What Is A Turkish Bath?

towels provided on a bath house

A Turkish bath can be a daunting experience the first time around. While there's definitely a bit of a culture shock to work through, that doesn't mean it's not an experience worth trying at least once. We'll go through all the things you need to know preparing and going in, but let's start with the most obvious question: what is a Turkish bath?

What Is a Turkish Bath?

A Turkish bath is a type of communal (but gender segregated) bathing that emphasizes relaxation as well as cleanliness. It can feature simple bathing, massages, aromatherapy, reflexology, or facials (or a mixture of many). The bathing portion can be done on your own with your own supplies or by an attendant with supplies they provide. You can expect to not only get a deep clean via an attendant but also to get a different experience in terms of relaxation depending on what other services you choose.

While this may be a short answer for "what is a Turkish bath?" there is a lot more to this type of bathing experience than meets the eye. Things like bathing etiquette, customs and culture, and understanding the different service options will all make the experience more encompassing and less stressful or confusing; so let's talk about them.

Will I Be Completely Bare?

This is a common question directly following "what is a Turkish bath?" so let's get it out of the way now: no, you won't be completely bare. You'll be given a bath-wrap to cover private areas, and whether you choose to wear underwear below that is up to you. If you're curious as to the norm, the men typically don't wear anything underneath while the women will usually wear underwear but no bras. Again, it's all up to your preference, so there's no need to feel uncomfortable with whatever option you choose. You'll typically get sandals to wear as well.


What Does a Turkish Bath Look Like?

This may or may not be at the top of your list of questions following "what is a Turkish bath?" but it's important to have a bit of a heads up in case it's something completely different from what you're used to. A Turkish bath follows a Roman communal bathing styles, with a focus on water instead of steam. These bath houses typically feature historical or awing architecture and are quite large.

You'll be in a heated room first, and this is where you will typically spend most of your time. There may or may not be steam, but typically there are smaller bathing pools as well as bigger platforms where different services like massages can take place. While every Turkish bath can be different, you can expect the experience to be mainly communal.


​Which Bath House Should I Use?

door of a turkish bath house

Image Source: Pixabay.com

We would suggest, for your first Turkish bath especially, to go to a historical Turkish bath (or "hammam" as you'll see them referred to as) or a Turkish bath within a hotel. Both of these will offer the experience you want without putting you in a situation you may not be prepared for.

To decide between the two, it really comes down to your priorities while experiencing a Turkish bath. Historical bath houses will typically offer amazing and unique architecture that shows off the history of the city and bath house itself, but it may or may not be a "luxury" type of setting.

Hotel bath houses, on the other hand, typically aim for the more luxurious setting and atmosphere. It may not be historically significant, accurate, or focused, but it will likely feel more like a spa if that's what you're going for.

In either case, going to a Turkish bath house will be a relaxing experience. Which bath house you choose ultimately depends on your own preference and priorities. Once you've chosen your venue, though, you'll want to decide on what services you want from the bath house.

Choosing a Service


Once you've selected a bath house, picking a service or service package will be your next to-do item. There are three typical services that are offered:

Self-Service

Once you've selected a bath house, picking a service or service package will be your next to-do item. There are three typical services that are offered:

Traditional

This is likely what you'll be expecting after reading the answer to "what is a Turkish bath?" and is a good option to start with. Typically, this option gets you a 15-minute massage and an attendant who washes you and guides you through the experience. Any other styles you opt into will be performed by the attendant, so think of the attendant like your bath house buddy as you go through the experience.

Unique Styles

Many bath houses will offer services unique to them, like aromatherapy, head massages, various facials, reflexology, and other services that you can do on you own or add to your traditional style package. Each bath house will be slightly different, so it's best to check ahead of time if you're looking for something specific. These services operate more like a spa than a bath house, but depending on how you use them you can still get the bath house experience.


​What to Expect

While this may vary a little between bath houses, we wanted to give you a general idea of what to expect when you go to a bath house (though typically the attendants do a good job of leading you through, so no need to be stressed about it).

​Arriving


Much like a spa, the first place you'll go to is some type of locker room. Sometimes it's an actual locker room for you to store your clothes in and change into the bath-wrap; other times there are individual cubicles. Either way, this is the first stop where you'll undress and put on the bath-wrap and sandals.

Hot Room


​You'll then go to the hot room (or "hararet"). Assuming you are not doing self-service, your attendant or masseur won't follow you into this room immediately, instead letting you sit and relax to loosen up and sweat. This room is likely the closest thing to what you picture when you think "what is a Turkish bath?" or even "what is a bathhouse?" It typically has many basins and a platform that sits above the heating source. Oftentimes, marble is featured in this room and there is some great architecture to look at, so don't feel bad about wandering a bit.

Massage and Bath


You'll spend about 15 minutes here before the attendant will return. At this point you'll move to the side of the platform and the attendant will soak and bathe you while giving you a massage. Part two of this washing is scrubbing, and this will take place in one of the basins. Many people have noted how well the attendants work at scrubbing you down. Dirt you didn't know you had on you will come off in layers. It really is a very cleansing experience, but take the word "scrubbing" to heart; that dirt doesn't just slide off.

You'll be washed one more time, and then the attendant will leave you. You're welcome to stay in the hot room for as long as you like before making your way to the cold room, also called the intermediate or transitioning room. This room will have showers and toilets, with a dry bath-wrap and towel waiting for you there. You can stay here as long as you like as well before going back to your cubicle. Some bath houses will provide chairs or beds where you can take a nap or order drinks in the room with lockers or cubicles. You'll then tip your attendant or masseur and leave.

​Overall, this can be as long or short of an experience as you want, but many people spend at the very least an hour at a Turkish bath. It's not an in-and-out experience, and you shouldn't feel rushed at any point. The hours of the bath house typically accommodate this type of leisure by opening around 6am and closing around midnight.


​Common Questions and Concerns

As this is often a new experience for many people, we've compiled a list of the more common questions people have had beyond "what is a Turkish bath?" and we'll address them here:

Will the Attendant or Masseur Be the Same Sex As Me?

What If I Have Sensitive Skin?

How "Personal" Is the Bathing?

What Should I Bring?

How Does Tipping Work?


​Famous Historical Bath Houses

While there are plenty of hotel bath houses to choose from, historical bath houses are fewer and farther between. If you're having trouble finding or settling on a historical bath house, we wanted to give you some ideas.

Between historical or hotel bath houses, the historical route will definitely offer a more all-encompassing experience in terms of culture and history. They can look vastly different depending on where you go, both in terms of different countries and even different cities. It can feel like a new experience each time you set foot in another bath house because of these differences. Here's a list of where to look for some of the more historical bath houses:

​Morocco


The oldest known Islamic hammam is in Morocco (Volubilis specifically), and while technically not a Turkish bath, it is very closely related and a great place to visit for lots of culture and a slightly different take on the experience due to the smaller rooms and more private atmosphere.

​Syria


There are about 18 hammams operating in Syria that are historical (i.e. built pre-1500's) and definitely worth a visit for their cultural and historical significance.

​Turkey


Turkey, of course, has many historical bath houses to choose from as well that will offer cultural architecture with pieces of history built in. There are lots to choose from here, each offering their own historical take as well as tie-ins in terms or architecture, services, and soaps. A simple Google search or inquires at your hotel will lead you to these.

​Budapest


Budapest, Hungary has 4 Turkish baths that are all from the 16th century and definitely worth a look should Budapest be on your radar. It is the City of Spas after all, so there's no excuse skipping out on this spa experience while you're there.


​At the End of the Day...

a roof dome of a bath house

Image Source: Pixabay.com

At the end of the day, your experience with a Turkish bathhouse will be a unique one. Not only will you get to experience the culture and customs revolving around the bathhouse and its practices, you'll also get really, really clean. So clean in fact, that we would recommend not going if you're trying to keep your new tan. However, you'll also have a relaxing, leisurely time in the process; so it's definitely worth a try.


LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here