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.
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
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…)
This is a list from Wikipedia of Mimar Sinan’s Hamams.
For a clue to the greatest of all Ottoman architects, read this.
Hamamlar (click below to see all 48)
This is a short overview of hamam terms and etiquette for anyone who is planning to visit a hamam and either needs to review some common terminology that will come up or want to know generally what one can expect to experience before you go.
Why are there Hamams?
Traditionally, Turkish homes did not feature private bathing facilities. Instead, people had to go to their local bathhouse (hamam) to get clean. The hamam was usually built under the waqf (endowment) of a nearby mosque. In Islam, public baths were especially important due to the religion’s emphasis on personal cleanliness. Public bathhouses are not a unique concept to the Turks. This tradition has been passed down from the Byzantines, and before them the Romans. Going to the baths was a huge part of ancient Roman culture, although the Romans had a hot and a cold room (calidarium and frigidarium, respectively), while Turkish baths tend to only have a hot room. Russians also enjoy going to the banya, and there are many differences to a Turkish bath, most notably that men and women bath together, while in Turkey they are always separated or a bath will have different times in the week designated for the two sexes.
Nowadays most Turkish families have private bathrooms in their homes, so the need for hamams has waned. Men and women still like to go for the pampering, and the massages offered at the hamams could be considered a form of alternative medicine. Other hamams survive largely by catering to tourists.
What to Expect
Upon entry you will find yourself in the main entrance hall (camekan), where an attendant should show you to your personal dressing space, whether it be a locker, stall, cubicle, or private room. The attendant should also provide you with your wrapping towel and sandals. Undress, store your clothes, and wrap the towel around yourself. Once you are ready, signal to the attendant and they will lead you into the hot room (sıcaklık), where you will probably be seated near a basin. You are usually just left alone to sit for awhile and soak in the steam, and to douse yourself with hot or cold water with your bowl. You can give yourself your own bath, which is cheaper, but normally an attendant will signal to you when it is your turn to lie down on the central slab of stone. What you want to have done is completely up to you. Some people opt for just a scrub and then wash themselves down, and some people ask the masseuse to do it all. These services do cost more, but generally they are not very expensive. First, the attendant will scrub you down with a rough scrubbing mitten (kese). Expect large layers of dead skin that you didn’t even know you had to be scrubbed off. Then, you can get a massage, separately or in conjunction with a soaping down, where the attendant will basically use a loofah or washcloth and give you a bath with some body wash. Once you are done with the attendant, you are left to return to your spot in the hot room, and you can relax for a little while. Remember to drink plenty of cold water, especially after a massage, because you get very dehydrated in a hamam. Whenever you are ready, you can return to the entrance hallway to your dressing place, change, and pay on your way out. A 10 to 20% tip is reasonable.
As for the issue of nudity inside of the hot rooms themselves, generally men are expected to keep their wrap cloth on the entire time and women may go totally nude, or wear a swimsuit or underwear, or just their bottoms. For women it very much depends on your age, whether you are a foreigner, and if the hamam is local or touristy. If you want to be on the safe side, wear both bottoms and a bra, and take them off accordingly if you feel comfortable doing so. Also, for Turkish women the removal of body hair is no less than an obsession, so if you want to minimize embarrassment women should make en effort to shave/wax/trim the offending areas, or just keep their bottoms on to cover up their bikini zone when at the hamam.
Remember that you will get completely drenched, so here are some things to remember to bring with you: brush or comb, extra pair of underwear if you wear them in the hamam, makeup, body wash, and shampoo.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t worry about messing up or being embarrassed and just have a good time. Going to the hamam is a laid-back and relaxing experience, and no Turkish person will expect a foreigner to know how things work anyway, and they will most likely be extremely helpful and forgiving. Also, the expectations about nudity and bathing are different from hamam to hamam, so the most important thing to remember is to observe other people, and then just do as they do. There will almost definitely be other people in the baths before you, so just watch them and take their lead, and have a great time.
HAIR-DRYER- saç kurutma makinesi
NORMAL TOWEL- havlu
SCRUBBING MITTEN- kese
WRAP TOWEL- peştamal
COLD WATER- soğuk su
DRESSING CUBICLE- halvet
HOT ROOM- sıcaklık
HOT WATER- sıcak su
“NAVEL STONE” (CENTRAL SLAB)- göbek taşı
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.