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. [or more...see below]
The Second Visit:
The second time i went to this great hamam was a month later, I was in Istanbul on business and my colleague wanted to “experience” Turkey – So I took him for a Turkish coffee, we had a Turkish shave and then there seemed only one last thing to do – a Turkish bath! There was only one hamam I was prepared to go to
Now, to set the scene, it was a very hot and humid day in the city, we had a long morning meeting, we had a fish sandwich under the bridge for lunch with a lovely Efes beer before we decided to take the longish walk to the hamam. We walked in and was again welcomed warmly and led to separate changing rooms. We met up in the main heated room and there were two keseci working. I recognised the older more burly gentleman from my visit the month previous but there was also a younger slimmer guy working, perhaps the reason was because it was a bit busier. There were 5 young american lads in there with us (we guessed army) and the two keseci were working like a factory line. The younger man was doing the soap suds and cleaning side and then you were passed off to the old man for a good rinse, scrub and massage.
We had to wait a little while, while the two men dealt with the 5 squaddies so I took refuge in the sauna, coming out occasionally to douse myself with cool water. The longer we waited, the longer it took to cool myself down. The minute I poured cold water over myself I started to feel myself sweating straight away…
Interesting note, out of the 5 squaddies, 3 decided for whatever reason not to wear a peştamal and instead wore board shorts as you would normally see on the beach, I’m not one to judge but frankly they looked ridiculous! I know you should feel as comfortable as possible but honestly you are supplied with a peştamal, wear that instead!
Finally it was our turn, as I had been there before I let my friend go first for his first experience at a hamam. Finally he was sudded up and moved on and it was my turn
I lay down on the slab and the young man started soaping me down with these incredible suds, same as last time. He went over the front of my body and then without warning, like a caring mother put his hand over my forehead. Ok… I thought, this is new.
He then muttered something to the older gentleman in Turkish who stopped massaging my friend and came over to me leaned in and put his hands on my cheeks, looking deep into my eyes… What was going on?
They quickly muttered to each other again and then the younger man who was initially soaping me went to my friend and took over the massage from the older man.
Meanwhile, the older keseci ushered me to stand and follow him outside.
Now, I should make this perfectly clear, I would NEVER advocate going for a hamam or a sauna drunk, it is dangerous, however after just one beer I wasn’t intoxicated, but… when you combine that with the humid heat and a long walk and a long wait, I was basically over heating. Big time.
I genuinely felt ok, I wasn’t faint, I wasn’t uncomfortable – I was just hot. So hot in fact that the first keseci realised just by soaping my chest because he could feel the excess heat emanating from me!
So, I followed the older keseci outside not knowing what was going on, he muttered something to the moustached manager as we walked by who looked slightly concerned and carried on walking towards the back of the building and I was led to a shower. My keseci turned it onto the coldest possible and (gently) pushed me under. God it felt so good!
I rested my head on the shower wall and took my peştamal off so I stood there naked. The keseci continued to stay there watching over me. I should point out, that even though at this time I was stark naked and he was watching me I didn’t for one second think there was anything erotic or sexual in it, he was clearly watching over me to make sure I didn’t collapse, or escape before he decided to let me, the fact that I was naked under the shower was utterly irrelevant.
In fact at one point I glanced over and he was standing there arms crossed, smiling slightly and he just reminded me exactly of a P.E teacher at school supervising shower duty. I gestured to leave after a few moments but he refused, his burly arms still crossed but also managing to point towards the shower. He was a man of few English words but I never once misunderstood. I was to stay under the shower until he was to tell me otherwise!
I stayed under the shower for about 3 or 4 minutes and I gestured that I was feeling much cooler, he leant in and turned the shower off, felt my forehead, shook his head and turned the shower back on… were it not for my colleague I would probably have stayed as long as humanly possible however after a few more minutes I gestured again, the showers was turned off, a hand on my forehead and while not entirely smiling, I was obviously deemed just about fit for purpose. He put a fresh peştamal on me and I was led to the toweling area where the manager was waiting for me with two ice cold bottles of mineral water which I gulped down greedily…
I eventually went back inside and the older man gave me a very gentle massage, I think he was still concerned I was going to pass out, however it was still an excellent service.
I left to get changed, met my friend who had been in the waiting area watching TV by the fan and had to explain that I hadn’t been shown some extra service but had instead been standing naked with my keseci watching me like a naughty school boy and we each paid our 35tl, ( I left a generous tip ) and we went out to cool down with a nice Efes!
I cannot thank these guys enough for their care of me, even though I didn’t feel too bad, it was quite clear I was seriously overheating and the beer beforehand had done nothing to help. So please, don’t go to for a hamam if you have had a drink ( even one ) or if you are feeling under the weather because if you do, you may find yourself being sent for a supervised cold shower while having flashbacks of a bad rugby match at age 15!
[admin note: We have all been in this situation before - overheating while there is a long line of keses in front of you and you are being polite and going last. for this reason, there is either an intermediary room ("tepidarium") or the main entrance room with changing areas (often with beds!) in the bath. these have often prevented an overheating moment and allowed us to go back and forth in the hot part for longer!]
The First Visit:
I saw this hamam via your website and it seemed the ideal one for me, not just because of location but also due to authenticity as well. I didn’t want a tourist den nor was I looking for any sex, just an authentic experience.
Firstly, the roads on the maps do not always correspond to the roads on the signposts. I spent over an hour looking for this place when of course it was extremely straightforward.
on the main road [Istiklal Caddesi] where the old tram goes down and walking toward the square, you will pass an intersection with a very large metal sculpture, turn left at this junction, cross a road [Hamalbaşı Cad.] and you’ll see a pharmacy on the corner, the hamam, is two doors down from the pharmacy. Simples
Upon entering and walking down some stairs a young lad pointed at my shoes and I took them off and he handed me some flip flop type crocs in return.
The manager (who is the moustached man pictured in the main review) immediately saw that I wouldn’t be able to speak Turkish (sadly, correct) and so said “massage, yes?” I nodded enthusiastically and was taken to a small little changing room where the pestamal was folded neatly on a cushioned seating area. I undressed putting the pestamal around me and was led into the steam room.
Now this is very basic, I’m not going to gild the lily here, it is a sizable room with a marble slab in the middle and a sauna and separate shower attached. Nothing fancy at all, but after spending a few minutes in the sauna I enjoyed sitting down next to one of the sinks and filling the provided bowl with cold water and tipping it on myself.
The only other person was an elderly local gentlemen washing himself.
I was ready for the next part so lay on the very warm marble slab and waited
The keseci came in, a big man who looked as if life had treated him unfairly and I was slightly worried that he was going to take this injustice out on me, however appearances can be deceiving and while looking gruff he was a very nice man who treated me to an incredible experience. He covered me in suds which was a nice feeling, and then kept using the bowl to rinse me down, he would turn me around on my front and very discreetly adjust my pestamal so that I was naked but never feeling exposed if that makes sense. Upon turning round again the pestamal was again readjusted so I wasn’t naked but it was placed quite high up my legs so I felt I was wearing a nappy
The scrub was again given all over using the same techniques and the massage was firm but fair. I had read horror stories of bones cracking but if anything this keseci was more cautious than anything, if I could have spoken Turkish I would have actually asked for it to be a bit harder but it was still enjoyable.
I was again rinsed off and stood by one of the sinks for him to do this, my pestamal fell to he floor so I was standing there naked but as this was coming to the end the keseci didn’t seem to care and made no attempt to cover me up for this last rinsing, in fact the last thing he did before leaving was filling a bowl and handing it to me and then pointed to between my legs, the meaning was clear, I was to rinse my boys off myself which I did with tantalisingly cold water.
I was made to sit on the slab again as the keseci picked up my sodden pestamal and left the room leaving me thinking what was to happen next. I need t have worried, a few seconds later he returned with a dry pestamal and made me stand while he put it on around my waist. I was then led outside to a comfy bench outside the heated rooms and the manager came onto me with about three towels, one was on my shoulders, one was around my waist (I honestly can’t remember if he removed the new pestamal or whether it was just left on) and another on my head which he wrapped and folded over making me feel like I was a 1960s housewife at a hairsalon. He kept drying me which was a new experience for me but I never felt uncomfortable at all. Once I was done I was told to stay there as long as I need to before going to get changed.
I dressed and the man said 35tl which was exceptionally reasonable, I gave him 50 and gestured that the change could be given to the keseci and the young lad who was waiting with my shoes. He seemed pleased by this and nodded and so I left my first hamam experience feeling smooth, relaxed and unbelievably clean!
This is a no frills hamam experience I went to another one more in the centre of the town which catered more to the tourists and I didn’t get past the reception, not only was it expensive it was too clinical, too, well, too clean. Where’s the fun in that?
However that wasn’t the end of my hamam story there. When I got back to my hotel I realised I had left my necklace in the changing room, now only having sentimental value I was still keen to get it back but guess what? My flight was the next day! They opened at 7am the next morning and I was there at 7.30 with a confused taxi driver waiting and ran down the steps, I didn’t even have to say a word, the manager looked at me and opened a drawer and smiled genuinely as he returned my necklace.
I can’t recommend this place enough, as long as you don’t want any frills or cappuccino machines etc
Open 7 days/week; Men’s side: 7 to 10 pm, Women’s side: 8-7:30 pm
Murat Reis Mahallesi, Çavuşdere Caddesi No. 204, Üsküdar / İstanbul
Tel (Erkekler için): 0 216 553 15 93
Tel (Bayanlar için): 0 216 334 97 10
Çinili Hamam, located on Çavuşdere Caddesi in Üsküdar on the Asian side, is an historic bath built in 1640 as part of a mosque complex, apparently for the builders working at the site. The donor being one of the most powerful Ottoman empresses of the 17th century, I expected it to be rather grander than it was, and rather more evident. It took some time to find it, perhaps because not one of use had brought a useful map when embarking on our trip from Taksim. Neither had we properly clarified exactly which ferry terminal would take us to Üsküdar; it is Besiktaş, which is not on a tramline, and not Kabataş, which is.
But back to the baths; as I say, having been spoiled by historic baths like Çemberlitaş in Sultanahmet, this one was more modest than I had expected (although at least here the charming changing rooms have not been demolished). I should be clear that this was the women’s side; the men’s side, from pictures, seems a bit more ornate. Upon entering the foyer lined with the changing rooms, we were greeted by a polite fully dressed lady and a cat, the former informing us of the prices – 40 YTL for the full deal, which means entrance and kese (I have to insert here, interestingly translated as ‘stroke’ on their website) – oil massage would be more. We were given a key to one of the changing/resting rooms and went in to change.
I had arrived armed with bathing suit. My friend had nothing. It was her first time at a hamam, but I had been to many and certainly remembered going to Çemberlitaş when I was 19 totally starkers. I have seen others there in the altogether since too. So, I thought, we’ll just go naked. And we did.
The inner chamber again was not as grand as I expected; it is not a ‘large-domed’ hamam, although it is not tiny, and there was room on the gobek taş to lay out on our peştemals and enjoy the steam. The heat was a good level – not too hot, but enough to make you sweat comfortably. A hamam has to be one of the few places one can really do that. The architecture, although not grand, was rather lovely, ogee arches and ornate flourishes tempered by starkly white-washed walls in a shabby-chic way pleasing to those gentrified souls who think French chateaux and Swedish farm houses are wonderful, and not horrible murderous places.
Soon the keseciler arrived and started bossing that one ‘lay here’, ‘move here’, ‘sit here’ in what is more or less the usual fashion when one has female keseciler. (I should add here that I have had male ones – odd and sometimes creepy. Not so recommended.) (I am tempted here to deviate on an even more disturbing conversation with a taxi driver about this topic, but I spare you.)
My friend was very pleased with the scrubbing, having never experienced it before. I was not disappointed, per se, although I wanted them to have taken off at least 10 more years. I have heard stories about places (outside of Istanbul) that give you a very ‘thorough’ wash. This was not one of those places. When ordered to roll onto our backs, the keseci delicately lifted the end of the peştemal and covered up our offending bits. This, we thought, was just politeness. Later on, though, when we were walking about trying to decide where to sit (the gobek taş had become full with washees), the ladies clammered for us to cover up with our peştemals. It was then that we realized we were just too naked for this hamam.
The bath of many names, Şıfa hamamı is where one could find a good deal of male-male “action.” Usually reference to it involves many desperate foreigners unable to find it and being horribly lost. It is actually quite easy to locate. From the Karaköy metro head to the other Golden Horn bridge, that is when standing at the metro facing Sultanahmet take Tersane Caddesi to the right until you get to the other bridge. The bath is all by its lonesome in an uninteresting boxlike building on the right side. The Sokullu Mehmet Pasha mosque is on the left.
I went with a friend. Not just any friend. One that I met last summer a year ago at a club and went home with. He was French. We reconnected randomly and he suggested that we meet and go to the bath in the late afternoon on a Saturday. A lovely idea I thought! I had never gone to a bath date, let alone with a lover or “one-night stand.” I let him lead, as he goes there on a semi-regular basis, I gathered.
The building was quite unappealing, which is rather deceiving. Inside the changing room and reception were very clean and rooms arrayed around the court on two levels. We were given one changing room for the two of us, the closest near the concierge area. As we changed we stole sly looks at one another in the brief moment when we were…well…briefless. We wrapped ourselves and headed into the bath. Ahead was a door to a bath complex of at least two rooms that we didn’t go into. More on that later. Rather we hung a right, walked down a long hallway with some peştemal clad men and turned left into the main room. It was quite impressive. A real historic bath, clean, marbled with a central gobek taşı and alcoves in every corner that had entryways. I was impressed. This was no dank mildew peeling basement. Men were everywhere. On the gobek taşı, on the sides, in the alcoves. Everywhere. They were mainly hairy and some balding and some with big bellies and older, mainly 40s and up, working class by the looks of it, bus drivers, cab drivers. Most were alone, glancing at us as we walked in. No, scratch that. Staring. And staring hard. Only one or two were interacting with one another. We picked an alcove with the least amount of people in it; there were two. We sat together in a corner opposite them. Within minutes one had his peştemal open and was rubbing himself while staring at us. The other soon did the same. My friend and I were leaning against each other, shoulders touching, knees touching, feet touching. We were quietly chatting, occasionally pouring water over ourselves to cool down, ignoring the surroundings. It was sweet, relaxing, and I felt myself begin to let go, despite the staring strokers. We touched each other gingerly on the hands and shoulders, and then he kissed me. It was romantic and erotic…and I was freaking out. Just a little. Why? From my wanderings, I had constructed a highly sexualized top/bottom active/passive binary view of Turkish male – male sexuality. This affectionate display of intimacy had no part of it. Never once in a bath did I see men kiss. But this felt revolutionary. I loved my friend’s bold move in…well…just kissing me. I thought (my thoughts changed rapidly), well, all of these Turks who are constrained by showing public affection can feel comfortable watching this and perhaps feel bold or inspired to follow suit. Here in this bath we were safe. And they were all watching us. Of course, no one followed suit. To my dismay, not soon after we started, the keseci interrupted to inform us that he was ready to give us our massages. I felt like dad just walked in on us and quickly resumed composure and arranged my peştemal delicately.
The keseci was kind of hot. Perhaps the fittest one I’d ever seen. I thought this maybe a feature of more sexualized hamams where men know to go but then saw the other one, a rather large man with an unfortunate and massive tumor in his abdomen. I was reminded of Cihangir Sauna where there is a hunchback keseci. Is it that here in the seclusion of the hamams, these men with visible disfigurements can feel hidden from the public throughout the day? I was glad our keseci was the hot one. He gave us our massages and keses on the bench in the long interim hallway between two marble basins. I wanted to follow my friend out to watch his massage but the keseci and interestingly, other bathers, indicated that I shouldn’t. Maybe this was a private bond. My friend took my hand and I followed him. Another revolutionary move, I thought. I watched in relaxed disinterest as he scrubbed, soaped, and massaged my friend. It was kind of fun to watch, actually. After, during my turn, I enjoyed the scrub/rub. It was better than most. Not the longest, but he was really working hard as he massaged me and making heavy breathing and grunting noises reminiscent of tennis players at Wimbledon.
Afterwards, we returned to the bath and to another corner alcove. The stroking man from the first somehow materialized and poised himself across again, picking up where he left off. We left and wandered down the hall and let ourselves into the bath across the hall of the entrance. It was closed off, or at least I assumed this judging by the broom angled across the entrance and through the door handle. Inside was beautiful and empty. Feeling guilty we went back in the main bath. Now on the side of the main bath is a door that men were randomly going in and out of. I had observed this for the entire time and we went to check it out and it looked like two small semienclosed sauna type rooms with men in them and men waiting outside in the small narrow entry and so we didn’t linger. That is for next time. We returned to an alcove, and to our little corner. The bath was still full of men. Two men were talking with their arms around each other’s shoulders. They were younger but with chest hair and facial hair and muscular bodies. They stood out. At this point when we returned to the alcove I realized that my friend and I were smooth or nearly smooth chested with no facial hair and easily the most attractive. We were the main attraction. We settled into our corner, and began kissing again, moving further, exploring under peştemals. The stroker had appeared yet again, sitting across, and going at it fully now, his extended foot rubbed against mine purposely. My friend and I were a live show for the bath, despite our attempts at discretion and privacy. I so wanted to stay and enjoy the moment to completion but this nagged at me a little too much. I whispered in his ear that we should go back to his place, and so as we were both hot and heavy, the air charged, the stroker stroking, we got up and left. Upon leaving I peeked into the closed off bath again, hoping we can resume there, and to my surprise there were two figures: a man and a woman who was topless and laying down a pestemal for the man. Embarassed, I hurried out. A hired masseuse? Prostitute? I never did find out.
My friend and I changed and headed back to his house, caught a movie, he cooked me dinner, and I spent the night. And so the bath was but a prelude, an erotic and intimate one at that.
Aziziye Hamam. Kadıköy Haydarpasa Rıhtım Cd. Recaizade Sok. No:17-19 Kadıköy. Mens bath: 0216 349 14 65
Ladies bath: 0216 449 06 13 Cell: 0216 449 06 13 E-mail: email@example.com Hours: Seven days a week
Mens bath06:00 AM to 23:00 PM Ladies bath06:00 AM to 23:00 PM. Fees: bath: 15 YTL, kese and massage 15 YTL.
My mother wanted to go to a Turkish bath while she was visiting me, and while going to a hamam has been on my list of things to do since I arrived in Istanbul six months ago, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Mom would have been happy to go to the “hamam” in her hotel, which offers “an authentic Turkish bath experience” in their state of the art spa, but I was dubious. I was also sort of dubious about Aziziye Hamam http://www.aziziyehamam.com/ – the website is in perfect English and it offers directions from Europe, two sure indicators that it’s geared to tourists- but the website promised beautiful Ottoman architecture, and showed pictures of old guys wrapped in towels, so I figured we were bound to have a more authentic experience than making an appointment at the concierge’s desk for a massage by the lap pool.
The building had an unassuming salmon facade, with separate entrances for men and women. We went in the ladies’ entrance and down some marble steps into the entrance room. A half naked woman stood before us, vigorously toweling herself. An old woman in a headscarf was laying on a bench to our left, gently snoring. The room was lined with two stories of wooden cubicles, the upper level reached by a tiny set of marble stairs. In the a cubicle on our right there was a woman, stark naked except for slippers, applying deoderant and picking her toes and other private activities. We stood there, uncertain what to do. We stood there, uncertain, and tried not to stare. The naked lady in front of us stopped drying herself and disappeared into a cubicle. I noticed a modern drink machine in the corner, incongruous against the marble and dark, old wood. After a few minutes the door at the opposite end opened and a middle aged woman wearing nothing but a pair of black panties and some rubber slippers emerged in a billow of steam. She ushered us up the tiny, twisted marble stairs into cubbies, (the wrapper from a sanitary napkin was laying on the bench in mine) made sure we each had a pestemal and slippers, and left us. Mom and I had a brief conference through the wall separating our cubbies about how much to leave on, and then we both emerged in our underwear, wrapped in our pestemals.
Downstairs two more plump, middle aged ladies wearing black panties and slippers ushered us through the door into the steam room. There was a large navel stone in the middle, and areas on either side with low stone shelves and stone basins with taps. The bath attendants put us in a corner, each with her own basin, and gave us plastic bowls and demonstrated that we were to pour water over ourselves. They disappeared, and we looked at each other, perplexed. Another woman came in and sat in the corner opposite ours. She unfastened her wrap and began dousing herself repeatedly with water, so we did the same. Aside from the weirdness of sitting there half naked with my mom, it was pleasant. The steam room was gorgeous. There was a dome over the navel stone with a window at the top that let in a little light that filtered down through the steam. The tile work on the ceiling and in the dome were exquisite. It was nice to sit there in steamy drowsiness on the beautiful, warm marble benches and pour water on myself when I got too hot.
There was an old woman on the other side who was taking an inordinate amount of time to shave her nethers. Across from her were a group of young woman laughing and chatting and soaping each others’ backs. I was surprised at their youth; I’ve been given to understand that young Turkish people don’t go to Hamams much anymore. For the better part of an hour we were the only foreigners there.
“Better than the hotel, huh, mama,” I murmered. “This is a real Turkish experience.”
She nodded, pleased.
After a while I started to get restless. I’ve never had the patience to sit in a sauna or take a long soak in a tub and I was beginning to get very thirsty. I was just beginning to fidget in earnest when the trio of middle aged ladies in their underpants came back, and with a series of grunts and gestures, got us to lay down on our pestemals on the navel stone. First my attendant scrubbed my back and legs with a rough cloth in long strokes. She slapped my thigh to indicate that I should flip over and then she did my front. Then she took me over to a stone basin and rinsed me, and rinsed the gray pills of dead skin from my pestemal, and pushed me and grunted at me until I was laying down on the navel stone again in the correct position. She soaped me up with a bit of bar soap and a washcloth, front and back, (I think she used the same cloth for me and my mother) Finally I was taken back to my basin and she rather lovingly shampooed my hair and left me to finish rinsing myself.
Full disclosure: I worked in spas in the US for years. And the whole time I was there the voices of every beauty school teacher and every boss I’ve ever had was screaming in my head about the sanitation, which, by OSHA standards was non-existant. I’ve never been a germophobe, but if you are, perhaps you should stick with the hotel spa. Everything was covered in soap and hot water, and the worst I believe you could catch in such a place would be ring-worm or a touch of athlete’s foot. Also, if you’re expecting some TLC in the massage forget it. The whole thing took ten minutes, tops, and was rather rough. Also, perhaps because I worked in a spa for so many years, I’ve lost some of my boundaries about nakedness and touching, but I feel I should warn you, ladies: your boobs will be manhandled. They will be scrubbed and soaped along with the rest of you, as will your inner thighs. The lady wearing only underwear and a grim expression will move your underwear wherever she needs to- pulling it below your butt cheeks one minute, yanking it into your crack the next.
Over all it was a nice experience. I left feeling softer and smoother than I have in a long time, and profoundly relaxed, and it was nice to do something that’s normally so private, bathe, in such a communal atmosphere.
Firuz Ağa Hamamı, Çukurcuma Cd. 6, Çukurcuma, Beyoğlu. Men early AM and normal PM, Women midday. About 35 TL.
A German friend was coming to the city and he asked me to take him to the best hamam in town. I knew it was an impossible question but yet I gave it a try.
I asked around, browsed the web, read some books and I really didn’t have any clear idea. Even though I had already been here for a couple of months I hadn’t had any hamam experience myself.
I knew I didn’t want one of those big hamams which were far out of my budget but also seemed an artificial experience. With that juvenile eagerness of the traveler I was looking for the “real thing”.
When I finally met up with my friend I simply was going to tell him I was broke and we should better go for çay. He refused and we went to the hamam that is in the corner of my house. It was close and it was a Thursday afternoon and because of work and time that seemed as our best option.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this place. Especially after reading the big Mehmet story I wasn’t all that keen to come here but I didn’t want to negatively predispose my friend so I didn’t tell him anything and simply accepted to go. For me it was also interesting; regardless of the result, I was going to experience my first hamam.
The entrance was small and the people working there very friendly. The tension began to build up. I was excited to wear the little peştamal and to be guided into the chambers of the hamam.
Architectonically I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful. I wasn’t expecting more than one big room. It was all very pleasant to see all the little chambers, with different temperatures, different qualities of light.
There were about 4 other people in the place. We learned what to do by mimicking their behavior. We chose our marble basin and began pouring water on us. It was really nice. It wasn’t extremely hot so it was quite very enjoyable and my friend and I hadn’t seen each other in almost two years so it was a fantastic environment to catch up with all the life stories.
In an opposite corner two Turkish men were doing the same, just chatting. The heat made the conversation stop every now and then; just to catch your breath, to relax, to pour some more cold water.
I really love “sweat houses” curiously because in general I don’t like the heat much. But I like them as transitional spaces.
In every society there are some characters who are allowed to break the social rules, to live in spaces in between. This is the case of the shamans. However for the average folk, who can’t live in between worlds there are spaces where rules can be broken. Sweat houses tend to be one of them.
I could see this was one of those places by the tender way these very tough men were pouring water over one another, on how relaxed they were.
The heat got too much for me in one moment so I moved to a different chamber where I could cool down.
There was another guy. As soon as I entered the room he engaged in conversation with me. He spoke a little English, enough to have one of these pleasant slow conversations. With the same curiosity that I have encountered in many other Turkish, he asked me on my whereabouts and we spoke about hamams for a little while. Then he washed my back –rules can be broken– and pour water on me. I did the same for him.
Soon my friend was joining us along with another traveler who ended up in the same place. The new guy was from Iran and with anthropological curiosity I began talking to him and asking him about hamams in his country. He wasn’t eager to talk but seemed amused by the conversation going on.
And that’s how it continued; we just began talking to the newcomers when we were apart and talking about life when we were together. Everyone was talking among themselves, just cut slow phrases, shorter according to the temperature of the room. Everybody was simply friendly, trying to share stories or simply smiling on the way.
Then it was time for my soap massage. I was taken to the smaller coolest chamber. By the eyes that you develop through experiencing things over an over the masseur could tell I wasn’t much for heat. He was the older of the three men who work on this place. I can tell that he has spent his entire life among these walls where his physical defects didn’t matter at all, what mattered was his ability for his job.
I lay down in the cold gray marble and felt the foam fall all over me, falling slowly along with some air and the occasional touch of the tissue. Not so far I could hear one of the Turkish men singing a distant song with that sense of melody that reminds me of how far away I am from familiar places. It was sensorial heaven.
It was my friend’s turn. He was taken in the main chamber, the hottest one with most intricate details: The little niches on the wall, the skylight glasses, the white shine of the marble table. I then had the voyeuristic pleasure of watching him being washed, taken care of in the abandon of a child. It was beautiful to see him so strong and yet in surrender.
This hamam experience was fantastic. It had everything I could dream of in my best hamam fantasies, the broken rules, the friendliness edging on flirting, the songs, the beauty. We simply didn’t want to leave but the time came and we left utterly pleased about this great evening.
We were so happy that we decided to come back, on Friday night after work just to repeat this adventure. Little did we know how easily the rules of transitional places change from one instant to the next, using codes that will long escape our foreigner eyes.
We went back, same beautiful place, same corner of my street; a completely different place. The people working there welcomed us in friendly manner and placed my friend and I in the same dressing room. None of us has a problem with nudity or close physical contact both of us being long time friends and naturists so this change probably wouldn’t even had made it to my mind map if it wasn’t for all the other changes.
Today, a Friday night, the ambience was denser. I not only mean that it was much hotter, much steamier. The moment we walked in there it felt already as a different experience. We went to the main chamber. The idea was to follow the same procedure as the previous night. Today, even though there was about the same amount of people as the last occasion, nobody was talking.
My friend and I were much more silent too. It was partly the extreme heat, partly the fact that we had already shared many of the day’s stories earlier at dinner, but also we were following the rules of the place.
As I have already mentioned in different areas in this same post I don’t love heat. Soon I needed to go cool down in one of the smaller, fresher chambers.
Shortly after, somebody followed me to the room. I tried some conversation but didn’t get much answer. What I did get were several glances of the guy who had an increasing erection.
I went back to my friend who during the same time had had a similar experience. Today the hamam wasn’t a place to find friends but to find lovers. We stayed there a little but longer trying to figure out the new dynamics and codes. We learned that the masseur today wasn’t as good and much more likely to touch your genitals on the way. While the first night there was the older, more experienced, ugly guy tonight there were two young men, more inexperienced in massage but more handsome and more likely to caress other parts of your body. I found one of them, the middle one, an interesting case. The first night he was also there learning to give massages, changing stages. This night he was the main masseur, dressed in a completely different way, providing a different service and he was almost a different person.
My friend did get a massage, in the fresh dark chamber. Not because of heat considerations but because in this place, if he felt like it, other hand services could easily be required.
We understood that in this forbidden encounters silence was something essential. Today there were no songs or chats and we got odd looks by talking all the time, by disturbing the anonymity of the place. The last thing we learned today was that a peştemel hanging by the entrance door of one small chambers means “attention, men working” to put it lightly. We left the place quite aware that rules change much more than we had imagined when discussing our transitional hamam experiences. That we are more Thursday evening guys.
I go to Turkish baths more than most people here. That the owner of one of the city’s major hamams is a partner at my firm just encourages this habit. For example, Selcuk (my boss) and I went to his hamam just following our student’s final studio exhibition night. We thought we’d sit around with a bunch of other dudes in towels on a hot stone table, enjoy the steam, and hash out the semester. Then have a wizened but shockingly vigorous old Turkish man scrub, soap, and massage till just semi-consciousness. (Replace “dudes” with “babes” for the female side.) I’ve been a big hamam fan since my first in winter ’09, but going with Selcuk raised the bar. He’s not only business partners with the hamam’s owner, but he also understands “service” in a way I never will: a very Turkish way. Typically, the massage guys treat a European tourist somewhat like confused but valuable cattle that may offer tips. Hey Kobe beef-to-be, come here, sit, turn, sit up, slap on the back, ok you’re done. For Selcuk, the guys layed out two towels and pillows for us right on the stone table, pushing other customers away, brought water, knew him by name, how are you Mr. Selcuk?, etc. Once finished and sitting in his little cubby room, Selcuk had the normally surly attendant delicately serve tea and manually dry him with at least four fresh towels. Even the change in my own treatment, from wary recognition of a semi-regular customer to outright fawning in front of me, was startling. Who am I? In the American service industry, would a customer even want this sycophantic display, let alone be able to ask for it? But Selcuk is “a big man,” and “this is Turkey.” I mean, it’s hard to describe without oversimplifying through caricatures, but the whole scene and the attendant’s behavior was genuine. The tradition of overt subservience to a person of stature is still very much respected here.
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…)