Even though the Turkish bath experience is an essential for Istanbul, there’s also a slight danger of it becoming a nightmare. Unhygienic conditions, male washers with grizzly amounts of chest hair, and the type of nude bodies that will forever leave a traumatic mark on your cortex are only a few reasons why. Avoid all these ghastly possibilities by checking out our two favorite hamams, known for their excellent service in every respect. For those that would rather do the whole thing at home, a guide to the best shops with hamam accessories are also included.
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam
Commissioned to the great architect Sinan by Ottoman admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa, this hamam was constructed between 1583-87 to serve the Ottoman army’s marine forces. Before reopening as a modern facility, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam underwent intensive restoration for seven years. Set under one of Sinan’s biggest domes (14 meters across and 17 meters high) the exposed brickwork and light wooden frames are all illuminated by natural light, exuding a harmonious aesthetic. After sipping on a glass of homemade şerbet, your attendant will lead you to the marble hamam for body exfoliation and a bubble soap wash. If you want to go beyond the basic hamam package, you can also add a massage to your Turkish beauty routine.
Note: if you feel uncomfortable being totally naked during your hamam bath, take a bikini bottom along to cover the essentials.
Another architectural masterpiece by the great Mimar Sinan, the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam was built at the request of Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana), the famous wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. If you’ve ever watched the famous Turkish soap opera “Muhteşem Yüzyil” you know exactly who we’re talking about. Located between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the hamam was closed for many years before it was restored and reopened in 2008. Inside you’ll find a beautiful mixture of dark wood and marble, as well as historic touches, such as original ornate marble fountains with golden faucets. You can choose from four hamam packages that range from the basic hamam treatment to the inclusion of extras such as oil skin-refining peel, body clay mask, or aromatherapy massage. If you want to increase the decadence just a bit more, choose the fresh fruit platter served on a traditional Ottoman tray.
With the help of nine weaving families from the Turkish countryside, Jennifer’s Hamam sells towels, pestemal, peskir, bed covers, bedsheets, robes, table covers, and scarves, all made on old-style shuttled looms with only natural materials. Whatever you buy is guaranteed to be of the best quality, but making a choice from all the available colors may be a bit difficult.
Abdullah sells some of the best and beautifully scented natural soaps, 100% cotton hamam towels, hand-woven shawls, and traditional bath accessories. If you get lost looking for Abdullah in the Grand Bazaar, just ask around for the carpet sellers’ street because that’s where you’ll find the shop.
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One of the best shops to buy everything organic (and healthy), Kırk Ambar is also the perfect place to pick up natural soaps, oils, and kese (the traditional hamam scrubbing mit). If you’re interested in treating your innards as well, check out their wide range of herbs and teas.
Peştemal (the traditional thin hamam towel) is sold here in every color, texture, and thickness imaginable. You’ll want to buy a few to add a touch of Turkishness to your daily bathing routine. Also check out their natural olive oil soap and beautiful bathrobes made of peştemal material.