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 Turkish oil-wrestling. Thus, under the anthropological pretensions of this blog, and its interest in social-sexual behaviors in Turkish society, the narrative of the hamam really starts with over 300 brawny Turkish guys doused in olive oil, grunting it out under the sun. It was an awesome display of brute force and prioritizing glory over typical societal mores. All afternoon, I suppressed my testerone-fueled inclination to grab the nearest extra-virgin. Suffice to say that by 5 PM, after hours of extremely vicarious spectating, I felt greasy as hell and ready for a good scrubbing.
Salon: Sokullu’s salon has a classic design with an ornate cesme dominating the center. On the fairly abnormal day I went, it was quite and very dark. I imagined I had found sometime much of Edirne had forgot, but I can’t confirm the locals’ attendance. The keseci calmly approached and in a typically peremptory manner directed me to the changing rooms upstairs. Wooden stairs led to a balcony level of rooms arranged circumstant to the space below.
Interestingly, the changing rooms are arranged so that occupants, whether disrobing or in repose, are extremely exposed to other hamam visitors. The rooms are positioned long-ways, so the cot inside stretches parallel to the corridor. They were only about two meters deep from door to rear wall. Thus, lying down you are basically on display. In addition, the partition was comprised of glass from about three feet up from the floor. That is, corridor-wall of my changing room featured glass from about my thigh-level to the ceiling, making any disrobing activities a fairly public affair. Two things may account for this: One, Turks were short in the early 1400s, when the hamam was built. Also, the arrangement effects a kind of voyeurism which may serve purposes of security, ironically enough, or communality. That is, I could see everyone coming or going, and the attendant could see me. Foucault would be proud. The situation is reversed for the several sleeping men I passed on my way to my room: their relative vulnerability to my gaze, lying alone in the dark rooms, presumes a kind of trust in the hamam’s clients and in the open nature of hamams in general. That is, you’re all out there, together.
Once be-toweled, the keseci led me through a long, narrow washing chamber to the sıcaklık. Again, it had a classic design centered around a broad göbek tası. Four small chambers of different temperatures sat at the circular room’s four corners. Generally, it was elegant and clean. However, like several other online reviews, I found the sıcaklık’s temperature quite cool. This seemed appropriate for the hot summer day, but I can’t speak for the winter conditions. I entered one of the hot rooms to sweat a bit. I saw two men inside the small chamber, and two basins. Given my last experience, and my solitary state, I was wary of sharing one of the basins with a stranger. Questions popped into my head: who exactly goes to a hamam these days, anyways? Do they expect me to share a basin in a display of communality, or would it be seen as some kind of overly forward advance, or an invasion of a hitherto Turkish space? Also, would Big Mehmet be there? In retrospect, I should have marched in and taken my place at one guy’s basin. In Turkey this approach gets the benefit of the doubt. But as it was, I backed out and waited until one of the guys left. Stupid foreigner.
Kese: The keseci came ten minutes later. He was a pudgy middle-aged man with a sympathetic face. How could I have predicted the Hands of Steel? But I’m getting ahead. Generally, this keseci’s approach was unusual. We went to the intermediate washing chamber, and I laid down on a towel on the floor. Instead of the usual skin-scrub, he soaped me first. Then he massaged, eschewing painful thumb-digging for a more comprehensive approach, and covered each major area exactly three times. It was incredibly thorough. We also chatted some, which I sensed would elicit better service. (Little did I know…) After massaging, he did a kese and a rinse. Because he had soaped, the kese failed to elicit the rolls of dead skin which I find so gratifying. But the end result seemed the same.
The Hands of Steel made their appearance as I was on my stomach, during the neck massage portion. The keseci put a towel under my forehead and pushed my head down, forcing my chin to my chest and exposing my neck. Then he simply used his thumb and forefinger to work the muscles on the side of my neck. It was like being between a giant plumber’s wrench. It was like the bombing of Dresden concentrated on my Levator scapulae (see image). And I started giggling. The external pressure was releasing some real internal tension, coming out in a kind of stuttering giggle-squeak. The giggling echoed off the marble walls in fine acoustic fashion. Without stopping, the keseci asked what was going on, and I mumbled, seni gulduriyor, meaning it’s making me laugh. He acted quite protective of me after that, but he critically did NOT ease up any pressure. There was an element of “This Turkish thing is better for you than you know,” which I see played out in everything from drinking 5 teas a day to the confrontational nature of Turkish relationships. Anyway, I remembered that deep massage can sometimes make people cry, and prayed it wouldn’t come to that. We got beyond it, and my neck was like jelly the next day.
I left in a hurry to catch the Istanbul bus. Suffice to say Sokullu Hamamı was a deep, relaxing, and humbling experience. I would highly recommend it, both for the service and the architectural quality. I doubt the massage need be a near-death experience.