Hammam Guide

A Forgotten Basement in Beyoǧlu

by oldskool on Jun.30, 2010, under Beyoğlu hamams

Nur Hamamı. Hamalbaşı Cad. No. 14. Beyoǧlu, Istanbul. (0212) 249 81 12. Men: 7am – 12 am. 16 YTL plus 5 YTL for kese, 5 YTL for massage.

The other day I was walking down the hill from the Galatasaray high school in Beyoǧlu toward Kasımpaşa – a well traveled stretch of street that I have been on a million times – and I noticed a small hamam on the right side.  It had a sign and a set of stairs going down below street level. I was surprised at having never seen it before and made a mental note to return. I returned a week or so later after a particularly late late night out of drinking, dancing, and not quite so much sleep (the detailed reasons of which I’ll omit ;) . I went at about 9pm or so and was beckoned into a small reception room with changing rooms to one side, a TV hanging from the ceiling, and a congenial owner. It was rather plain, an unadulterated space somehow forgotten amidst the rapidly developing and ‘chic’ landscape of Istiklal that was really more village than capital city.  I changed and went into the bath which was also quite small. The room was hot enough and square. It was also completely no frills. Besides the marble göbek taşı and basins on the walls the ceiling was stained and cracked and a bit mildewy. It was not, however, dirty. One corner of the square was reserved as a separate room for shaving and depilation (traşlık odası) while another part of the bath served as a very small dry sauna. Both corners fit no more than 1-2 people.

I laid down on the marble stone and dozed in and out working up a sweat and dimly aware of the one other bather slumped against a side basin. He was an older man, grey and fleshy. He had his peştemel wrap completely off and draped across the top of his thighs so that he could wash his bits. I did note that it was only a partial wash. His tired gaze was on me and his hand moved in a regular jerky tell-tale rhythm. Oh well, I thought. No touch, no talk, no eye contact and everything will be fine. I’m content, and he will soon be as well. After he left, the keseci walked in for my services. The keseci was fairly unresponsive, despite my barrage of questions I had about bathing life which made me slightly concerned that I would be treated like a slab of meat rather than anything else.  I asked him if he was from Istanbul and he grunted yes. I pressed, “not from Tokat?” He looked up, jarred and perhaps offended slightly and indicated no way. I thought it a perfectly good question – all kesecis are from Tokat. They have the monopoly on that profession. He was an exception, though perhaps of Tokat extraction. I wasn’t convinced. Surprisingly, the kese and massage were in fact quite good. Completely average and serviceable. He cleaned between each of my toes (a new but lovely method), gave me a brief but firm massage, cracked my neck from side to side, and didn’t drown me in boiling or freezing water. The water came in waves – from hot to warm to cool, as it should. His personality went the other way it seems. By the end of the session, he seemed to have warmed up to me.

When we were done, I sat outside in the reception room. The owner was very meticulously wrapping me with many towels, rubbing my shoulders and placed a little rug under my feet. I asked him some questions about hamam culture today in the 21st century and his bath. The bath was a modern one, only 21 years old. As to the lack of people, he said that it was typical in the summer months to be so, but the winter was more crowded. I was somehow skeptical. This was a forgotten basement in Beyoǧlu. Maybe it catered more to the Tepebaşı crowd, though I wasn’t sure. He also talked about age and bathing culture. According to him, bathers ranged from 20 and up. When I asked further about why the young generation didn’t bathe as much, he said it was a problem. Although everyone has baths and showers, they can never get as scrubbed clean as in a hamam. He had a good point. I don’t remember the last time I saw my grey dead skin roll off my body. The youth, he continued, also devote no time to sitting in a hamam and enjoying a quiet peaceful space for part of the day. In a country such as Turkey with about 50% percent of the population being under the age of 28. This is a significant change in hamam culture. The fast paced life indeed has claimed our solitary quiet meditative time. We can’t even ride a train without listening to something in our ear or multi-tasking. With the internet, portable and computer games, iphones and every other electronic device there is hardly any time to acquire patience anymore. Just sitting with no stimulation has become a thing of the past – or a thing one does a couple of times a year while on vacation at a beach somewhere. Although all quite obvious, I had never heard a bath owner actually talk about these things before – the bath as a place of escape, a temple of echoes in a sea of urban chaos. And this bath in the center of Beyoǧlu off Istiklal, was just that. Nothing fancy or expensive, but a perfectly serviceable hamam. I sat with him awhile and then walked back up stairs into the clamor of Istiklal.

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7 comments for this entry:
  1. Mark

    After reading this review I went searching for this hamam. I must have asked 5 people in different parts of Istiklal Avenue, and nobody knew of its existence. Except the one person who told me that it’s a ‘gay’ hamam (is that true)?

  2. admin

    I’ve not seen anywhere mentioned that this is a ‘gay’ hamam, that is a place known to be where men can go and meet/cruise/perhaps hook up with other men. Having said that, I’m sure that at least cruising has and does occur here. I would invite you to go and observe what you can for yourself (and report back!). It is across the street from the English consulate on Hamalbaşı walking from Istiklal towards Tarlabaşı. It is on the right before you get to Tarlabaşı down some stairs.

  3. Mark

    It’s me again. I finally found and went to this place. It’s a perfectly clean joint with good service. And you were right administrator, the whole ‘gay’ talk was utter nonsense.

  4. Raymond Lee

    Hi, Just want to share my experience. I was in Istanbul back in April. It was still quite cold then. I found this hamman and went down some stairs. However it was really quiet (it was about 4pm on a weekday). I remember the boy in the pic and he spoke some English. I can’t see the older man in the pic there and didn’t feel comfortable with a child being there and all. Anyway I will definately go back if I am in Istanbul again.

  5. Carla de Roo

    Very good hamam ! No tourist hamam, very small, sauna very goid and mot too hot. Very nice staff, professional and gentile scrubs, wash and massage. Not expensive. To the ladies I want to say: tell the staff on beforehand what you do and do not want, they will listen to that. If you do not tell on beforehand they wash also breasts and erogenic zones. I was surprised by that.

  6. Edward

    Went there tonight! Definitely not touristy and a bit off of the beaten path. Also not sex-segregated, which was surprising. Price was roughly 35 lira per person for hamam, scrub, and massage.

  7. My First Time at a Hamam: Review of Nur Hamami | Efficient Asian Man

    [...] of a side street of Istikal, and about the only thing on the internet we could find about it was an old blog post. But the blog post and the few comments seemed positive, and it was super close to where we were [...]

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