To see all of posts on Turkish Baths (Hamams), go to our Cappadocia Turkish Bath (Hamam) Homepage.
Photo courtesy of Photos.com - firatgocmen
“Uh boss, I can’t work today. I partook of the benefits of marriage last night and now I’m unclean so I can’t work.”
And thus the impetus for the first hamam, or Turkish bath, was born and the Cappadocia hamams are the inheritors of this ancestry.
The legend goes something like this: one thousand years ago, one thousand men were working on the edifice of the first mosque of Istanbul when one morning an employee refused to do his job. He was taken to the Sultan and was ordered to be executed, but before his imminent death he was asked, “Why are you refusing to work today?” After explaining how the Prophet Mohammed forbade people to eat or work after sexual intercourse if they had not bathed, he could not in good conscience fulfill his assigned duties.
Upon receiving this answer the Sultan supposedly put an immediate stop to the construction of the mosque, and ordered a bath house, or hamam, to first be erected to preserve the ceremonial cleanliness of the workers so they would not defile the mosque. And, luckily for the reluctant worker, the execution order was revoked as well!
PAST & PRESENT
Hamams were distinctively tied to the Muslim religion, built near mosques, and were designed in such a way so as to preserve the Muslim conditions of ritual purity, mainly that one was to be cleaned by “running” water and not by “collected” water. The Romans, Greeks and thus the Byzantines all had bath houses within their respective cultures, but they employed stored sources of water, or baths, as the washing medium. This would not completely cleanse someone according to Islamic law, as the dirtied water was not evacuated from the presence of the subject. Turkish hamams brought this important distinction of eliminating the polluted water from the bather by the use of running, or poured water.
Today, hamams still serve this function for the locals, but for tourists they are essentially spas. There are two different types in Cappadocia: traditional and hotel spa. There are traditional hamams that are operated out of old period buildings, and then there are contemporary buildings, or sections of buildings (hotel massage areas) designed to resemble traditional baths, but operating like spas. Either way, you will experience a good scrub down and leave the establishment feeling refreshed and quite CLEAN!
WHAT HAPPENS IN A TURKISH BATH?
You might have this picture of a huge sweaty man with a thick mustache, donning a small, thin towel, whose one purpose in life is to break you in half!
[NOTE: Sorry to our female readers as this post is quite male biased as I naturally cannot do justice to the female perspective. We hope to offer a more female-friendly hamam post in the future. I'm sure it won't take much to convince my wife to escape from our six children and enjoy a few hours at the hamam in order to add to the blog!]
But, in reality, there is nothing to fear, unless, you happen to go to the hamam in another part of Turkey (Afyon), where I saw a man take my friend’s head and slam it into his left shoulder, which left me thinking, “I didn’t know a human head could do that and still remain attached!”
The Turkish baths of Cappadocia are quite relaxing and pleasant. Really, you need not worry about them being like the hamam in the eastern province of Van, which I was at with my 13-year-old son earlier this year while helping with the earthquake relief. There I saw a humongous man in a Speedo, sitting on top of a customer, beating his back with bludgeoning blows and then, apparently, trying to push his knuckles through this poor man’s skin!
Honestly, the hamams here in Cappadocia (I’ve been to many of them) are very tame and safe. You can rest assured that they will respect you, and any instructions that you may have. I have had multiple surgeries on my knees, and they have always honored my request to not mess with them. Some Turkish baths have separate areas for men and women, while others offer private, women-only hours if you are uncomfortable with a mixed environment. Outside of these times men and women are generally together. We hope to cover these details, along with prices in future posts on each respective hamam.
When you enter the Turkish bath you will be given a small, thin red towel known as a peştemal, which you will wear throughout the experience. If this makes you a bit nervous, you can always wear a bathing suit instead of the provided loin cloth! You will also be invited to wear sandals to avoid slipping as you walk about the hamam. The original sandals, known as takunya, were wooden and would make a clip-clop sound when passing over the marble flooring. This racket would supposedly drive out the mischievous spirits who liked to inhabit hamams since they were quiet and unoccupied during the night hours.
After changing and securing your valuables in individual safe boxes you will be escorted into the sauna. You can either choose the traditional steam room (if available), or a dry sauna in order to soften the skin through perspiration for the next phase of the Turkish bath.
Next is the kese, or sand paper phase as I call it. An exfoliating glove (kese) is adorned by a tellak (male bath attendant), or a natır (female bath attendant), and the scrubbing begins. [Please note that not all Turkish baths provide both male and female masseurs. Depending on your comfort level you will want to ask at the reception desk.] You might be accustomed to using a nylon loofah at home, but the traditional kese, dyed black and made from lambs wool, is far superior in achieving the desired effect. Prepare yourself to know what reptiles go through every year as they molt!
After a quick rinse and a farewell to billions and billions of dead skin cells the best part still awaits: the bubble massage. While lying on the göbek taşı, or central, heated marble slab, the bath attendant makes a sweeping motion with a soap-drenched köpük torbası (like a pillowcase), catching the mystical air of the hamam and proceeds to envelop your body in bubbles: a veritable bubble bath. The massage commences and the stress from the weary world, bound up in your muscles decides to join your dead skin cells on their journey out the door.
Check out this bubble bath!
CLEAN & RELAXED
A quick rinse, a plush towel and a beverage of choice (apple tea, ayran, cola, lemonade, etc.) concludes the experience quite nicely while reclining in the sitting room. Some hamams offer facial masks and oil massages if desired, but this is not traditionally a part of the Turkish bath. Depending on how busy the tellaks are and how long you want to lounge afterwards, the entire experience can last anywhere between 45-90 minutes.
There are some great hamams in the area that you must include in your Cappadocian experience. I highly recommend to plan your Turkish bath after a long day of hiking and/or touring in order to fully appreciate the soothing effects of the hamam. Click below to learn about the following establishments:
The Hamam of Ürgüp
Elis Turkish Bath of Göreme
The Bayramhacı Hamam
The Karavezir Paşa Hamam of Gülşehir
Alaaddin Turkish Bath of Avanos
Meteris Turkish Bath of Nevşehir
Damat Ibrahimpaşa Hamam of Nevşehir
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