Hammam Guide

Cemberlitaş : The Sultan’s Treatment

by kirkdc23 on Feb.12, 2010, under Comment, Sultanahmet hamams, Uncategorized

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.

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9 comments for this entry:
  1. Helen Simpson

    Merhaba! I would like to congratulate you on a fantastic site. It is really a great resource for Turkey and Turkish culture. I am editing a website about Istanbul: http://www.myistanbulinfo.com/
    We would like to list your site on our Resources page. Please contact me for details- helen@myistanbulinfo.com

  2. Speed Reading Tutorial

    Great site. Plenty of useful information here. I¡¦m sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks on your sweat!

  3. Jennifer

    Can you suggest a Hamam that will allow couples to bath together? We have been referred to Suleymaniye but they allow children and we don’t want to be around a bunch of kids either.

    Thank you,

  4. admin

    Dear Jennifer,
    I am not familiar with a hamam that would allow couples explicitly other than the Suleymaniye bath (that we do not have reviewed on this site yet!). Mixed bathing is not the norm. In Turkey, I wouldn’t take anything as the last word without asking. I would go to Suleymaniye and perhaps there will not be any children or you might go at at a time where you would not expect any (last entry is at 10pm, it seems at Suleymaniye). Likewise, you could ask some of the more touristy hamams such as Galatasaray, Aga (in Beyoglu), or those in Sultanahmet and see if they might allow mixed bathing at a certain time; you never know. We here would be very interested to see what success/challenges you have in mixed bathing so do report back!

  5. mhatre

    i want to know about hammams for women as well as what is tradition behind it.. m struggling with my project on hammams . i need information about Irani hammam which is in Dongri Mumbai

  6. Toni

    Would love to take my 8 year old son to a hammam (with me, Mom) but I would like him to stay with me. Anywhere in Instanbul you can recommend?

  7. admin

    It used to be that boys bathed with their moms in the women’s section and I believe this should still be true in most places. Your son seems young enough for this to be allowed. I would go to the bath and ask in person. If you are looking for a Sultanahmet bath: try Cagaloglu or Gedikpasa (as we also don’t have posts on these famous baths and would love to include some).

  8. Laura

    Hi Merhaba, I was wondering if you’d recommend going to a Hammam with potentially a hangover? We’re planning a big night before and so I thought it might be a good way to unwind the day after, but I read one of your posts and the heat didnt agree with a friend of yours and so thats why I’m asking. Any advice would be great. thanks!!

  9. admin

    I think it is up to the individual person! I think hamams with hangovers are great, personally. It would also depend on the severity of the hangover. The Ottomans did call the hamam the “Silent Doctor” after all.

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