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x0x Tourists put steam back into hamams

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  • Turkish Culture List
    [See more on this subject by visiting the pages selected for you by Anita Donohoe: http://www.TurkRadio.us/k/hamam ] x0x Tourists put steam back into hamams
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2008
      [See more on this subject by visiting the pages
      selected for you by Anita Donohoe:

      http://www.TurkRadio.us/k/hamam ]

      x0x Tourists put steam back into hamams

      Thursday, December 20, 2007

      Many young Turks today have never been to a hamam
      and lack of customers has forced many public baths
      in Istanbul to close, despite its rich cultural
      history. But thanks to tourists, the beautiful
      baths of the Ottoman period are doing well


      ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

      A visit to the hot baths of a hamam is regarded by
      many foreigners as something typically Turkish.
      Surprisingly though, many young Turks today have
      never been to a hamam and as those in the
      business attest, more and more public baths in
      Istanbul are even closing these days because of a
      lack of customers. The decline seems all the more
      sharp, perhaps, because of the rich past that
      Istanbul's hamams look back upon.

      As the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman
      Empires it was in current-day Istanbul where the
      vibrant bathing cultures of the Roman and
      Byzantine worlds merged with that of the Islamic
      Middle East and where this blend found beautiful
      articulation in architecture.

      When the Ottomans, under Sultan Mehmed II,
      conquered Constantinople in 1453, they immediately
      undertook a large-scale building program to revive
      the depopulated city. Public baths featured
      prominently, more so than mosques in fact the 26
      baths built in Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed alone
      attest to this. These 15th century baths took on
      monumental dimensions with large and splendidly
      decorated porticoes and domes, marking the city
      from near and afar. When approaching the city from
      the Golden Horn, for example, the bath of
      Tahtakale, next to the subsequently built Rustem
      Pasha Mosque in Eminonu, was a distinctive
      landmark of the commercial district; as busy then
      as now. The striking Tahtakale bath tells the
      story of the culturally inclusive ethos of the
      early Ottoman Empire whose elite displayed their
      wealth and magnanimity by building public baths
      even more so than mosques, hence equipping the
      multi-religious Istanbul with a type of building
      that was accessible to all, regardless of their
      religious faith.

      Public baths constituted part of daily life for
      everybody in the city be it for paying clients or
      those working at the baths, such as masseurs
      (tellak) or servants (natIr). Around 850 baths
      operating in Istanbul in the 18th century
      effectively constituted a bathing industry,
      providing labor and income for thousands of the
      city's inhabitants. With bathrooms in private
      houses being the exception rather than the rule
      until the early 20th century, public baths were
      from necessity indispensable to urban dwellers.
      But the baths provided more than a place to wash
      off the dirt after a long working day: They were
      also centers of social life. It was here where
      people of all walks of life would meet, socialize
      and discuss. Especially for women, the public
      bath was a space where they could meet outside the
      house and share chitchat and rumors during an
      entire day spent in the steaming hot air. It is
      said that mothers would be on the look out for a
      fit bride for their son and a traditional part of
      Turkish weddings was a visit to the baths by the
      bride in the company of her female friends and
      relatives a custom that continues until today, as
      the owner of the bath in Beshiktash said: It is
      very common that brides come with their friends
      and relatives on the day before the wedding. They
      have a meal here with all kinds of foods, sweets
      and fruit; a group of musicians is called; they
      dance and enjoy themselves in the bath.

      Beyond being places of harmless well being baths
      could in the past even become places of political
      conspiracies and sedition no wonder that spies
      sent out by the Ottoman administration policed not
      only streets and coffee houses, but also the
      capital's public baths. The government was in fact
      proven right in its suspicious attitude toward
      public baths: The 1730 public uprising in Istanbul
      for example, which led to the execution of Grand
      Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, the abdication of Sultan
      Ahmed III as well as widespread lootings in the
      city, was headed by nobody else than Patrona Halil
      an Albanian hamam attendant!

      Hamam atmosphere different

      Today there are around 90 public baths still
      active in Istanbul, ready to offer a day of
      relaxation amid hot steam, foaming soap and
      massaging hands. While many of the smaller
      neighborhood baths are finding it difficult to
      make ends meet, the architecturally splendid baths
      of the Ottoman period, many of them situated in
      the old parts of the city like Sultanahmet and
      Eminonu, are doing well not least because they
      are catering to tourists. Cihan Girgin of the
      beautiful baroque Cagaloglu HamamI in Sultanahmet
      explained: This is a 250-year old building which
      needs to be maintained and there is a large number
      of personnel working here therefore our prices
      are high, too much for an average Turkish family.
      Around 90 percent of our customers are tourists.
      Mehmet Bayrak, manager of the over 400-year old
      Cemberlitash HamamI also in Sultanahmet, told a
      little different story: Our customers are both
      tourists and Turks. For example, people working
      here come to have a bath in the morning before
      they go to work, or in the evening to relax. Turks
      from other parts of Istanbul as well as Turkish
      tourists to Istanbul come to our bath, because
      this is a very special place. Asked about the
      problems that many of the smaller baths have to
      deal with, he said: Because this is a historic
      Ottoman building, this bath has a different
      atmosphere. If you go to a small, newly built
      neighborhood bath once, you probably won't go
      there again. But come here once, and you will come
      again and again. Similarly, the Beshiktash HamamI
      does not find itself competing with newly opening
      spas and saunas: Those who love the real Turkish
      hamam continue to come. The hamams in hotels and
      spa centers are just not the same, he said.

      In terms of bathing culture, however, not much has
      changed since the times of the Ottomans. After
      undressing in one of the small dressing cabins
      around the camekan, the entry courtyard, and
      wrapping him- or herself in the peshtemal, a
      colorful checked towel, the visitor proceeds
      through the sogukluk, a room of moderate
      temperature, to the hararet, the steamy hot area
      of the bath. This marble-clad central room of the
      bath is covered by a dome with round glass
      openings that allow daylight to fall in a
      beautiful pattern into the hararet. The walls are
      ringed with individual marble basins where bathers
      wash themselves. The center of the hararet is
      occupied by a large heated marble platform (gobek
      tashI), where the hamam attendant treats visitors
      to an exfoliating body scrub with a coarse, soapy
      mitt (kese) and an invigorating, if not
      occasionally rough, massage afterwards.

      On a dark and rainy winter weekend, this is
      probably just the perfect way to spend the
      afternoon lying on the heated marble platform
      under the starry streams of light from the bath's
      domed ceiling and allowing one's thoughts to

      Famous hamams in Istanbul

      Tarihi Beshiktash HamamI, Ihlamurdere Cad. Shair
      Veysi Sok. No: 2, Beshiktash

      Cagaloglu HamamI, Yerebatan Cad. No: 34,
      Sultanahmet, http://www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr

      Cemberlitash HamamI, Vezirhan Cad. No: 8,
      Cemberlitash, http://www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr

      Tarihi Galatasaray HamamI, TurnacIbashI Sok. No:
      24, Cukurcuma, http://www.galatasarayihamami.com

      Gedikpasha HamamI, Hamam Cad. 65-67, Gedikpasha,

      See also: http://tinyurl.com/3xeu59


      Copyright 2007, Turkish Daily News. This article
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