Hammam Guide

Hamam sefası, Sunday hamam pleasures

by admin on Apr.19, 2009, under non Istanbul hamams

Şengül Hamamı

Denizciler Caddesi, Acıçeşme Sokak 3, Ulus, Ankara

This sixteenth century building is located in the old part of Ankara, Ulus. It is located just off of Anafartalar Caddesi. There are few tourists in the hamam. It is fairly well attended most days of the week, but especially on Sundays. I have visited this hamam quite regularly (once a month when I was living in Ankara at least) during the last 25 years. In my childhood, we used to go to this hamam with my family (my grandmother and my mom) and sometimes with our neighbors, generally on Sundays (since my mom used to work). We would take some snacks with us and stay for at least 4-5 hours. We would not stay inside the hot room during all these hours though. Actually, the part I liked most was the waiting/changing room which actually is a covered courtyard as big as the hot room (closed dome) where there was (and still is) a large table and a stove. There were (and still are) always a few women sitting around the table, chatting and eating. This is really the main part where everyone hangs out. Whenever I go to this hamam, a few vendors who sold food (gözleme) and some home textiles (çarşafcı) would be there, also in this courtyard. There too, one could get your hair dyed. You can bring your own dye and then ask for one of the women working there to dye your hair for a few YTL. This courtyard was surrounded by rooms –there were around ten rooms on the ground floor and 5 rooms on the second floor. On the second floor, you could get your legs and other body parts waxed, either in the small rooms or in the area open to the public upstairs. This service was cheaper for those who used the hot room and paid for it; if you came only for waxing, then you had to pay a higher price (For instance, today full-leg waxing is 10 YTL for someone who has also paid to use the hot room (15 YTL), but for someone who doesn’t use the hot room, the price of full-leg waxing alone is 12 YTL. Kese and massaging is another 15 or 20 YTL). The price lists are posted on the walls. One changes in the side rooms but you don’t get a key. Instead you can deposit your valuables in a small corner “security room” with a woman attendant.

There are around 6 or 7 women working inside the hamam for kese and massaging. One thing that was striking to me was that there were always minor frictions among these women about the use of kese space and their customers. Usually, most customers of this hamam are regulars and they prefer (or are supposed to prefer) the same person for kese. There is kind of a deal among kesecis about not stealing each other’s customers. So you’re supposed to wait longer if your keseci has a lot of customers, even though some of the other kesecis are available. For instance, I haven’t changed my keseci for the last 25 years –she was also the one who scrubbed my mom and grandma. Some of these women are related by kinship (three sisters working as kesecis) and have been there most of their lives; at least for the last ten years I have seen only one or two new women in this place. Most women who work in the hamam I know (at least 3-4) are Kurdish origin. There are only three or four women for waxing, they are generally upstairs or around the table. They also have their regular customers. There are no appointments made for their services. A few years ago they hired someone new for waxing (actually it shouldn’t be called hiring, because I think the woman pays them and rents the space she works). She is the only one who does the new-style of sugar-free waxing.

Between the hot room and the main social room there is a warm room where kesecis compete to use the two big marble benches that can fit two people each. They don’t want to scrub on the navel stone inside the hot room because it is too hot in there. Inside the hot room, there is a navel stone surrounded by around 15 marble bath basins (kurna). Generally two women share one basin. Also there are two small alcove rooms in the corners with a few other basins. Ten years ago they converted another corner small room inside the hot room to a dry sauna. They lost some space in terms of the number of basins, but I guess the customers are happier that there is a sauna in the hamam. Normally, I enter and change. Then I either get my hair dyed or go upstairs for waxing. Then I go into the hot room and say hi to my keseci so that she puts me in her line. Then I sweat for 20 minutes until called. Then after kese and massage, I return to the hot room, bathe, and leave.

This is a very traditional and old hamam. It is visited by many people from different parts of Ankara and from different socio-economic classes. In this hamam, I came across women working as prostitutes, teachers, cops, basketball players, college students, but rarely tourists. Women tend to socialize more in the large social space rather than the hot room, although conversation can happen between women sharing the kurna basins or between kesecis and the women being scrubbed. Also there is some gossiping and even ‘nasty’ chit-chat between kesecis. Bathers rarely wash each other unless they are family or came together. Sometimes if I went alone my keseci would help me wash or wash me. My keseci, who is now almost 70, always tells me stories about the people I see around, or complain about other kesecis in competition with her. People generally go around in their underwear (mostly topless; except the scrubbers who have their tops on most of the time). There is a notice on one of the walls telling that full nudity is not allowed (something like “hamama çamaşırsız girmek yasaktır” – bathing naked is forbidden).

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