Experiencing the Turkish Hammam

“And now, cold water. Take a deep breath please”. I curled my fingers in and clenched my eyes shut as I tried to brace myself for the bucket of cold water that was about to be thrown into my face and chest. My deep breath was inevitably sucked back out by the shock. This marked the end of my turkish bath.

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of visiting a turkish bath or ‘hammam’ ever since plans were set in motion for my first visit to Turkey next year. I’ve read about them and seen pictures of the beautiful architecture of the traditional hammams in Turkey but have never had the chance to visit one. Patience is a virtue I don’t yet possess and although it’s something I aspire to almost every day, I suspect it will take me a lifetime to attain sufficient amounts to accommodate my needs.

And so, not willing to wait until next year to experience a hammam in Turkey itself, I paid a visit to a local one. I’ve decided to consider it ‘research’ so that when I do eventually visit one in Istanbul I’ll know just what to expect and how to get the most out of my experience.hamam-steam-room

The hot steam room was heaven. Large and roomy and just the right temperature for me. With only enough lighting to help you find your way to a bench, it reminded me of a soundless nightclub with its dark corners and private spaces. The steam cast shadows and blurred my sight so I felt comfortable relaxing in my spot even though I was sharing the room with numerous others; all wearing nothing but the customary wrap or perhaps a bathing suit. Water dripped from the ceiling, the air was warm and humid and the scent of eucalyptus was everywhere.

Fully taken over by the warmth of the steam room, I was now ready for the next phase of my Turkish bath. The marble table I laid on was quite warm and the room lit solely by candles and a bit of diffused daylight. Over the next hour I was washed, exfoliated and massaged from head to foot and rinsed repeatedly with bowls of hot water tossed over me. The initial washing was just a warm-up I discovered. The exfoliation that followed was all business.

A rough glove scraped over every inch of me removing as many layers of dirt and dead skin as was willing to leave my body. Even my delicate armpits were exfoliated and I suspect they’ll be good for another decade now. I could see why this ancient cleansing ritual is considered one that both cleanses and purifies. My body was tingling with its newly exposed skin cells and I was convinced that by the end of the entire ritual, I would be glowing.hamam-hot-roomAs I laid there, giving myself over to the experience, I was aware of the warmth of my entire body, the constant running of hot water into large buckets nearby and, again, the faint aroma of eucalyptus. All of this, and the steam rising from the table and filling the air was lulling me into a relaxed state. Only the intermittent splashes of the rinsing buckets kept me awake.  hammam-turkish-bathturkish-bath-hamamThe massage was the best part. My entire body was covered in a warm, thick foam of bubbles and then massaged. This soothed the parts of me not used to being exfoliated and relaxed me further. Another rinse with the bowls of hot water and then I was asked to slowly sit up and hang my legs over the side of the marble table.

The sound of the running hot water taps had ceased and my masseur was now standing in front of me with another bucket. “Now we need to bring your body temperature back to its normal state and close your pores”. I took a deep breath in and braced myself.

 

Have you visited a traditional hammam before? Did it differ vastly from my local experience? I’m looking forward to experiencing the hammam in Turkey next year but was quite taken with my local experience at the Hammam Spa in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

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