BY LEYLA YVONNE ERGIL
ISTANBUL JUL 20, 2022 –
The Turkish bath, aka hammam, has always been a yearlong affair and while it may seem too hot to handle, there are added benefits to taking part in this detoxifying ritual in the summer months. So, check out these tips on why a visit to a hammam is a great idea to beat the heat
The Turks had it right when they created the detoxifying ritual of the Turkish bath, which here in Turkey is referred to as a hammam. An ages-old tradition in these parts and especially during the Ottoman Empire, generally speaking, most thriving towns, and certain cities, have hammams. The Turkish bath and its detoxifying benefits have long been a part of everyday life in traditional Turkey come winter, spring, summer or fall.
Works better in summer
The Turkish bath, which I will from here on out refer to as a hammam, is actually a bath house tiled in marble and generally circular in architecture as they are centered around a large, round marble slab that is hot. The bathhouse itself, however, is not at all unbearably hot, unlike saunas or steam rooms. Not to say there isn’t any steam, but it mainly comes off the center stone, referred to as “göbek taşı,” and is heated underneath.
Surrounding the göbek taşı are a dozen or more marble sinks, set low to the ground and next to a leveled-up marbled area where people plop a seat to bathe themselves. While there are many treatments available at hammams, the basic premise is you go in and sit down and start filling up your own personal marble sink, which has two fancy copper faucets, one piping hot and the other with ice cold water.
Your task is to fill the “tas,” a bowl used in the hammam, with the water at your chosen temperature and douse yourself in it. In groups, this is the fun part as you can pour water from these bowls over the top of your friends’ heads.
So, the idea that a hammam would be unbearable in the summer is somewhat baseless. Not only are they just not that hot, but you can douse yourself in cold water to regulate your temperature or take a break and exit the bathhouse to rest in other lounging areas.
In classic hammams, it is customary on breaks to enjoy a “gazoz,” which is a sweetened, fizzy soda-like beverage, but many bathhouses will also offer tea and water and other cold sodas. When you do finally exit the bathhouse for good, you will feel more refreshed because there are several treatments on offer that will help your body handle the sweltering heat.
Kese: All about the “scrub”
In summer, the “kese” treatment, which translates into English as “scrub,” is hands down the best way to get some respite from the sun as it scrubs away all of your dead skin, thus opening up your pores making your skin silky soft.
The process is this: There will be a “scrubber” and “massager” at the bathhouse and you request which treatment you want or both. You are then asked to lie on the göbek taşı as the “scrubber” literally scrubs your whole body part by part and using a cotton scrub.
There is a specific type most hammams prefer and use and I personally prefer to purchase it new, either from the hammam itself or, I bring my own. It is advised not to lather up with soap before the treatment but simply to douse yourself in hot water to prepare. The rolls of dark dead skin that the scrubber rubs off of your body will astound you and may even make you a lighter shade.
Hence beware, if you want to keep your tan, much of it may rub off in the process. But, trust me, you will feel amazing afterward as the process is similar to a massage and your skin ends up feeling subtle and your whole body energized.
A foamy massage
Taking it a step further is the “Masaj,” which you can comfortably assume is Turkish for massage; however, don’t fall under the expectation of the usually expected massage in a dimly candle-lit private room.
The massage in the hammam also takes place on the göbek taşı. However, it is more about soaping up than actually working the muscles. Don’t get me wrong, you do get a massage out of it, but the purpose of this soap rub in the hammam is just that – to get you super clean and relaxed in the process.
The massager may get on their hands and knees next to you on the circular marble stone and will slip and twist you around on it to reach every corner of your body. For this, the massager uses a big soft loofah sponge, which is also available for purchase beforehand and for your own personal use after.
The massage is good fun and usually ends with buckets of cold water splashed upon you. At some hammams, I have even had the pleasure of a shampoo massage in which you get a relaxing head massage, while more traditional hammams will also offer waxing and grooming services.
The Turkish bath custom is for the genders to be divided and neighborhood hammams cleverly do this by offering services to women and men at different hours or on varied days of the week. In this case, the “scrubber” and “massager,” usually the same person, will be of the same gender.
However, you may come across mixed-gender bathhouses in hammams at tourist destinations or luxurious hammams. This is definitely not the norm in Turkish culture and you can always ask if there is a way to be accommodated according to your gender.