Hammam is a name for the Turkish traditional style public bath. The word comes from the Arabic language and it means bath/bathroom/bathhouse.
Hammam originated from central Asia. After Ottomans conquered the Constantinople (Istanbul) they combined Roman style bath with the Turkish one. Turkey adopted the hammam to their own traditions and customs and made it public, open for all citizens. The functions of hammam is relaxations, cleansing, purifying and recovery. It is a sort of body and mind healing center.
How to manage around hammam
The main room of hammam is sıcaklık (the hot room), marble-covered room consisting of several washing sections, kurna (water basins) set around the wall, and a göbek taşı (heated marble platform)in the center under the dome.
There is a certain procedure and step that you need to take in traditional hammam. Usually man and women’s hammam are separated, because you are required to take off most of your clothes inside. Women usually leave their underwear or bring swimming suite with them. Inside you should have with yourself peştemal (the hammam towel) and shampoo and soap, but all of that you can find at the entrance of hammam. First sthep when entering the hot room is to sit on the kurna and wash yourself up. Kurnas are little sink evenly spread around the room with hot and cold water. Next to each of them is a small bowl with you use for taking the water and then water all of yourself with it.
After 15-20 minutes when you are all relaxed in the steam room, it is a peeling time. A person in charge of peeling is called natır for women or tellak for men. They use kese, the special mitten used to scrub off the dead cells of your skin. The proceess of peeling is not paintful, but it is very harsh and fast and they use one kese for the whole body. After the dead cells from your body has been removed, it is time for a bubble bath, so called köpük, which comes with the massage. Don’t expect that the people working there will be gentle. The woman or man working there will be rough on you, even while soaping you and massaging you. They will turn you around the table, move you, shampoo your hair and at the end they will pour a bucket of water on you, but literally.
After that part is finished, you are ready to enter in the hot water swimming pool in the room. After that you wash your mouth 3 times with the water from kurna and you wash your face with some special soap.
And as finishing touch, you relax a bit in the dressing room and it is recommended to drink something that will return the mineral balance that your body lost due to sweating.
In local hammams people are usually very nice and they will help you around. They will not speak any foreign language, but they will be very helpful and try their best to show you the steps.
Today, hammams have become also touristic attraction, but in that case you will get a bit adopted and gentle version and woman and man part may not be separated. But the true experience is in the small local hammams, where the prices are around 40-50 lira with everything included.
Beside relaxation, hammams are also very important for socialization. It is a social institution where everyone is welcomed. It is a unique experience and something a bit different and it should be a must on your bucket list when coming to Turkey.