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A Guide To Istanbul’s Top Bathhouses

A Guide To Istanbul’s Top Bathhouses

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 9 February 2017
The Turkish bathhouse, or hamam, has been around since the Ottoman Empire where the steam bath was a place for social gatherings and ritual cleansing, according to the Muslim faith, as well as architectural commentary regarding the Sultan’s greatness. Even though nowadays less than ten percent of Istanbul’s old bathhouses are still operational, the hamam ritual is still an important part of Turkish culture, especially for visitors. We take a look at the city’s remaining historic hamams that continue to serve the traditional cleansing experience.

Ağa Hamamı

Since Beyoğlu was not a settled area back in the day, Ağa Hamamı was originally constructed as a private hunting house and hamam in 1454 by Faith Sultan Mehmed for his and his sons’ exclusive usage. When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, the hamam changed hands several times, later becoming the popular tourist hamam that it is today.

Kuloglu Mh., Turnacibasi Cd. No:48, Beyoğlu, +90 212 249 50 27

 

Ağa Hamamı was originally constructed as a private hunting house © Courtesy of Ağa Hamamı

Ağa Hamamı was originally constructed as a private hunting house © Courtesy of Ağa Hamamı

Çağaloğlu Hamamı

Built in 1741, Çağaloğlu Hamamı was the last hamam to be built duing the Ottoman Empire. Constructed as a public hamam in order to raise funds for Sultan Mahmud I’s library, the structure was built by Süleyman Ağa and finished by Abdullah Ağa, two head architects of the time. One of the last examples of its kind, the hamam continues to serve locals and visitors today.

Prof. Kazım İsmail Gürkan Cad. No: 24 Cağaloğlu, +90 212 522 2424

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Courtesy of Çağaloğlu Hamamı

Çemberlitaş Hamamı

The Çemberlitaş Hamamı was built by the famous Mimar Sinan in 1584 and was planned as a double bath, with two identical structures facing one another, one for men and the other for women. Even though the structure looks like a square from the outside, within it is a twelve-cornered polygon composed of twelve columns. As one of Sinan’s later work, the structure stands out as it represent the peak of the architect’s experience.

Vezirhan Cad. No: 8, Çemberlitaş, +90 212 522 79 74

Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı

Commissioned by Ottoman Sultan Süleiman’s wife, Hürrem Sultan, the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı was constructed by Mimar Sinan in the 6th century. In 2007, after having stood closed for a long time, the hamam underwent three years of renovation in order to offer luxurious and modern Turkish bath services in a historic setting.

Cankurtaran Mh., Ayasofya Meydanı No:2, Fatih, +90 212 517 3535

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The Haseki Hurrem Bath House | © Robert Cutts/Flickr

Süleymaniye Hamamı

Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned Süleymaniye Hamamı, which was built by Mimar Sinan in 1557. With its impressive domes and geometrically aligned chimneys, the bathhouse was closed down in 1924 but underwent extensive renovation and reopened in 2004.

Mimar Sinan Caddesi  No:20, Süleymaniye, +90 212 519 55 69

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

Another one of Mimar Sinan’s architectural feats, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was commissioned by the famous Ottoman Admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa, as part of the mosque complex which is still operational today. Constructed between 1578 and 1583, the hamam later underwent a long renovation period that lasted seven years before it became the luxurious facility that it is today.

Kemankeş Mah., Hamam Sk. 1, Karaköy, +90 212 393 80 10 

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami_Camegah1

Courtesy of Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

During the hamam ritual, special attendants (male attendants for men, female attendants for the ladies) lead the visitor to the hamam, where they sat by the water basins to become accustomed to the heat as well as softening their skin by pouring water on the body with a copper cup. Then the attendant thoroughly exfoliated the skin with a special scrubbing mitten, called a kese. Once that is done, the visitor is lead to lie down on the göbektaşı (a heated stage of marble in the middle of the hamam) where the bubble soap wash and massage takes place. Afterward, it’s important to moisturize the skin and a tip for first timers is to bring a bikini bottom along if you’re not comfortable being washed in the nude.