The Turkish Bath (Hamam)

Healthful steam baths (hamam) have been popular in Turkey for thousands of years, many of them surviving from Hellenic and Romantimes.

The Ottomans perfected the hamam, or Turkish bath which, like the Roman bath, had three rooms: the grand, steamy hot room(caldarium) for steam-soaking and massage; the warm room (tepidarium) for washing with soap and water; and the cool room for resting or napping (perhaps in a private cubicle) after the bath with a cup of Turkish coffee or a glass of tea.

In Ottoman times, hamams were social centers, and they were the only baths in Turkey until the mid-20th century when western-style tub-bath-and-shower plumbing began to be accepted.

Today modern Turks may shower in the morning before going to the office, but many still reserve time for a weekly steam-and-scrub at a hamam, a good drying-off with Turkish towels, followed by an hour’s relaxation, tea or Turkish coffee, and conversation with friends—one of life’s small but significant pleasures.

Cool room of the Cağaloğlu Hamam, with a marble fountain and, on the upper level, cubicles for resting after the bath.

When you travel to Turkey, you should experience a Turkish bath. Every Turkish town still has at least one hamam, and cities have many. Most are simple, functional, and inexpensive, but the historic hamams, especially those built by the sultans to serve their imperial mosques, are beautiful works of Ottoman architecture made of fine marble with rich decoration.

Here are tips for women at Turkish baths.

For more on the hamam experience, read my article “Taking Tea in Turkey.”

To take your steam bath experience to a higher level, see Thermal Spa Resorts in Turkey.

Before the advent of modern bathrooms in homes and hotels, the hamam/public bath wasthe bathroom for the community. Everyone went there regularly, and prices were low. Now that a trip to the hamam is looked upon as a special occasion, and even a luxury, prices have skyrocketed. Instead of equalling the cost of a light lunch, your hamam visit may now equal or exceed the cost of your hotel room, especially at the most historic and architecturally prominent hamams.

Here are some of the favorite hamams for foreign visitors in Istanbul.

In Cappadocia, several fine cave hotels have their own hamams, including the Kelebek Hotel and Kale Konak Hotel.

Neighborhood Hamams

Every city and town has its own hamams, usually un-touristy, and therefore simpler and cheaper. Many of these neighborhood places many not present your vision of a historic, atmospheric Turkish bath. You might ask at your hotel for a nearby, local hamam recommendation.

Please contact me and let me know what sort of experience you have—good, bad, normal, indifferent—in any of these baths so that I can make accurate recommendations to future visitors. Thanks!

—by Tom Brosnahan


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