In the tradition of communal bathing, here are several experiences from Bursa’s fine and venerable Eski Kaplıca.
From the male side, accounts from four bathers, all non-Turks, some experienced bathers, some new bathers, some return customers to the bath itself…
In Bursa we visited a very old bath, it was early in the morning, yet it was nicely populated by the time we entered. This was a huge building, impressive from the outside, and upon entry the building had domed ceiling entirely. This time we only opted for the bath experience – no keseci, etc. we were shown to a changing room, we changed, and with wooden shoes walked into the bath. We entered the first room – it was large, but barren, there were some benches on the side, but not much else. If one was to walk to the adjoined room on the right, there was a place for bathing (seating, basins) but I did not enter, so I could not write much more to that room. Walking forward, there was a door we passed through into the room that had a large pool and further basins. The room was nicely heated.
It was spacious and featured a beautiful octagonal pool in the hot room where one could swim. The pool was fed continuously by a stream of water cascading and creating a wonderful sound.
This was my first hamam experience, and what a better place to do it than Bursa’s finest. My reluctance to bathe naked with other men, was soon turned into an absolute enjoyment, partly because we were covered with thin towels, which minimizes the impact of the ‘first sin’ (you Jewish and Christians out there, know what I mean) and partly because the whole atmosphere made you relaxed. It felt so natural, as if men (and women) were meant to enjoy bathing not in the solidarity of their homes but rather in the company of others. Will I do it again? Most definitely I will! PS: Good company might be the key for a good first experience.
The mood of this bath was very nonchalant; in the past I had been able to keep account of time (for example, how long I spent in the complex, etc) but in this one I have no idea if I spend 30 minutes of 2 hours. The water was a very nice temperature; the room was very light and had a nice presence. There were about 7 men inside, all keeping mostly to themselves, however they seemed to know one another and at times would wash each other or have small conversations.
One man asked me if I could kese his back for him, which I did. He bade me to do it harder than I was. I’m not sure if I was the perfect keseci stand in. Certainly I was excused for not being Turkish. Which, I think, may have trumped any underlying eroticism intended. He also then did me.
We eventually left, passing back into the first, plain, room and changed into dry wraps. It was nice not to be handed the clothes, they were on a rack and there was a partition to change behind – the “nice” part of this was that it was entirely up to the bather when he wanted to leave the baths, there was no one handing you the towels and dry clothes signaling when you should leave, or you didn’t have to walk outside and ask for them.
The changing/lounging room was a vast domed bricked cavernous and beautiful space with beach lounge chairs and a bar and little cabana like dressing rooms.
We stopped by the “bar” – I had an ayran, which was very refreshing after the bath (it may be my favorite drink, after a bath or not) and relaxed a bit on the stools. Many men, most of whom we saw in the bath, were reclining on chairs in this area. Eventually, we made our way back to our shared changing room and relaxed a bit in there before leaving; I could have almost fallen asleep.
I had been to the Bursa Kaplica before by myself, and found the employees to be hostile bordering on the sadistic. But this time around, surrounded by a cohort of 10 friends, I loved it.
We left, returned our key, and were given lemon cologne for our hands (a smell I definitely recognized from having been in Turkey, yet not one that I had been given yet.) I feel that I could have spent many more hours in the bath, maybe all day with intermittent food, drink, cigarettes, etc.
I think this bath, in the Cekirge district, might be my favorite in Turkey currently. It was beautiful and clean, without being kitschy or swarming with Istanbul tourist groups.
And now for something completely different, from the women’s side (written by a Turkish woman)…
The women’s side in the bath was very small. I had a kese and massage. It was very similar to the ones I had in Ulus in style. There were only two spots for women to get kese or massage. Also unlike the hamam in Ulus, this one had a small pool. It was nice, but I really prefer a larger bathing area than a pool. Also there was no gobek tasi. The other thing that I found different was that we had to pay (including for kese and massage) beforehand. Also the entrance area was looked like an entrance for a gym rather than for a hamam. There was no place to hang out. The staff was not very helpful or talkative either. In general it was more professional, touristic and less friendly than my hamam in Ulus. Also it was not very impressive in terms of architecture, no dome or anything like that. But as I said the women’s part was very very small… it seemed like an appendix to the building was converted into women’s bath…
For a little history check out: