into the second alcove, setting up a pestemel like a curtain at the threshold. I was a bit astonished. I also felt a bit self-aware of my body. Not that I cared for them to see me in any stage of nudity, but that I felt in Turkey in a bath it was not proper. Something just felt wrong or aberrant, perhaps as this represented a jarring shift out of a previously male space. I mentioned the women to the older Turkish man who hadn’t seen them and he didn’t believe me.  He told me rather factually that women and men don’t bathe together in Turkey. Then the women came out and laid on the slab together. His eyes widened. He said that he is a regular of this bath and has never seen women and men bathing together. I found it interesting that his reaction was neither shock nor indignation not did he make an attempt to cover up. Rather he seemed amused, as if to say, “Well if they don’t mind, I don’t mind.” After my friend rejoined us we continued chatting a bit then decided to leave.

We shed our pestemels and changed into clean ones in a side shower/bathroom area between the atrium and hot room. This part of the bath was dingy. We didn’t idle in the atrium (something odd about relaxing naked in towels while the attendant and owner are in winter coats) but quickly changed and left. We were closely followed by the older Turkish man. I wondered if in the end he was uncomfortable being in there along with the women.

The Ağa Hamamı is an old bare bones no frills bath. Cheap and clean enough, I’m sure it has seen some action at some point, being close to Taksim and its madness, and apparently mixed gender. Did I mention that the bath is open 24 hours?

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Hot Bath, Hot Girl, Cold Beer

by admin on Jan.01, 2009, under Beyoğlu hamams

Galatasaray Hamam. Hours: Men’s side 7am-10pm, Women’s side 8am-9pm. Prices are listed in Euros: 26 for a bath, 35 with a kese, 38 with a massage, 44 for kese and massage, 57 for the ‘Pasha’ treatment – oil massage. Beverages are free.

Visited Dec. 19th, Friday, 8:30 pm.

My friend and I were ready to relax for an evening before an early flight to Cyprus the next morning. The weather was chilly and it was drizzling so we wanted to warm up in a steamy bath. We also didn’t want to walk far. So we chose the very central Galatasaray hamam. It is located within 15 minutes from Taksim or Tünel at the end of a side street off Istiklal. The street turns the corner at the hamam, marking its position rather prominently. A large sign saying “historic Galatasaray hamam” (in Turkish of course) above the door was rather glaring but upon entering the inside was immaculate. The atrium space with its central fountain and three floors of rooms around the courtyard was beautiful and quiet, decorated like a lavish palace. As we were coming in a single foreigner (likely a tourist) was leaving. It seemed he came down from an upstairs changing room. The bath operators were calling out to him as he forgot to pay for his ayran, which he thought was included. They are not apparently (though the prices say beverages are free). Another foreigner-tourist was coming down the stairs from an upstairs dressing room. He was also a single male. Apart from those two, we didn’t see anyone else at the bath. On this Friday night it was all foreigners, all tourists. However, as I spoke Turkish, we seemed to be given slightly different treatment. We were given ground floor changing rooms, sparing us the climbing of the circular staircase for no reason. That was about where the non-tourist service ended.

A rather pricey price list (in Euros) was shown to us, and we were directed to rooms to change as if we had never set foot in a hamam before. We were given horrible Ottoman style wooden clog-stilts which seemed to me a treacherous accident waiting to happen. Surely wet floors and wooden raised clogs which don’t fit your feet and leave them sliding all around are not the way to go. But, sharing in the experience, we shuffled rather lamely toward the heating room, passing an intermediate room of showers and a massage bed. The hot room was beautiful and very spacious. The bathhouse is from the 15th century (1481) and appeared old and monumental. Though perhaps the Ottoman Sultan Beyazit II, who founded the bath, did not intend to include the piped in “Orientalist” belly-dancing music and hidden lights in the walls which projected colors that changed from red to green to blue on the ceiling. The large central stone radiated intense heat from the center and we were made to lie on cardinal points of the stone. As the stone was immense we ended being rather far away from each other. When I made an atttempt to sit closer to my friend, I was shooed back to my first spot and made to lie down. Was this an attempt to keep us two men at a platonic distance? Or to maintain a photogenic symmetry to the bathhouse should anyone else enter? Nevertheless, I found it interesting, as at the least, we were being treated like tourists who had never bathed before and had to follow a certain protocol.

After about 15 minutes, we were nice and sweath. I was enjoying the space minus the music which was ridiculous and masked the gentle echoes and dirps that are part of a bathhouse. The lights, I was getting used to. I had left my given place on the sotne and my friend and I were sitting closer on the stone and chatting. Two keseci entered, one for each of us. They were big, burly, lumber-jack type mustached men. The kese and massage were nice and in a bizarre order. My man massaged me quite vigorously, cracking my spine and joints and being generally chatty, probably as I spoke passing Turkish. As he had me turn over, he completely lifted my peştemel off and then laid it down again. I was surprised! The careful finagling of towels so as to avoid nudity was not so sacred at this moment! After that he led me carefully to the edge near a basin where he kese-ed me and then soaped me down. He also leaned in close, almost whispering, saying that if I were to ever come again I had to ask for him specifically. Then I would get good treament. And the more I came, the better the experience would get. This was not sexual, he was not implying that he would give me any “extra services” only that I could have longer massages and keses.  I noted that he already was giving me a longer kese than my friend who didn’t speak Turkish. Then he whispered, and if you want to come in with a girlfriend, I could let you bathe here together in private. But only in the evening. Wow. Was that the benefit of being in a tourist bath?

He led me out and bade me take a shower. The showers were freezing. I balked completely, but he demonstrated for me, jumping under the water and insinuating that the cold shower after the hamam was the manly thing to do. How could I say no? I showered for under ten seconds. When he and his friend provided us with warm and dry towels for us, they had us take our old pestemels off and wrapped us. Again our nudity was not prevented by careful wrapping and gazing the other way. He left me saying with the utmost seriousness, “hot hamam, hot girl, cold beer,” like an older parent giving advice. We sat for a while completely toweled, then changed, and said goodbye to our kesecis, the register man, and the manager, who all shook our hands goodbye and told us to come again. Though the prices were steep and we were given the tourist experience of a Turkish bath, it was a refreshing hour and a half in a beautiful space, which we cherished as we darted home in the pouring rain.

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A Guide to Hamams of Istanbul

by admin on Dec.09, 2008, under Intro

NEW UPDATE: We are looking for posts on hammams from YOU. If you have a bath experience, we’d love to hear about it and may post it on the site! We would prefer Istanbul baths, although any bath in Turkey will do. Email us at hammamguide at gmail dot com.

Welcome to your guide to the hamams of Istanbul.  This blog will present information on the currently open and useable bathhouses available to visit in the city.  As part of an ongoing project, each bathhouse will be reviewed (and eventually rated) with important information on the address, hours, costs, cleanliness, and general clientele.

Why are we doing this?

Well, first there is no such running guide of Istanbul baths and the only really well known ones are the 2-3 touristy and well advertised bathhouses that appear in every guidebook and on every website discussion. But secondly, this is actually part of a research project. You will notice that each bath post is accompanied by a narrative of the reviewer’s experiences. Our reviewers are not just guide writers working for the tourist industry of Turkey.  Each of them are academics, journalists, residents and visitors to the city from around the world. Many are researching the history of Turkish (and Anatolian) civilizations from all periods.  Most are Istanbul residents, social anthropologists interested in the city’s culture. Their stories are diverse and for the most part anonymous.

The Research Project

The research project studies the bathhouse and its social role in Turkey which has changed significantly from its classical predecessors to its current modern usage and perception. Today, the bathhouse is commonly referred to as an antiquated institution, fading out of common use as younger generations replace old. However, as a public space, the bathhouse still provides an important window into aspects of social interaction, urban geography, and cultural memory in modern Turkish society. Because of its changing (and perhaps fading) role, has the use of the bathhouses become more specific in character, and the bathers part of specific populations or communities? By extension, have hamams themselves retained an individual “character” as to what kind of place and what kind of bathers they attract within the metropolis of Istanbul? The goal of this project is to document all (or nearly all) of the hamams in Istanbul by creating an ongoing guide and classification on a case by case basis. This will view the hamam as an individual entity that itself may be ambiguous, but avoid large (and often clichéd) generalizations of bathing culture or hamams in Turkey or even Istanbul proper.

The study has important ramifications for assessing the social, gendered, sexual, and body culture codes presented in modern Turkish society and their variables (depending on age, race, ethnicity, sexual practice, nativity). Baths can reveal much about the changing urban fabric of the Istanbul metropolis and its neighborhoods. They are also places of cultural memory in revisiting or reinterpreting Istanbul’s Ottoman past. Whether hamams endure today because they cater to specific communities or populations will be the central question we attempt to answer.  By extension, these same sorts of questions can be extended to baths and bathing culture in antiquity (classical and Islamic bathhouses). The application of anthropological and ethnographic studies such as this on the role of public bathing may serve to better flesh out the archaeological remains of bathhouses in antiquity.

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