The hamam or the Turkish bath is an age old tradition for the Turks. And yes, when they arrived and settled into Constantinople, they introduced this delightful habit to the people there. Of course, the locals already had their own bathing traditions – that of the Byzantines and the Romans. So what happened was that these two (or more!) traditions were blended together, and voila! the Turkish bath is born!
Now, you have to remember that the Turkish bath is not just about getting clean. It was then a vital part of the city’s social life. The hamam is one place where people of different social status could come together. And, not surprisingly, men and women take baths at different times.
Of course, in the interest of your safety and hygiene, it is recommended that you try the hamam at a hotel. Hamams have a wide difference when it comes to levels of cleanliness. But if you are a bit on the adventurous side, then, by all means, give it a try. And while you’re there, try the massage and body rub.
Here are some of the hamams that are available in the city:
Cagaloglu Bath (close to the Underground Cistern) Built upon the command of Sultan Mahmut I in 1741. This hamam features a gobektasi (marble platform) at the center of the main bath, and there are bathing cubicles surrounding this gobektasi, as well as separate entrances for men and women and a waterjet at the pool. Cagaloglu Bath features a variety of Ottoman styles. The bath is open daily, with different times for men (8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) and women (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.).
Cardakli Bath (Kadirga) This may not be originally a bath, but a building converted into one.
Cemberlitas Bath (near the Cemberlitas Column) Built by Sinan and quite near most of the popular tourist destinations in Istanbul. Here, the men and women have their own section of the bath. This also has a gobektasi with bathing cubicles around it for private bathing. Cemberlitas Bath is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight.
Galatasaray Bath (Beyoglu) A public bath built in 1715, this was originally exclusive for men. However, a women’s section was added.
Suleymaniye Bath (Suleymaniye) One of the last great baths in Istanbul, this was built by the Ottoman Empire’s “official” architect – Sinan. This belongs to the compound where you can also find the Suleymaniye Mosque. There are no separate sections of the bath for men and women – this means that this is the only hamam in the city that has a mixed hamam. This is open daily, from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight.
Other baths include the Aga Bath (Uskudar), Sofular Bath (Fatih district), Eski Bath (Uskudar) and Buyuk Bath (Kasimpasa).