As a huge fan of spas when I'm on vacation to Vegas, I felt I must check out what a Turkish bath is like....I'm intrigued, yet slightly frightened (especially from watching the Michael Palin movie linked at the end of the post).
|Jean Jacques Francoise Lebarrier's A Female Turkish Hammam|
Turkish baths (hammams) stem from Greek and Roman bath traditions, however they have largely gone out of fashion in recent years, although many historic hammams continue to operate today. Baths used to be places that people mingled, socialized and gossiped while fulfilling the Islamic precept of cleanliness. During the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan's harem (consisting of his wives, mother, offspring and other female relatives) would proceed to the hamam with great ceremony, accompanied by servants bearing delicacies to help the women pass several hours lounging in the steam. The women often brought along delicately embroidered towels and slippers inlaid with ivory. Hammams have consistently been exclusive to either men or women, and not mixed.
Bathing was part of social life, and amongst women many important occasions were celebrated at the bath, including festivities the day before weddings, "tear-drying baths" in which all the female relatives and friends of the deceased would mark the twentieth day after the death of a love one, and holiday baths on the eve of holy days.
Traditionally, bathers wrap themselves in a pestamal, a colorful, checked cloth. Although decorative clogs with tinkling bells were historically used, many wear flip flops in hammams today.
|Bridal bath set with clogs|
When entering historic hamams, one typically first step into the camekan, a square court with a fountain lined with small, private changing cubicles. Bathers spend a good chunk of their time in the hararet, a hot and steamy area with a raised marble platform (goebektas) in the center. The goebekta is positioned above the wood or coal furnace, and under the domed ceiling with bottle glass windows. Bathers often have a vigorous massage while lying on the warm platform. After treatments, which also typically include scrubs, bathers often have a cold drink and stretch out on reclining couches.
Check out this Michael Palin clip from his "Pole to Pole" series and see what you think of the Turkish bath experience. I'm a little freaked out.....I heard some of the five star hotels have a more "westernized" version that might be more up my alley....more like Ceasars Spa in Vegas!