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.
I go to Turkish baths more than most people here. That the owner of one of the city’s major hamams is a partner at my firm just encourages this habit. For example, Selcuk (my boss) and I went to his hamam just following our student’s final studio exhibition night. We thought we’d sit around with a bunch of other dudes in towels on a hot stone table, enjoy the steam, and hash out the semester. Then have a wizened but shockingly vigorous old Turkish man scrub, soap, and massage till just semi-consciousness. (Replace “dudes” with “babes” for the female side.) I’ve been a big hamam fan since my first in winter ’09, but going with Selcuk raised the bar. He’s not only business partners with the hamam’s owner, but he also understands “service” in a way I never will: a very Turkish way. Typically, the massage guys treat a European tourist somewhat like confused but valuable cattle that may offer tips. Hey Kobe beef-to-be, come here, sit, turn, sit up, slap on the back, ok you’re done. For Selcuk, the guys layed out two towels and pillows for us right on the stone table, pushing other customers away, brought water, knew him by name, how are you Mr. Selcuk?, etc. Once finished and sitting in his little cubby room, Selcuk had the normally surly attendant delicately serve tea and manually dry him with at least four fresh towels. Even the change in my own treatment, from wary recognition of a semi-regular customer to outright fawning in front of me, was startling. Who am I? In the American service industry, would a customer even want this sycophantic display, let alone be able to ask for it? But Selcuk is “a big man,” and “this is Turkey.” I mean, it’s hard to describe without oversimplifying through caricatures, but the whole scene and the attendant’s behavior was genuine. The tradition of overt subservience to a person of stature is still very much respected here.
Sokullu Hamamı, Edirne; 30 TL for the full works; Men’s morning-10AM, Womans’ 10AM-5PM.
Sokullu Hamamı in Edirne is one of Turkey’s largest, and built by master hamamcı Mimar Sinan. The entrance sports a double-height, triple-vaulted portico with once-ornate columns. This directly refences the Üç Şerefeli Camii (three-vaulted mosque), a major architectural landmark in Edirne. (Sokullu Hamamı is sometimes referre to as the “Üç Şerefeli Hamamı”) Walking in, one might call the entrance a fitting welcome to the central hamam of the Ottoman Empire’s pre-Istanbul capital. The interior and seemingly obsequious keseci inside likewise uphold the pedigree this hamam’s history commands.
Prelude: I went to Sokullu Hamamı immediately after attending Kirkpinar, which means watching hours of (continue reading…)
Çemberlitaş Hamam. Men’s and Women’s separate.
Address: Vezirhan Caddesi 8, Çemberlitaş (exit at Çemberlitaş tramvay stop)
Hours: morning to night, but strangely hard to find on the internet. eh.
Prices: Bath 35TL, Massage-Kese 55TL, Massage-Kese-Oil-Hot Stones 95TL
Bevvies not included. http://www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr/hamam_english.htm
Except for the price, Çemberlitaş has everything I want in a tourist hamam. It’s old, built in 1584 by Mimar Sinan; restored, evidenced by the all-wood salon and clean, bright sıcaklık; and fully capable of handling a full range of hamam-goers, from Amish grandmother to seasoned veteran (yours truly, ahem). That range of experiences makes up the meat of this post. First, a bit about the hamam’s SOP: