Have you ever been to a "hammam", an oriental bath house? I can really recommend this very special experience. And Istanbul is definitely a great place for it, you will find hammams in almost every corner of the city.
The history of hammams goes back to the 14th century. They are presumably the oldest, yet existing form of bath houses, inspired by the Roman therms. Istanbul (then called Constantinople) is their birthplace. Prayers are one of the five pillars of Islam. You need to be clean when exercising your prayers - for this reason, hammams are often located close to mosques. Today even non-religious people love to go to hammams for a perfect relax.
Photo: The historic Kilic Ali Pasa Hamman from outside - KHL
What a sacral place - just next to a mosque and once you enter the Kilic Ali Pasa Hammam, you feel relaxed. A nice quiet ambiance and such a beautiful smell of herbs. Just sit down and enjoy a delicious fruit cocktail. Hmm ... a bit of uncertainty remains since I really don`t know what to expect. Mustafa gives me a warm welcome, offering a tasty sherbet drink that has been served to guests for centuries. Their recipes have been shared over centuries - with over 300 combinations of fruits and spices ... simply delicious.
Photo: Come in! - KHL
So while sipping this cocktail (alcohol-free, of course!) I am waiting in kind of a lounge - curious to see what happens next. A friendly guy asks me to get changed in a locker room upstairs, providing kind of a bedouin towel and cool sandals (not the type of boring white ones you get in most spas, here they are BLACK). He then guides me to the center of the action where another chap is waiting for me. No shower as we are used to - I just sit next to a basin where he pours water over me in preparation for the whole ceremony.
Photo: Lounge of the Kilic Ali Pasa Hammam - KHL
Next step is relaxing on a big marble plate where a few guys are already lying and staring at the ceiling which looks like a sky full of stars. 1001 nights? While feeling the warm stone under my body I can already see what comes next - by watching guys who are enjoying the treatment. After a while, a strong man called Bekir asks me to follow him. I have to sit down on a stone bench next to another basin and - splash - I get a full load of water over my head. One thing is already crystal clear - you should not be afraid of water at all! Bekir rubs and rubs my skin with sort of a spongy glove - almost like a massage. Legs up and down, arms up and down. Bekir smiles as if he wanted to say - wait, the best is yet to come. Hm ... I have to admit that a little bit of anxiety remains. But - of course, I am not a softy so I remain cool. Do it, Bekir! More and more loads of water are poured over my head and a wet towel is smacking on my body. Resistance is useless, he is the boss! All over sudden I am covered by foam - just my head is free. Very funny. And Bekir keeps rubbing. Boy, I feel so clean. Do I need a shower over the next few weeks? Even the last pore must be clean by now. And I am still wearing that cool bedouin towel around my hips. By now it is completely wet, of course (you never show yourself naked - after all this is a Muslim place).
Done! Bekir has washed off the foam and is offering new towels - he puts one around my hips and the second one on my shoulders. And - I also get a cold towel to cool down and kind of a bedouin headscarf. I must look like or Lawrence of Arabia! Bekir takes me to the lounge where I can lay down to rest which feels so good. And that delicious fruit cocktail is offered again. Just relax, unwind and enjoy your super clean body - love it!
Photo: KHL enjoying a chill in the lounge - Kurban Tuncay
Apart from the Kilic Ali Pasa, I have visited two hammams in Istanbul. Similar to hotels, you will find bath houses of different categories (and prices) in this awesome city. All of these three are centrally located and offer services for men and women.
Small, clean hammam not far from the populaTaksim Square. Nice atmosphere, friendly staff and a blind cat relaxing in the lounge. Built in 1454 (!) it was used as a private hammam by Mehmet the Conqueror and his sons. You will find interesting historical facts on their website:
Photo: Entrance to the Aga Hammam - look at the year! - Kurban Tuncay
Photo: Turkish hospitality at the Aga Hammam - KHL
Located in a mosque and built in 1481. Nice, very clean and friendly staff. Centrally located. You can enjoy various types of massages. This place has also a very interesting history, read more on their website:
Photo: Here we go to another one! - Kurban Tuncay
Just next to the hammam is a nice, very small boutique hotel called Hammam Suite. I really loved this place with only six rooms and very friendly people. It makes you feel at home away from home.
Photo: The lovely lobby of the Hammam Suite Hotel - KHL
If you prefer to stay in one of Istanbul`s many luxury hotels and have your hammam experience there - no problem at all! I can recommend the Hilton Bosphorus Hotel, a historic place which opened its doors back in 1955. Excellent location overlooking the Bosphorus (ask for a room on the floors above), within walking distance to the Taksim Square and the popular Istiklal Street, great facilities and excellent service. In short - highly recommendable. It was one of the first properties the legendary Conrad Hilton opened in Europe (and you can see Asia from your room window). Many international celebrities have stayed here ... Claudia Cardinale, Eartha Kitt, Marlong Brando, Louis Armstrong and, more recently, Claudia Schiffer - just to name a few. Ah, Claudia disappointed the waiting journalists who had hoped to see her in a bathing suit ... hm, too bad. And Sean Connery acted in the James Bond movie "From Russia with Love" where the Hilton played a role. It happens all at the Hilton!
You can enjoy a typical hammam experience at this place which perfectly serves the needs of sportive travelers, by the way. Three great tennis courts, a nice little spa with a very modern gym as well as indoor and outdoor pools (surrounded by a beautiful garden) for those who want to get physical after their sightseeing trips. And you may wish to ask for a massage given by Tini from Bali - a perfect relax after your hammam visit. She spots every little tension on your body. After all the exercise and wellbeing in this hotel you may enjoy a nice piece of cake in the elegant lobby bar, followed by dinner at the Indian restaurant - well deserved!
Photo: One of the best locations in Istanbul! - Courtesy of the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel
Photo: Turkish bath at the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel - Courtesy of the hotel
Photo: Outdoor pool at night - Courtesy of the hotel
Photo: The very elegant hotel bar at the Hilton Bosphorus - KHL
So - are you ready for your own hammam experience? - Have fun!