ISTANBUL – One of the many gifts the Roman and the Byzantine Empires left us were hammams.
The hammams, also known as Turkish baths, are one of the experiences many people want to have in Turkey.
It’s more popular among tourists than locals, probably because they don’t know what they are getting into.
But Cemal Turunç, the owner of Historical Vezneciler Turkish Bath in Istanbul, where we went, told us that the hammam is used to celebrate important occasions in life, such as births and weddings.
Before coming to Istanbul we knew we wanted to visit a hammam. The Turkish part of our group wasn’t very excited to go, so it ended up being a small group of naive foreigners.
We went to the hammam as a group. When we got there we followed one of the attendants to a steam room made of marble. While we were contemplating the beautiful room, we noticed she had left.
We laid there confused for 15 minutes until she came back with cold water for our melting bodies.
Our friend from Cyprus told us that this was the place where everyone gossips, but we didn’t. We felt too hot and confused to even open our mouths, so our conversation consisted mostly of awkward laughter.
We were there for almost 45 minutes until she came back and guided us to the sauna. We didn’t last more than 12 minutes, probably because the temperature of the room was 40°C, about 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then we went off to take a bath, but there was no bath in that building. We went in pairs to the bathing, which consisted of two marble tables and a little sink.
Our swimsuits didn’t stay on very long as the attendants told us to take them off. We were dubious, but it was our second day in Türkiye and we knew nothing, so we asked no questions and did as she instructed.
The essential purpose of the hammam is to purify our bodies while purifying our souls and what a great job these women did. The bathing consisted in an intense scrubbing by the women attendants, followed by a massage. At the end, we got the delightful surprise of a cold shower.
The women who bathed us almost didn’t speak any English, although we were ordered several times to relax. So we just went with it, again no questions asked.
At the end we were rolled into burritos with lots of towels and walked to a beautiful place where the sun sneaked through every window to have some tea.
We weren’t prepared for anything that was coming for us in that place, but it ended up being one of our favorite experiences during our time in Istanbul because it is something you don’t get to do anywhere else.
Tanya Tkachenko is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Ukraine and Regina López is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Mexico City. They wrote this article together.
Erin Timur is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Cyprus. She provided several of the photos.
See the story about this ancient hammam: