15 Oct – A surprising Hamam experience

Well! We are clean. So very very scrubbed and soaped and oiled! Rather a delightful experience with a few odd moments tossed in.

We started our day with a visit to AyaSofya – originally built by the Romans, it has been a venerated Christian church, then a proud Muslim mosque, it has been subjected to numerous riots and burnings yet has always been rebuilt. Each rebuilding has been grander than the previous. Multi domed and cavernous it is now a museum of significant majesty and grace. Numerous Christian mosaics decorate the walls and vaulted ceilings upon which hang large wooden discs of Islamic inscriptions. I have to say these circular inscriptions seem a bit like hastily placed decals despite their enormous scale. To think that both ideologies live in harmony within this space would be naive. The mosaics were once damaged and plastered over. Their preservation is due in part to the building now being a museum. Regardless of a troubled complex history, the place is impressive and to visit Istanbul without entering AyaSofya might be considered touristically sacrilegious.

Our next stop was to explore beneath the city into the depths of an ancient Roman water cistern. Also cavernous, but quite damp. A place of remarkable engineering and subtle beauty but not particularly spiritual….other than Medusa’s upside down head. Weird. We didn’t turn to stone when we looked at it so all is well. A bit of a creepy place of dripping water, low lighting, fish and perhaps other creatures rippling the waters. Pat saw a dead rat the other day so has been wondering about other places where they may be…perry much everywhere no doubt. There’s a bar down there in those dank shadowy depths, but we chose to return to the warmth and sunlight at street level.

After lunch we went to our neighbourhood Hamam. We’d checked out a few and this one appealed. It’s historic – been in use since 1777. Not one of the oldest by a long stretch. It is local to where we live – so “legitimate” if you like. It has a women as only time and doesn’t have hanky panky advertised. Say what? Clearly – from our research – some Hamams are covers for various forms of prostitution. We didn’t want to support such a place.

So our Hamam experience went like this:

Upon entry we were shown to our changing room. Changing isn’t really what happens – one simply takes off all one’s clothes. A smallish cotton towel is provided. Once modestly wrapped we were shown into a warm domed room. In the centre of this space is a raised marble slab on which we lay down. People have been doing exactly this in this place for 240 years. Amazing. It was warm enough for us to begin to sweat. After a while we went one at a time into another room. This was smaller and also marble. Here was a marble bench upon which we lay – totally naked. Our washer – also naked – (yup that was a surprise) dumped warm water on us and set about scrubbing us as if we were filthy old pots. And filthy we were. More water was dumped on us to rinse away a rather alarming amount of dead skin. Then back on the marble slab we were lathered up with masses of lemon scented bubbles. Rubbed and rinsed we were finally declared clean. This nakedness of ourselves and our washer felt a bit odd at first but after a few moments it seemed quite natural and comfortable. I guess it saves on laundry as she got quite wet in the process of getting is clean. Next came dry robes then apple tea. This was followed by a vigorous oil massage in yet another room. The massage woman kept her clothes on. We had oil rubbed everywhere! Our skin is so soft and smooth now – I’m pretty sure our pores are all functioning optimally. I can understand the attraction of Hamam bathing practices – it sure beats the mundane practice of hopping in the shower!

Once back in our clothes we set off on our usual evening pursuit of finding a bottle of wine and some take-out food. We are trying to mitigate the exorbitant cost of eating out by eating in!  And so here we are, culturally enlightened, clean, fed and sipping on nice heavily taxed Turkish wine.

First picture is in the Hamam. Second is in the cistern. Yes, Medusa’s head is upside down. Some Roman’s idea of a joke I guess. Last two are of  AyaSofya. See the Islamic discs and the Christian mosaic.

4 thoughts on “15 Oct – A surprising Hamam experience

  1. I am enjoying seeing Istanbul through your eyes. What a feast of color, history and culture! My family spent a number of days in Istanbul, including enjoying the Hamam experience (daughter in law and grand daughter)). Istanbul is liken to a brightly colored jeweled box filled with delightful treasures. Oh my!.

  2. Sounds like a great day for experiences! Have you by chance read Dan Brown’s book ‘Inferno’? It’s about to appear on screen as a Hollywood action movie, and the TV trailer for it came to mind when you described descending into the caverous water cistern as that is the location for the climax of the story. I won’t give the plot away, but I feel you have been treading in the footsteps of Tom Hanks….

    • Oh fun! I I think I read Inferno – but will have to do so again as I’ve forgotten much of it. No sign of Tom yesterday but Pat and I were commenting what agreed setting the cistern would be for on of Barbara Nadel’s inspector Ikman (so?) stories. Have you read any of those. He’s a very likeable Istanbul policeman who smokes like a chimney.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s