Saturday, February 21, 2009
Turkish Hammam (Bath)
I finally experienced a true Turkish hamam. It took three girl friends, a few inches of fresh snow, and a yoga class beforehand. We went to Şengül Hamamı in Ulus (the old part of Ankara), a bathhouse built in the 18th century and restored in the 19th. The tradition of Turkish hammams come from the Islam value of cleanliness, and the ritual of women gathering once a week to sit around half-nude, catching up on gossip and trying to fix up their daughters with other women's sons.
When we first arrived, we were ushered to a room where we removed everything but our bathing suit bottoms and a wrap-around towel. It is culturally acceptable to walk around with your boobs exposed, no matter how large or saggy, but bottom exposure is considered a no-no. Once undressed, we were ushered into a steamy marble domed room with cookie-cutter star holes at the top of the dome for heat to escape. Hammams are recognizable from the outside for their domes that emit steam. We each had our own marble basin to fill with warm water and a plastic bowl to scoop the water out of the basin and pour over ourselves, both to wet us and keep us warm until it was our turn to get scrubbed. One by one, we each had our scrubbing turn, where you lay facedown on a marble slab and the hammam woman wearing a brillo-pad mit, scrubs you up and down exfoliating rolls of deadskin, turning you over and under, getting every last dead skin cell off of you. Then she pours soap all over your body and massages you. She then sits you up and with her own plastic bowl and marble basin water, rinses you off. Then you head back to the original room to shampoo your hair, rinse off, and dry off. Most of the time is spent with your girl friends at your marble basin rinsing off, chatting. Other than enjoying babysoft skin and feeling ultra clean, I realized women need to hang out together every so often, and what better way than half naked in a steamy room talking, laughing, and exfoliating together? Unfortunately, I am unable to post pictures of this event.