In the film Four Rooms, four different directors take on one evening in a hotel. In this series of posts, four people take on the experience of one trip to the baths. Although the four bathed together, each has recounted their night from their own experience. Sound and the Fury meet the Atik Valide Hamamı.
Tarihi Atik Valide Hamami
Tabaklar Mah. Eski Toptassi Cad No. 98
0216 334 91 58
Men’s until 11pm
Women’s until 7pm (but will accommodate groups for later)
Hamam price: 13. 5 for Kese, 5 for Massage.
The Architectural Historian Bathes in Üsküdar
The four of us met at an interesting lecture on the hamam-patronage of the Sultan Mother Nurbanu (ca. 1525 – 1583): an archaeologist, an historian, a film historian and an architectural historian, in very different stages of hamam-experience. We decided to investigate one of the historical hamams that we had just learned about, the Atik Valide hamami in Üsküdar, part of a great complex of mosques, schools and pious foundations founded by this powerful lady in the heydays of the Ottoman Empire.
For me this was quite off the beaten track, having visited two hamams before, the beautiful yet touristy Cağaloğlu and Çemberlitaş hamams in the Old Town. From these visits I remembered being conducted from one room to the other by bathing assistants who did not speak any other language than Turkish, so I was not sure what to expect in this place which was supposedly hardly ever visited by foreigners. Could it be even more mysterious and confusing?
However, my slightly nervous anticipation was nothing compared to the anxiety of my hamamophobic Turkish friend. He had not visited a hamam since his childhood, when his mother would take him there all day, which he hated. A combination of uncomfortable heat and being uncomfortable with nascent homosexual feelings had prevented him from ever going again, until we took him to this place.
Upon approaching the supposed location of the hamam, a couple of modest domes indicated that we were on the right track. The patrons welcomed us and before we knew we were asked to sit down and take off our shoes. We were handed plastic slippers (way too small for this Dutch bigfoot) and conducted upstairs to the gallery over the entrance hall, where each of us was assigned a little cabin to undress. With their glass doors these offered little privacy, but who cares. In our loincloth (peştemel) we went to the domed steamroom where we reclined on the central stone platform (göbektaşı). In terms of temperature, we really got value for our money! The heating mechanism aroused my curiosity: would there really be a little man under the floor to stoke the fire as had been illustrated in the lecture? Our Turkish friend knew that the name of this ancient profession was still used as an insult in Turkey today. When I walked towards the tap to splash myself with cool water, it occurred to me that the most intense heat was actually emanating from the walls, which made me turn back to the göbektaşı rather quickly.
I was relieved when three of us were taken to the marble massage tables, where we simultaneously enjoyed a scrub+soaping+massage. The masseurs (keseciler) kept chatting with those of us who spoke Turkish, leaving me as the only non-Turcophonic wondering what kind of things one might discuss with one’s masseur. Would it be small talk like at the hairdresser’s, or were more profound eastern mysteries being unveiled in such an intimate tête-à-tête?
My orientalist reveries came abruptly to an end when I was led to a cold shower. Feeling like a snake having just shed off its old skin, I went back into the steam room. In one of its corners there was a door with a sign indicating a “Finnish Sauna”. Expecting a dry hot sauna, I went inside and found this room to be even more steamy and wet than the last one. It was also hotter. Shrouded in mist, my friend was sitting here together with the only other visitor besides us: a young blond Turkish man. He turned out to be a university student and told us that he went to the hamam only once or twice a year. Whether there was any specific reason for his current visit remained somewhat undefined.
Soon, the heat struck me again and after taking a cold shower I decided to get back to the atrium room. Here I was awaited by a bathing attendant who wrapped me in a towel and knotted another towel around my head turban-style. I was directed towards a beach chair where tea was being served against the backdrop of an enormous wall photo of a tropical beach. A sense of giddiness got hold of me as my friends and I looked at each other, richly betoweled and beturbaned in this strangely alienating locale. We agreed that this turned out to be a very relaxing experience.