… and everyone survived! LOL.
I love massages and steam rooms so I assumed I would love Turkish Baths. I managed to navigate my way through the maze of cultural differences, language barriers and a set of rules that no one bothers to tell you. It made for embarrassing moments, for me – not them.
I decided to go to the oldest operating business in Turkey, Çemberlitaş Hamamı, going since 1584! There are others, newer, slicker in big hotels but I wanted an authentic experience. Well I got that!
The bath was established by Nurbanu Sultan, wife of Selim II and mother of Murat III, for the purpose of bringing in revenue to support the Valide-i Atik Charity Complex in Toptasi, Üsküdar. According to the Tuhfet’ül-mi’mârin (1), the bath is one of the structures built by the architect Sinan, in 1584.
The front door was squeezed in amongst the small shops, the rest of the building was not visible from the street. I went down a few stairs and into the door. Reception was to the left where I was greeted by a lovely young woman with perfect English. Relief. Here it was quiet and not a lot of people. She explained my options and I decided on the full meal deal. 300+ about $70 and for what I got that was cheap.
She sent me through the women’s door where an attendant guided me to a bank of small lockers to put my valuables in and then she led me a spiral staircase to the bigger lockers (for my clothes) and change rooms. The key from the small locker fit the bigger one and I quickly stripped and threw in my stuff. When I had arrived she had given me a lovely gold mesh bag with black panties, a scrub mitt and 3 different colored plastic tokens – one for scrub down, one for the massage and one for the mud mask. The attendant gave me one of those cotton red and white madras towels to wrap around my nakedness.
When I came out she directed me to a door that led to the massage waiting room and then to the bath itself.
The bathing room was gorgeous – it was round with a high high domed ceiling with holes in it to let the light in. In the center, taking up most of the space was a massive round white heated marble platform. The whole place was really warm and moist. Along the outer wall were several old ornate sinks and taps, low marble shelves to sit on and little semi-private rooms.
The attendant took my cloth and laid it out on the platform and indicated I should lay down and then she disappeared. I laid on my back so I could stare at the ceiling. It was so thick, maybe 2-3 feet so the holes were like tunnels to the sky. Condensation caused drops to fall regularly and sometimes the angle was just right and they were lit by the sun and you could watch them tumble to earth. As I lay there counting the holes (127) I could feel myself letting go and sinking into the surreal experience.
Finally the attendant returned to me and indicated for me to turn over. She knew enough English to brusquely indicate what she wanted from me. She was middle aged, plump and in a black bra and panties. Her pragmatic (bossy) attitude helped relax me. She was in charge and all I had to do was follow orders.
She used a small bucket to carry water to me and tossed it on me and then covered me in the foamy soap. Using the scrub mitt she gave me a good scrubbing all over my body, front and back. It took maybe 15-20 minutes. Then she rinsed me and the marble off and led me into the private bath and gave me another good rinse. Then she indicated I should go back and lay down on the marble and relax before my massage. Happily!
When I first went in the bathing room it was blissfully quiet but by then more people had arrived and things got a little bit more noisy. The acoustics had the voices echoing and distorting so even if they were speaking English, I couldn’t understand them even if they were close. Weird.
Eventually I was led to a shower and then taken into a massage room where there were about 5 massage tables in a row. My masseuse was another middle aged, plump woman and she gave me a fabulous oil massage and after, a clay face masque and left me for about 15 min. In the meantime a Turkish woman was brought in for a massage, during which she experienced some pain which was odd and discomforting.
After a shower I wandered back into the bath to lay on the marble but by this time there were even more people and more noise so I fled.
After I changed I went to the toilet where there was just enough tp for me but not for the woman who was waiting to use the toilet. i brought out the empty roll to show the attendants downstairs. I stood at the railing ( the room was made up of 3 levels, open to the ceiling in the center) and showed them the empty roll but since no one seemed to be making a move to help us, I went to the cupboard next to the bathroom and helped myself. I am a fixer of problems.
Of course I had to flub the tip action. I couldn’t remember who my attendants were so I ended up leaving and asking the young woman just outside. She led me back and just asked the crowd of attendants sitting around, who massaged me. A woman raised her hand and I gave her a very generous tip, I assumed it was generous since my guide wanted me to come back the next day so she could take care of me LOL. We found my bather and gave her a good tip and off I went, out the door and into the cacophony that is Istanbul.
If you want to check out my photo album, it is at Google Photos… sorry there’s so many but it was so amazing I couldn’t stop.