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.
Büyük Hamamı (Kasımpaşa/Beyoğlu, Potinciler Sok. 22)
The entrance to the women’s side of this hamam is around the corner from the men’s. It is smaller and almost resembles a service entrance (see the male side).
The communication barrier was absolute, but we (myself and two other lady friends) been armed with a few hints from our trusted guide, Asa. One important hint was not to let them rush you from the steam room to the bath slab for the kese.
We were tossed in a small room with vinyl benches and given wraps. Being small, the wrap more than covered me, others were not so lucky. I’m not sure they cared.
We were ushered into a marble room with a low shelf to sit on, each by a marble sink. Hot water was run and we were cautioned that it was very hot. We were able to turn on the cold water and each had buckets with which to douse ourselves. Water ran everywhere. We sat and sweat.
Ushered into another room and set on a very hot, very beautifully carved marble slab. Above was a dome with many small windows. The clouds and the sky were perfect. It was a place to reflect. It was a point to stare at if one were uncomfortable with looking at one’s friends naked. It was a point to look at to calm down.
Having no idea what to expect made me anxious. Two women walked in, wearing only underwear. The women were voluptuous, cellulite abounded, but strong, very strong looking. Their underpants were flesh colored briefs, not completely dowdy, though. No lace detail, but not baggy 100% cotton. The three of us shifted over so they could lay down next to us.
Each of them smacked separate edges of the slab and pointed at one of us. The third of our party was left to sit and watch us get washed.
The washer women did not try to talk to me and I think they might’ve been talking to each other. My fellow bathers and I spoke in the ante-steam-room and while we waited to be washed and then in-between washings, but during this part, the washings, we were all quiet.
I was told that this would be the best scrub ever, that it would be hard and my skin would feel softer and more invigorated than ever. Much to my chagrin, the scrubbing was light, the soap was the cheapest liquid, most obnoxious smelling Proctor & Gamble nastiness. I was reeling from being washed by a topless woman. And, yes, I was worried that I’d be taken advantage of. It was a very sexual thing for me. I was scared. When it was time for me to flip over, she just smacked my thigh. There was one moment when my clit was grazed and it just felt awkward. I wondered if they were going to wash my private parts, which, by the way, were left unrinsed.
It was done quickly and I was told to sit on another marble shelf. Cold water was doused over my head from my bucket. This made me lose my breath and it was very uncomfortable, not exhilarating. By that time I was in a panic.
We waited for the third to be done and walked back to our little room in our wet wraps. Towels were eventually brought to us.
We hit the streets shortly after drying off and paying. Had a chicken sandwich and some soda. The men in our party came sauntering out 45 minutes later, having been given hot towels, tea and television.
Büyük Hamam (Kasımpaşa/Beyoğlu, Potinciler Sok. 22)
I visited the Büyük Hamamı male baths with four friends in May 2009. For two of us, including myself, it was our first trip to a hamam. This was something that I’d been looking forward to since we’d finalized our trip to visit our friend in Istanbul and overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing experience. The Büyük Hamamı was at the foot of a steep hill and I have to confess that I was expecting it to be a bit of a dump based on its drab exterior. However, the internal space was clean and pleasant, if a little tired.
We were welcomed by the manager, provided with a peştemel, flip-flops in exchange for shoes, and keys to individual changing rooms on an upper level that overlooked the communal waiting area. The changing rooms were basic, but clean. This might be stating the obvious, but the bath was hot and steamy and we initially spent some time trying to acclimatize to the heat while we sat and laid on the insanely hot stone or göbek taşı. It was a midweek afternoon and the baths were quiet with only a few other patrons, all who appeared to be Turkish. The massage was conducted on the göbek taşı by the tellak and took about 10-15 minutes. I’ve not had a huge number of massages before, but it was firm and even included some back cracking. This was then followed by the kese or scrub which was pleasant, but something of a surreal experience given that the last time I was washed and scrubbed by somebody else in this manner was as a child by my mother. It was shocking to see the amount of dead skin removed during the scrub and it made me doubt whether I clean myself sufficiently well on a daily basis. The soap was rinsed off thoroughly by the tellak with gallons and gallons of water. It was another unusual experience and one need to learn quickly to take a large breath of air between buckets…
Following the wash and massage we returned to the communal waiting area where we were bundled up in towels and directed to sit on a couch in front of an inordinately large TV. We cooled down with çay and soda before returning to the changing rooms for a short nap. I left Buyuk Hamamı feeling refreshed, very clean and with every intention of visiting another hamam as soon as possible.
Firuz Ağa Hamamı, Çukurcuma Cd. 6, Çukurcuma, Beyoğlu. Men early AM and normal PM, Women midday. About 35 TL.
This post is significant because it covers two firsts for me: Firuz Ağa Hamamı, and my first “gay” experience in a hamam. Together, my fellow hamam blogger and I have encountered our share of arkadaşlık — a slightly tongue-in-cheek word roughly meaning “friendship-ness”, sometimes too much — in our hamam excursions, but nothing so overt as our experience in the Firuz Ağa sıcaklık. That said, hamams’ location in the body-culture and sexual-identity worlds of Turkey makes “gay” a slippery label, for me. Perhaps the word is best reserved for David Barton gyms in Manhattan or the Turkish “saunas” on Istiklal, both of which display posters of young, sweaty, bare-chested men in the windows. But I’m getting ahead of myself. (continue reading…)
Firuz Aga Hamamı, Çukurcuma Cadd. 6., Çukurcuma, Beyoğlu
Often in baths talking is limited. While chatting can happen, the space is public even in its most private sense, and the echoes and reverberations, sounds of the washing and splashing, and the heavy walls can mute the space and make having a full on conversation difficult. Unless one shouts, which one would not do. As a result, although my friend and I went together and chatted throughout, there were some things we were not able to talk in depth about, foreign language or not. This was partly in deference to not interrupting our experience but partly in preserving the quietude of the bath. This post follows my friend’s post as a part II impression on a bath from a straight perspective (his) and a gay perspective (mine). Oddly, it is the first time we have shared our experiences with each other about it. From the silent hamam to the “loud” blogosphere…. (continue reading…)
Galatasaray Hamam. Hours: Men’s side 7am-10pm, Women’s side 8am-9pm. Prices are listed in Euros: 26 for a bath, 35 with a kese, 38 with a massage, 44 for kese and massage, 57 for the ‘Pasha’ treatment – oil massage. Beverages are free.
Visited Dec. 19th, Friday, 8:30 pm.
This hamam is located just off of Istiklal Caddesi in an area
populated by tourists, a fact that seems to permeate the
experience of the hamam. The two of us visited the hamam in
December, on a rainy night around 8pm even as the hamam was
to close not far after. The owner greeted us quite warmly,
prices were discussed (interestingly, they were listed in
Euros, another sign of the solicitation to non-Turkish
bathers) and we decided upon a full service experience,
despite the time constraints. This would include the general
admission to the hammam, but also massage and kese. After
being shown to adjacent rooms, the two of us changed into our
peştamals and wooden shoes and were led to the central
hamam proper. Inside there was a quite large stone, emitting
high heat (much to my liking) and the two of us lay upon it for
approximately twenty minutes before the keseci entered. A note
about the space itself – this hamam was quite large, and
again nicely heated, I imagine that 8 men could lie upon the
stone comfortably. At the top of the wall (as the dome starts)
there were neon lights emitting a rotation of the color
spectrum; the revolution was a bit off-putting, however, the
light itself not as much so. (continue reading…)
It was a raining day, and after my friend and I walked back to Galatasaray
hamam to take photographs of the interior and exterior, and we had
planned to take a trip to another hamam on the same road as
Galatasaray – being that it was raining, and seeing the sign
for Ağa Hamamı as we walked to our destination we decided to
walk in and check it out. The entrance was not street-level;
we had to walk down a few marble steps to get to the lobby. It
was very dim; even after the lights were raised for our
arrival (there no one else there at the time) it still stayed
quite dim. Discussing, and then settling on a price, the two
of us opted to receive the base-hamam experience, as well as
massage and scrub. We changed, and entered the hamam. The
dimness there was not an issue – it was much nicer than the
florescent colored lights of Galatasaray. As we lay upon
the stone I was surprised that it was not as hot as expected.
There was either condensation gathering and falling from the
dome, or there was water leaking in from the roof, dripping on
the two of us. The stone was also not nearly hot enough –
throughout the entire experience, until after my massage and
scrub and sitting in a side room (including a request for a 15
minute delay for our services to begin) I did not break a
sweat! Regardless, the experience was relaxing, and the keseci
was decent enough. The keseci did, though, react in a
particularly odd way concerning my body – for example, as he
scrubbed my arm (and this happened for both) he was, from how
it appeared, purposefully placing and rubbing my hands
particularly on his body- it was not offensive, but quite
Another odd note – during the visit a small group of women
came into the hamam, at first using one of the side rooms,
but then laying on the central stone. I felt no objection
other than shock – this happened after the two of our massages
and as we were sitting in the side rooms – even a regular to
this particular hamam was in shock!
Overall, this was an “ok” experience – apparently, this hamam
is open twenty-four hours, which sounds great, say, after a
long night out. The prices were much more reasonable,
especially for the neighborhood (located just off Istiklal)
and my only chief complaint was the heat of the central stone!
To have been waiting to break a sweat was taxing on my relaxation!
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?
Galatasaray Hamam. Hours: Men’s side 7am-10pm, Women’s side 8am-9pm. Prices are listed in Euros: 26 for a bath, 35 with a kese, 38 with a massage, 44 for kese and massage, 57 for the ‘Pasha’ treatment – oil massage. Beverages are free.
Visited Dec. 19th, Friday, 8:30 pm.
My friend and I were ready to relax for an evening before an early flight to Cyprus the next morning. The weather was chilly and it was drizzling so we wanted to warm up in a steamy bath. We also didn’t want to walk far. So we chose the very central Galatasaray hamam. It is located within 15 minutes from Taksim or Tünel at the end of a side street off Istiklal. The street turns the corner at the hamam, marking its position rather prominently. A large sign saying “historic Galatasaray hamam” (in Turkish of course) above the door was rather glaring but upon entering the inside was immaculate. The atrium space with its central fountain and three floors of rooms around the courtyard was beautiful and quiet, decorated like a lavish palace. As we were coming in a single foreigner (likely a tourist) was leaving. It seemed he came down from an upstairs changing room. The bath operators were calling out to him as he forgot to pay for his ayran, which he thought was included. They are not apparently (though the prices say beverages are free). Another foreigner-tourist was coming down the stairs from an upstairs dressing room. He was also a single male. Apart from those two, we didn’t see anyone else at the bath. On this Friday night it was all foreigners, all tourists. However, as I spoke Turkish, we seemed to be given slightly different treatment. We were given ground floor changing rooms, sparing us the climbing of the circular staircase for no reason. That was about where the non-tourist service ended.
A rather pricey price list (in Euros) was shown to us, and we were directed to rooms to change as if we had never set foot in a hamam before. We were given horrible Ottoman style wooden clog-stilts which seemed to me a treacherous accident waiting to happen. Surely wet floors and wooden raised clogs which don’t fit your feet and leave them sliding all around are not the way to go. But, sharing in the experience, we shuffled rather lamely toward the heating room, passing an intermediate room of showers and a massage bed. The hot room was beautiful and very spacious. The bathhouse is from the 15th century (1481) and appeared old and monumental. Though perhaps the Ottoman Sultan Beyazit II, who founded the bath, did not intend to include the piped in “Orientalist” belly-dancing music and hidden lights in the walls which projected colors that changed from red to green to blue on the ceiling. The large central stone radiated intense heat from the center and we were made to lie on cardinal points of the stone. As the stone was immense we ended being rather far away from each other. When I made an atttempt to sit closer to my friend, I was shooed back to my first spot and made to lie down. Was this an attempt to keep us two men at a platonic distance? Or to maintain a photogenic symmetry to the bathhouse should anyone else enter? Nevertheless, I found it interesting, as at the least, we were being treated like tourists who had never bathed before and had to follow a certain protocol.
After about 15 minutes, we were nice and sweath. I was enjoying the space minus the music which was ridiculous and masked the gentle echoes and dirps that are part of a bathhouse. The lights, I was getting used to. I had left my given place on the sotne and my friend and I were sitting closer on the stone and chatting. Two keseci entered, one for each of us. They were big, burly, lumber-jack type mustached men. The kese and massage were nice and in a bizarre order. My man massaged me quite vigorously, cracking my spine and joints and being generally chatty, probably as I spoke passing Turkish. As he had me turn over, he completely lifted my peştemel off and then laid it down again. I was surprised! The careful finagling of towels so as to avoid nudity was not so sacred at this moment! After that he led me carefully to the edge near a basin where he kese-ed me and then soaped me down. He also leaned in close, almost whispering, saying that if I were to ever come again I had to ask for him specifically. Then I would get good treament. And the more I came, the better the experience would get. This was not sexual, he was not implying that he would give me any “extra services” only that I could have longer massages and keses. I noted that he already was giving me a longer kese than my friend who didn’t speak Turkish. Then he whispered, and if you want to come in with a girlfriend, I could let you bathe here together in private. But only in the evening. Wow. Was that the benefit of being in a tourist bath?
He led me out and bade me take a shower. The showers were freezing. I balked completely, but he demonstrated for me, jumping under the water and insinuating that the cold shower after the hamam was the manly thing to do. How could I say no? I showered for under ten seconds. When he and his friend provided us with warm and dry towels for us, they had us take our old pestemels off and wrapped us. Again our nudity was not prevented by careful wrapping and gazing the other way. He left me saying with the utmost seriousness, “hot hamam, hot girl, cold beer,” like an older parent giving advice. We sat for a while completely toweled, then changed, and said goodbye to our kesecis, the register man, and the manager, who all shook our hands goodbye and told us to come again. Though the prices were steep and we were given the tourist experience of a Turkish bath, it was a refreshing hour and a half in a beautiful space, which we cherished as we darted home in the pouring rain.