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.