Hamam: A true Turkish delight

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A "Turkish delight" rarely enjoyed by Americans visiting this country is a visit to a hamam for a cleansing, relaxing and sociable Turkish bath.

The tradition of the steam bath was passed on from the Romans to the Byzantines to the Turks, and there are hundreds of hamams in Istanbul, including many famous and historical facilities.

Ciragan Palace Hotel's Turkish bath According to Wynn Oz of the World of Oz in Virginia Beach, Va., her clients use both the Galata Serai and the Cagaloglu Hamam, built more than three centuries ago.

Oz reported that a tour group once rented the entire Cagaloglu Hamam.

"Getting your hair washed in a hamam -- with a massage of one's whole head, shoulders and neck -- is the experience of a lifetime," said Oz.

There is also a hamam at the Istanbul Hilton; other hotels in Turkey that have hamam facilities include the Sea Gardens in Bodrum and the Sheraton in Antalya.

What happens in a hamam?

According to Tom Brosnahan, author of Lonely Planet's guide to Turkey, the visitor is shown to a cubicle to undress and wrap up in a cloth before being led to the hot room to sit and sweat awhile, sluicing water over oneself from an individual basin.

Then an attendant douses bathers with warm water, scrubs them down with a coarse cloth, lathers them with a sudsy swab, shampoos their hair and gives a total rinsing.

The clean client is then offered a massage, given often as he or she stretches out on a great marble bench beneath the hamam's dome.

After the massage, the client is led back to the cold room to be swathed in towels and taken to a cubicle for a rest -- with tea, coffee or a soft drink.

For travelers, said Brosnahan, "the hamam experience offers a wonderful relaxation of muscles, mind and spirit."

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI