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Cağaloğlu Hamamı

January 4, 2013


Going into a hamam, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Turkish bath was something that came highly recommended by many, and seemed like a more authentic experience than the usual sight seeing. To call it exhilarating would be an understatement. A better explanation would be to say the hamam may have been the most foreign and unforgettable thing I have ever done.

After some research, I went with the worlds best known hamam Cağaloğlu Hamamı, recommended by the book ‘1,000 places to see before you die’ as well as many celebrities and locals alike. The Cagaloglu was a gift to the city in 1741 from Sultan Mehmet 1 and it is believed that King Edward VIII, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Franz Liszt, and Florence Nightingale have all visited this magnificent white-marble domed steam room. Upon entering the hamam, you have the choice of either a massage, exfoliation or both. Wanting the full experience (and because the cost equaled out to about $70, a spa price unheard of in the US) I opted for the combination. After deciding, you are sent to a private room and undress. You are given a pestemal (cloth) to cover yourself with and a pair of traditional clogs to walk in the hot room. This part I was expecting, but what was on the other side of the walls was unknown.

If I had been holding anything, this moment would have been one where the glass shatters on the floor. I walked into a room that had a dome like something from the Aya Sophia. There are small openings in the ceiling with water droplets falling from the perspiring heat and water all over from the surrounding baths. When you enter, you take off your cloth, lay it flat on the huge marble plinth in the middle of the room and lie naked breathing in the heat that calms and relaxes your muscles.

Now, this was the part that hadn’t exactly registered in my mind until I realized I was laying down completely naked on a marble pedestal surrounded by several other woman doing the same in a building thousands of years old. It was almost like the moment when I looked out of a plane two miles above the ground and realized three seconds later I would be jumping out of it, similar what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-but-I’m-so-glad-I’m-doing-this moments. Oh and it just gets better. About twenty minutes later I was approached by Lu, a nice Turkish woman who was very patient about my utter confusion as to what was going on. We started off with the exfoliation. As I laid, Lu scrubbed down every inch of my body with a kese, or a coarse and soapy mitt. After I was fully clean, she brought bowls of water over and rinsed me off. She then suds me up again, this time giving me a massage as well. Afterwards, we walked over to the walls where water comes from and she cleaned my hair and washed me again. It was almost a more thorough version of the bath your mom use to give you as a child…except in an ancient room full of naked people also getting bathed in Turkey.


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