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Hamams in Istanbul

Turkish HamamIf you feel a little weary from all this tourism you can always go to a nice refreshing hamam (Turkish Bath) of which there are about 90 of scattered around Istanbul. You may discover the hamams themselves are some of the most impressive historical buildings you will see in the city. The two most popular are the Cagaloglu Hamam, featured in Patricia Schultz's 1000 Places to See Before You Die and located at Kazim Ismail Gürkan Cad. 34, just a short walk from Agia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. You may remember it from Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomCemberlitas Hamam is located on Çemberlitas Square on Divanyolu Street which is a little more difficult to find without google-maps. It is next to the Vezirhan monument erected by Constantine I and the Köprülü Mahmud Pasa mosque and is the hamam shown in the color photo below. Suleymaniye Hamam which opened in 1557 is located next to the Süleymaniye Mosque and within walking distance from the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. It is open every day too from 10am to midnight. Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamami is right between Agia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, in fact its front entrance is a tourist restaurant so you might not even notice it. It was built in 1556 but just recently renovated and re-opened. Keep in mind that the hamam experience is going the way of the Roman Baths and most of the people you will see in the hamams will be tourists especially at the above which are all in the tourist areas. In fact most young Turks have never set foot in a hamam. A visit to one of the famous Hamams will cost about 40TL not including 'extras'. The small neighborhood hamams are much cheaper.

The procedure in a hamam goes something like this:

Cemberlitas Hamam, Istanbul, TurkeyAt the entrance to the hamam you pay for one of the bathing options and are given tokens and directions. Once you have removed your clothes in changing room you will be given what is called a pestamal which is a traditional body wrap made from cotton. You can put your street clothes in one of the lockers that is provided. Keep your key with you at all times unless you want to walk home in a pestamal. You will also be given some kind of flip-flop or clog so you don't slip and fall or pick up some strange eastern form of athlete's foot which has no known cure in your home country (I'm kidding... about the cure anyway). From the dressing room you will enter the sicaklik which has a large heated marble platform (goebektas) surrounded by bathing basins(kurna) and private cubicles (Halvet). By sitting on the hot marble your body will perspire removing toxins and the garlic from last night's dinner. You can also opt to have an attendant wash and exfoliate you. From there you move to one of the basins to have an attendant wash you off. You don't have to leave though. You can hang out and perspire some more and wash some more. There is generally no time limit though you don't want to stay so long that you have a stroke or a heart attack or have to be peeled off the marble slab. An hour is a good amount of time. When you are ready to leave they will give you towels to dry off with. It is recommended that you bring your own soap and shampoo. You can buy them in the Hamam but they may cost more than what you have and not be as good. They also offer massages in the Hamams. Please don't forget to tip the person that washes you.

Women, you don't have to be naked if you don't want to. Men, you have to keep your pestamal on at all times. Unlike the Saint Marks Baths, hamams in Istanbul are not hotbeds of gay activity. But if that is what you are seeking you can check the gay and lesbian section of Istanbul's version of Time-Out magazine.

Some of the more upscale hotels have hamams as did the Hotel Neorion where we stayed. It was a smaller version of the public hamams, much more private, in fact we had it mostly to ourselves and they offered massage as well as scrubbing by an attendant. Some people prefer the upscale hotel hamams to the traditional ones and they seem to offer a lot more services since really they are spas. In fact our hotel had a jacuzzi and a swimming pool as part of their little 'hamam' area in the basement.

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