Nur Hamamı. Hamalbaşı Cad. No. 14. Beyoǧlu, Istanbul. (0212) 249 81 12. Men: 7am – 12 am. 16 YTL plus 5 YTL for kese, 5 YTL for massage. [or more...see below]
The Second Visit:
The second time i went to this great hamam was a month later, I was in Istanbul on business and my colleague wanted to “experience” Turkey – So I took him for a Turkish coffee, we had a Turkish shave and then there seemed only one last thing to do – a Turkish bath! There was only one hamam I was prepared to go to
Now, to set the scene, it was a very hot and humid day in the city, we had a long morning meeting, we had a fish sandwich under the bridge for lunch with a lovely Efes beer before we decided to take the longish walk to the hamam. We walked in and was again welcomed warmly and led to separate changing rooms. We met up in the main heated room and there were two keseci working. I recognised the older more burly gentleman from my visit the month previous but there was also a younger slimmer guy working, perhaps the reason was because it was a bit busier. There were 5 young american lads in there with us (we guessed army) and the two keseci were working like a factory line. The younger man was doing the soap suds and cleaning side and then you were passed off to the old man for a good rinse, scrub and massage.
We had to wait a little while, while the two men dealt with the 5 squaddies so I took refuge in the sauna, coming out occasionally to douse myself with cool water. The longer we waited, the longer it took to cool myself down. The minute I poured cold water over myself I started to feel myself sweating straight away…
Interesting note, out of the 5 squaddies, 3 decided for whatever reason not to wear a peştamal and instead wore board shorts as you would normally see on the beach, I’m not one to judge but frankly they looked ridiculous! I know you should feel as comfortable as possible but honestly you are supplied with a peştamal, wear that instead!
Finally it was our turn, as I had been there before I let my friend go first for his first experience at a hamam. Finally he was sudded up and moved on and it was my turn
I lay down on the slab and the young man started soaping me down with these incredible suds, same as last time. He went over the front of my body and then without warning, like a caring mother put his hand over my forehead. Ok… I thought, this is new.
He then muttered something to the older gentleman in Turkish who stopped massaging my friend and came over to me leaned in and put his hands on my cheeks, looking deep into my eyes… What was going on?
They quickly muttered to each other again and then the younger man who was initially soaping me went to my friend and took over the massage from the older man.
Meanwhile, the older keseci ushered me to stand and follow him outside.
Now, I should make this perfectly clear, I would NEVER advocate going for a hamam or a sauna drunk, it is dangerous, however after just one beer I wasn’t intoxicated, but… when you combine that with the humid heat and a long walk and a long wait, I was basically over heating. Big time.
I genuinely felt ok, I wasn’t faint, I wasn’t uncomfortable – I was just hot. So hot in fact that the first keseci realised just by soaping my chest because he could feel the excess heat emanating from me!
So, I followed the older keseci outside not knowing what was going on, he muttered something to the moustached manager as we walked by who looked slightly concerned and carried on walking towards the back of the building and I was led to a shower. My keseci turned it onto the coldest possible and (gently) pushed me under. God it felt so good!
I rested my head on the shower wall and took my peştamal off so I stood there naked. The keseci continued to stay there watching over me. I should point out, that even though at this time I was stark naked and he was watching me I didn’t for one second think there was anything erotic or sexual in it, he was clearly watching over me to make sure I didn’t collapse, or escape before he decided to let me, the fact that I was naked under the shower was utterly irrelevant.
In fact at one point I glanced over and he was standing there arms crossed, smiling slightly and he just reminded me exactly of a P.E teacher at school supervising shower duty. I gestured to leave after a few moments but he refused, his burly arms still crossed but also managing to point towards the shower. He was a man of few English words but I never once misunderstood. I was to stay under the shower until he was to tell me otherwise!
I stayed under the shower for about 3 or 4 minutes and I gestured that I was feeling much cooler, he leant in and turned the shower off, felt my forehead, shook his head and turned the shower back on… were it not for my colleague I would probably have stayed as long as humanly possible however after a few more minutes I gestured again, the showers was turned off, a hand on my forehead and while not entirely smiling, I was obviously deemed just about fit for purpose. He put a fresh peştamal on me and I was led to the toweling area where the manager was waiting for me with two ice cold bottles of mineral water which I gulped down greedily…
I eventually went back inside and the older man gave me a very gentle massage, I think he was still concerned I was going to pass out, however it was still an excellent service.
I left to get changed, met my friend who had been in the waiting area watching TV by the fan and had to explain that I hadn’t been shown some extra service but had instead been standing naked with my keseci watching me like a naughty school boy and we each paid our 35tl, ( I left a generous tip ) and we went out to cool down with a nice Efes!
I cannot thank these guys enough for their care of me, even though I didn’t feel too bad, it was quite clear I was seriously overheating and the beer beforehand had done nothing to help. So please, don’t go to for a hamam if you have had a drink ( even one ) or if you are feeling under the weather because if you do, you may find yourself being sent for a supervised cold shower while having flashbacks of a bad rugby match at age 15!
[admin note: We have all been in this situation before - overheating while there is a long line of keses in front of you and you are being polite and going last. for this reason, there is either an intermediary room ("tepidarium") or the main entrance room with changing areas (often with beds!) in the bath. these have often prevented an overheating moment and allowed us to go back and forth in the hot part for longer!]
The First Visit:
I saw this hamam via your website and it seemed the ideal one for me, not just because of location but also due to authenticity as well. I didn’t want a tourist den nor was I looking for any sex, just an authentic experience.
Firstly, the roads on the maps do not always correspond to the roads on the signposts. I spent over an hour looking for this place when of course it was extremely straightforward.
on the main road [Istiklal Caddesi] where the old tram goes down and walking toward the square, you will pass an intersection with a very large metal sculpture, turn left at this junction, cross a road [Hamalbaşı Cad.] and you’ll see a pharmacy on the corner, the hamam, is two doors down from the pharmacy. Simples
Upon entering and walking down some stairs a young lad pointed at my shoes and I took them off and he handed me some flip flop type crocs in return.
The manager (who is the moustached man pictured in the main review) immediately saw that I wouldn’t be able to speak Turkish (sadly, correct) and so said “massage, yes?” I nodded enthusiastically and was taken to a small little changing room where the pestamal was folded neatly on a cushioned seating area. I undressed putting the pestamal around me and was led into the steam room.
Now this is very basic, I’m not going to gild the lily here, it is a sizable room with a marble slab in the middle and a sauna and separate shower attached. Nothing fancy at all, but after spending a few minutes in the sauna I enjoyed sitting down next to one of the sinks and filling the provided bowl with cold water and tipping it on myself.
The only other person was an elderly local gentlemen washing himself.
I was ready for the next part so lay on the very warm marble slab and waited
The keseci came in, a big man who looked as if life had treated him unfairly and I was slightly worried that he was going to take this injustice out on me, however appearances can be deceiving and while looking gruff he was a very nice man who treated me to an incredible experience. He covered me in suds which was a nice feeling, and then kept using the bowl to rinse me down, he would turn me around on my front and very discreetly adjust my pestamal so that I was naked but never feeling exposed if that makes sense. Upon turning round again the pestamal was again readjusted so I wasn’t naked but it was placed quite high up my legs so I felt I was wearing a nappy
The scrub was again given all over using the same techniques and the massage was firm but fair. I had read horror stories of bones cracking but if anything this keseci was more cautious than anything, if I could have spoken Turkish I would have actually asked for it to be a bit harder but it was still enjoyable.
I was again rinsed off and stood by one of the sinks for him to do this, my pestamal fell to he floor so I was standing there naked but as this was coming to the end the keseci didn’t seem to care and made no attempt to cover me up for this last rinsing, in fact the last thing he did before leaving was filling a bowl and handing it to me and then pointed to between my legs, the meaning was clear, I was to rinse my boys off myself which I did with tantalisingly cold water.
I was made to sit on the slab again as the keseci picked up my sodden pestamal and left the room leaving me thinking what was to happen next. I need t have worried, a few seconds later he returned with a dry pestamal and made me stand while he put it on around my waist. I was then led outside to a comfy bench outside the heated rooms and the manager came onto me with about three towels, one was on my shoulders, one was around my waist (I honestly can’t remember if he removed the new pestamal or whether it was just left on) and another on my head which he wrapped and folded over making me feel like I was a 1960s housewife at a hairsalon. He kept drying me which was a new experience for me but I never felt uncomfortable at all. Once I was done I was told to stay there as long as I need to before going to get changed.
I dressed and the man said 35tl which was exceptionally reasonable, I gave him 50 and gestured that the change could be given to the keseci and the young lad who was waiting with my shoes. He seemed pleased by this and nodded and so I left my first hamam experience feeling smooth, relaxed and unbelievably clean!
This is a no frills hamam experience I went to another one more in the centre of the town which catered more to the tourists and I didn’t get past the reception, not only was it expensive it was too clinical, too, well, too clean. Where’s the fun in that?
However that wasn’t the end of my hamam story there. When I got back to my hotel I realised I had left my necklace in the changing room, now only having sentimental value I was still keen to get it back but guess what? My flight was the next day! They opened at 7am the next morning and I was there at 7.30 with a confused taxi driver waiting and ran down the steps, I didn’t even have to say a word, the manager looked at me and opened a drawer and smiled genuinely as he returned my necklace.
I can’t recommend this place enough, as long as you don’t want any frills or cappuccino machines etc
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: