Letting Go of Our Inhibitions at a Historic Turkish Bath

We were enjoying our lunch at a small cafe near the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Looking up from my lunch I noticed across the narrow road was the Cagaloglu Hamami, with a sign announcing this was one of the “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”. So with some uncertainty we booked an appointment for later that evening.

A Turkish hammam or bath is an essential part of Turkish culture, involving a steam bath, exfoliation, relaxation and socializing with friends. Traditional hammams are segregated by sex, but there are some tourist ones that are coed.

Change booths surround a marble fountain at Cagalogu Hamami.

Cagaloglu Hamami was built in 1741 in order to provide revenue for both the library of Sultan Mahmut I, and for the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Little has changed here, so a visit is a step back in time. It’s believed that King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Franz Liszt and Florence Nightingale have all visited its marble steam rooms. More recent patrons include Tony Curtis, Cameron Diaz, Brian May and Harrison Ford.

Being scrubbed from head to toe

When we arrive I leave Darrell at the men’s side, and I’m directed to the women’s side. First I’m led to my changing booth, where I’m instructed to remove all of my clothes. Everything? Yes, everything. But I’m provided with a thin towel to wrap myself in and clogs for my feet. I’m a bit nervous walking in the clogs on the wet floor.

I’m led to the historic steam room dominated by a massive heated marble platform, large enough to accommodate several guests. There is a high domed ceiling, and marble sinks surround the main platform.

I notice nervously a guest lying naked on top of the marble slab. My host tells me to place my towel on the marble, lie on top of it and to relax. Okayyyyy.  Thankfully the room is steamy and the lighting is soft, so I throw my inhibitions to the wind and do as instructed.

I do manage to relax, and after about 20 minutes of steam bath my masseuse begins the exfoliating scrub. She is very thorough, and after she has finished one side she instructs me to flip over. I’m scrubbed from head to toe — no kidding, she scrubbed my face and my toes, and even washes my hair. After I’m scrubbed, I’m doused with buckets of warm water as my masseuse cheerfully exclaims “Opa!”. (Maybe she’s Greek)

“Opa!” I say back. After the scrubbing there is about a 10 minute body massage, then more relaxing in the steam room. Patrons will often linger here and socialize.

Letting go of our inhibitions at a historic Turkish bath was a bucket list experience, and we left feeling squeaky clean and relaxed. When you visit Turkey, it is something to try at least once.

Have you experienced a traditional Turkish bath?

If you go:

  • Ask at your hotel for recommendations for a historic hammam.
  • Cost: 50 Euros for the exfoliation and massage package we experienced. We both tipped, and I hear it is customary.
  • At most establishments customers on the women’s side are nude, but some I have heard provide disposable panties. Personally I would feel more comfortable with this. Check before you book your appointment. On the men’s side, customers always keep their towel wrap on during the treatment.


41 replies
  1. Nina
    Nina says:

    I absolutely loved my Turkish Bath experience in Istanbul a few years back. It was such a great and relaxing way to immerse yourself into the local culture and it made me feel like I was living in another era.

  2. Kristin Henning
    Kristin Henning says:

    More than any other spa, this one offers what feels like a genuine cultural experience. (We were there about four years ago.) I got a kick out of your comment about its being very relaxing, once you could relax.

  3. Doreen Pendgracs
    Doreen Pendgracs says:

    Hi Shelley: Spas never used to be on my radar, once I began writing about luxury travel, they came into my life and I now love them. I’ve never had a Turkish Bath but would likely enjoy it, although it doesn’t sound quite as comfy as many of the spa environs I’ve now had the pleasure of visiting. With time, the shyness definitely wears off!

  4. Suzanne Fluhr
    Suzanne Fluhr says:

    Hmm. Communal steaming or bathing is apparently not my cup of tea—and totally nude steaming and bathing is not happening. I even figured out how to take off my bra under my clothes at overnight camp, so I guess my body issues are nothing new. I have now not done communal bathing in Japan, Finland and Hungary. Well be in Turkey on Friday, so I guess I’ll then be able to add Turkey to my list of shame.

    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      Haha, well I can relate to that. If you visit Alberta we wear our swimsuits for communal bathing. Or at spas here they strategically drape you so you’re not really exposed. But lucky you going to Turkey! and Israel right? Have a fantastic trip!

  5. Suzanne Stavert
    Suzanne Stavert says:

    I love your adventurous spirit! Scrubbing the front of me would be weird. I might not be able to handle that. Although if you just give in to the moment – you have a great story to tell and relax as well!

    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      I think it came down to feeling even more awkward to back out! But I’m glad I went through with it. They avoid your private bits during the scrubbing, but…ya.

  6. Yasha Langford
    Yasha Langford says:

    I’ve had a teasing taste of Turkey – 3 weeks in 2009 – and am really keen to get back there. I must say I’ve always been interested in the idea of a Turkish bath. Thanks for sharing the details…

  7. Josie
    Josie says:

    Hi Shelley,

    Yes, I have experienced Hammam in Turkey! I love the rush of sharing the bath with both men and women – naked. And believe me, at 61 and overweight, I am a frightful sight, but I’m so glad I did it!
    Wishing you safe and happy travels,

  8. Patti Morrow
    Patti Morrow says:

    I’ve done a lot of “adrenaline-type” adventures, but letting someone scrub me head to toe is too scary for me! 🙂 Loved reading about your experience, though.

  9. Linda ~ Journey Jottings
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings says:

    It sounds rather rough and even uncomfortable, having someone scrub a dub me – not relaxing at all – I’d be on edge waiting for the next barrage to happen! And wondering what they were going to do?! LOL
    No – I’m very happy you’ve been and reported on this experience for me 🙂

    • Doreen Pendgracs
      Doreen Pendgracs says:

      Linda, it can indeed me very rough on your skin! But if you tell/ask your technician (at any spa) to ease off, they will apply less pressure and it can be quite pleasant.

    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      I wish I could have taken photos of the main marble-domed steam room, but of course none are allowed in that area. We did see a hammam in Tangier, Morocco but didn’t visit it that time.


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