Hammam Guide

The 24 Hour Bath

by admin on Jan.16, 2009, under Beyoğlu hamams

Ağa Hamamı. Turnacıbaşı Sok. No. 60, Beyoğlu. Hours: 24 (although presently in Dec 2012 it closes at 10pm). Prices: Hamam 20 YTL, 5 for Kese, 5 for Massage.

Visited Dec. 28th, 2008, Sunday, 3:30 pm.

On a particularly cold Sunday, my friend and I ventured to find another hamam to spend some time in. We wanted something cheaper but still close by. After waling by Galatasaray Hamamı to take some pictures, we continued left down the same street and came across Ağa Hamamı, not even 2 blocks away. I found it strange that two hamams would be so close to one another. Both are equally old, in fact the Ağa was from 1454, 27 years older than Galatasaray. We descended into the substreet level atrium area which was cold and dark (the light was turned on for the photo). The central fountain was not flowing but filled with colored stones. The room was so cold in fact that the attendant wore a heavy pea coat as he showed us to our rooms to change. The atrium was not ugly. I gathered it was kept this way in efforts to conserve heat and heating bills.

The heated portion of the bath was quite small. A main room with a central marble stone and 2 alcove rooms off of it. It was not terribly hot either. My friend and I laid down on the slab, only slowly feeling the sweat start to bead on our bodies. It felt nice and relaxing, and the no-frills space was fine. Granted, it was not sparkling; there were some dark water stains on the walls, however, the (rather old) hamam was clean and simple. We were the only ones inside.

After 15 minutes, the keseci, a tall thin older man in his 50s, asked if we were ready and I asked for 5 more minutes. He was not pushy which I found refreshing from other baths that assume foreigners know nothing about the procedures of bathing. After a while, he returned and attended to me first. He led me to the side near a washbasin and began to kese my skin and soap me up with a bar, rather than the long soap ‘bag.  I thought it strange the he didn’t do it on the marble slab and I was sitting. He spent a long time on my arms and hands. He had one arm outstretched, my fingers reaching evenly between his legs. As he kese-ed my arms and soaped them he manipulated the slight opening and closing of my fingers, which I soon realized in my relaxed sweaty torpor, were stroking strategically against the bulge of his pestemel. At first I thought to pull my hand away but then realized that this was so innocent, so opportunistic, and harmless (and thankfully brief) that I didn’t move my arm. After doing my other arm (the same way), he then moved me to the marble slab and massaged me. At some point, he partially climbed up on the slab to get a better vantage on my back. The now larger and uncovered bits from under his pestemel grazed along my arm. I was cautiously amused at this game of subtle yet intentional self-eroticism. Through all of this there was very little talking. He also made no attempt to ‘accidentally’ grope me. I wondered if my friend realized what was happening? I looked over and he was lying peacefully on the slab, his eyes closed. At the end of the massage and kese I also felt quite relaxed and blissful.

It was my friend’s turn next and the keseci made me go into the side alcove area which I found interesting as he hadn’t really directed me around the bath until then. I then wondered if our kese at the side of the bath and away from my friend’s gaze, was intentional. I of course was insatiably curious whether my friend would get similar treatment. I leaned against the wall, occasionally pouring water from a basin onto myself and angled to see what was happening. Whether he was doing the same things to him or not was difficult to discern from a distance. Then, after his kese, my friend was relocated to a part of the marble slab that was blocked from my view, rather ‘coincidentally.’ At that point a middle aged late 40s-sh Turkish man entered and joined me in my little alcove. We made small chatter. His voice was basso and gravelly, like Harvey Fierstein. Then 2 women walked in, both tall with long black hair and looked like twins. I could not tell if they were Turkish or not but thought they were. Their pestemels were higher around their chests. They went into the second alcove, setting up a pestemel like a curtain at the threshold. I was a bit astonished. I also felt a bit self-aware of my body. Not that I cared for them to see me in any stage of nudity, but that I felt in Turkey in a bath it was not proper. Something just felt wrong or aberrant, perhaps as this represented a jarring shift out of a previously male space. I mentioned the women to the older Turkish man who hadn’t seen them and he didn’t believe me.  He told me rather factually that women and men don’t bathe together in Turkey. Then the women came out and laid on the slab together. His eyes widened. He said that he is a regular of this bath and has never seen women and men bathing together. I found it interesting that his reaction was neither shock nor indignation not did he make an attempt to cover up. Rather he seemed amused, as if to say, “Well if they don’t mind, I don’t mind.” After my friend rejoined us we continued chatting a bit then decided to leave.

We shed our pestemels and changed into clean ones in a side shower/bathroom area between the atrium and hot room. This part of the bath was dingy. We didn’t idle in the atrium (something odd about relaxing naked in towels while the attendant and owner are in winter coats) but quickly changed and left. We were closely followed by the older Turkish man. I wondered if in the end he was uncomfortable being in there along with the women.

The Ağa Hamamı is an old bare bones no frills bath. Cheap and clean enough, I’m sure it has seen some action at some point, being close to Taksim and its madness, and apparently mixed gender. Did I mention that the bath is open 24 hours?

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9 comments for this entry:
  1. David M De La Parra

    Hi,
    My name is David.
    I came to Istanbul 3 weeks ago and I’m planning to stay for at least a couple of months.
    A friend who will come to visit in April asked me to take him to “the best hammam in Istanbul”. Almost an impossible task of course, to begin with cause until today I hadn’t found a list with the hammams available (other than the touristy ones mentioned in every guidbook). I’ve been reading the posts and I’m fascinated. I think you are bringing to life to a bigger audeince the small little secrets of the hammam world. I deeply thank you for that.
    And if in your next hammam exploration there is space for me I’d love to join (I have a degree on cultural studies so I could even give some ideas for the blog:)
    Best,
    David

  2. admin

    Dear David,
    Many thanks for the comments. We would love for you to contribute to the site with your hamam experiences. We will contact you directly about this, in the meantime enjoy Istanbul!

  3. John

    This isn’t 24 hrs any longer as I discovered the hard way last night. It closes at 10

  4. admin

    Thanks! I wonder if these are seasonal hours.

  5. Jason

    Hi there.
    My wife and I are stopping in Istanbul on our way to Canada.
    I was reading all the comments on hamams and my wife and I would like to visit one while we are there but we would like to visit a mixed gender hamam, I’ve looked through all your available comments and it seems the aga hamam is the only mixed gender hamam in Istanbul, is this the case?
    The reason I ask is though my wife and I are keen to visit a hamam together neither of us would feel comfortable with an old man or any man infact, washing us and would like to know if anyone knows if there are female keseci’s at the above mentioned hamam and if so can men request to be bathed by them or not?
    Oh and does anyone know how far this hamam is from the ataturk airport
    Any information that you can share on this matter would be greatly appreciated!!

    Kind regards

    Jason

  6. admin

    I believe you can bathe together at more touristy hamams in Sultanahmet if you ask ahead. Try the hamam at Suleymaniye as their website states they do mixed bathing. (http://www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr/faq.asp#a10). Also no one has reviewed it yet (if you wish let us know!). As far as kesecis – female kesecis are typically in the female side of baths and male kesecis are in the male side of baths. The Suleymaniye website states that their kesecis are male, however. It would be fairly strange for you to be rubbed down by a female and it will not be easy to find. Not all kesecis are old men, either! Contrary to what some of our posts may indicate, the keseci experience is not typically anything sexual, if that is behind your preference for a female over a male. Suleymaniye hamam is near Sultanahmet and so 30-35 minutes by taxi depending on traffic from the airport. Aga hamam is further in Galatasaray/Beyoglu, 40-45 minutes.

  7. Huseyin Yilmaz

    hi you came to Aga Hamam many years ago. I am the new owner of the Aga Hamam, I have changed many think in the hamam , Aga hamam is working between 10:00am to 10:00pm ,however photos are so old. you can find information and photo in our web sites , which is http://www.agahamami.com/
    if you fix photos and information . I will be so glad
    thanks

  8. admin

    Thank you Huseyin. I will try to revisit it. Hopefully some of our readers will go again and see your renovations.

  9. Mert

    I was born and raised in Istanbul but i have never experienced such a thing in a touristic place before!

    I`ve been going to hamams all around istanbul since i was a kid and i have never seen so rude stuff before. I live in Munich since 4 years and we visited istanbul with my german girlfriend and of course she wanted to experience hamam culture once we are there. So that she wouldn`t be alone we have searched and found this hamam which we could enter together even though it was more expensive than others. when we stepped into the building a stuff greeted us and i made the mistake and greeted her in tukish so she undestood that i am Turkish. and she immediately told me that Turkish men are not allowed to go in. at first i didn`t understand and asked again because as a local i wasn`t allowed to go in a hamam in my own city. Then i translated the situation to my girlfriend and she was also quite upset because she really wanted to go in but of course sitting for 2 hours alone in the hamam doesn`t make sense. I mean i don`t look like a raper with a scar all over the face or something like that i am a double engineer who can speak 4 languages and i am quite good educated not to disturb other ladies in hamam especially when my girfriend next to me. but in any case i wasn`t angry or anything but just upset and talking to my girlfriend to make some other hamam plan. I am really ok with the policy of a place even though it was discrimination was because i thought there would be some bad experiences in the past, totally ok! but then one of the stuff ( i guess she thought that i was quite ok to go in) wanted to ask the 60year old boss sitting 5 meters away from us and watching the half naked girls if i can go in.
    an then the party started. as it seems the guy has already heard what we were speaking an he started to curse at me that he owns the place and he would decide who is allowed to go in or not. but still i kept my chill and tried to talk to him in a polite manner and told him that i don`t want to go in any case and i also didn`t ask anything, but my problem was his rude manners. he insulted me in front of my girlfriend and all the customers saying that i am useless and never be able to go into that hamam. an i still want to remind that i didn`t even talk to him at first and didn`t ask him anything he started to curse at me out of no where jumping all around and waving his hands. all the customers were totally upset. at most my girlfriend. so in the end we were taken of the hamam by the stuff. I said that there as well and i am writing here also. i will write to all websites in every language i can about this incident because this kind of people shouldn`t be allowed to run touristical businesses. i really recommend tourists not to spend their money there. there are much better and cheaper local hamams in istanbul. I will also do my best to get this hamam`s name ot of Lonely Planet book.

    If you still want to go there it is your decision.
    Never experienced such a thing before!!!

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