A testament to their popularity, Turkish baths, or ‘hamams’, can be found in all four corners of the world. But of course there is no match to enjoying the experience in their land of origin, and with over 60 still in use in Istanbul you’re spoilt for choice.
Following in the tradition of most things Turkish, hamams have their roots firmly in the Byzantine Empire, for whom the Roman public baths were an important feature in society and community, hosting social meetings, business, and, of course, cleansing.
Following the Ottomans’ conquering of the Byzantines in the 15th century, these baths evolved into the Turkish hamams we can see, relax and connect spiritually in today.
A trip to a hamam
A typical visit to a Turkish bath will start off with a relaxing seat in the ‘warm room’, designed to open up your pores with a constant current of warm air flowing through.
With your body breathing freely, you then move on to the ‘hot room’ before giving your senses a shock with a cold water wash, cleansing your opened pores.
You can then receive a vigorous full-body massage, and to get an idea of its thoroughness I recommend you watch Michael Palin’s visit to the Cağaloğlu hamam.
Finally you float to the ‘cooling room’ for a spot of relaxation, becoming sufficiently revitalised to continue on your Turkish adventure.
With so many on offer in Istanbul alone, it can be hard to decide which hamam you will visit - that is if you limit yourself to only one visit.
If you do find yourself restricted by time or distracted by other sights and have time for only one pampering spa day, why not visit the very hamam Palin visited - the Cağaloğlu hamam.
The Cağaloğlu was the last hamam to be constructed during the Ottoman reign almost 300 years ago in 1741, rising from the ashes of a splendid palace destroyed by fire in the previous year. The building is a grand architectural monument to the Ottoman empire with a baroque twist. Opening hours are 8am - 10pm and prices vary depending on package.