The Turkish bath or hamam is an atmospheric world all its own in the midst of the modern bustling city. Everyone who sets foot in here surrenders to the water in a voluntary form of captivity, for the process of purification of not just the body but also the soul.
Upon entering the door you find yourself in the “camekan”, a hall lined with changing cubicles. In an old-fashioned hamam this is the most impressive part, with a drinking fountain in the centre or sometimes a marble pool with a water jet.
Before your encounter with water can start you must undress in one of the cubicles and wrap your body in a cotton or silk bathing cloth known as a pestemal. Then you are ready to go into the bath, which is reached through antechamber called the “sogukluk” where there is a room for shaving, lavatories and a tea stall selling beverages.
When the door to the bath proper, known as the “sıcaklık” or harrare, opens you find yourself in a high room filled with the sound of splashing water, the scent of soap, and wafting steam through which daily concerns and worries cannot penetrate. In the gentle moist heat your body relaxes, and your nerves are soothed. You sit down at one of the marble wash basins which line the walls, and adjusting the temperature of the water to a delicious warmth, dip the copper bathing bowl into the basin and tip the water over your head and body. Waves of relaxation seem to pour right through you as the water ripples down.
When you have finished washing stretch out on this platform, which is heated from beneath. Soon the heat will have opened the pores in your skin, and the bath attendant (known as a natır in a women’s bath and a tellak in the male establishment) will come along carrying a bath glove made of coarse raw silk. Entrust your body to their skilled hands as they vigorously rub away the layer of dead skin, then soap and rinse you well. If asked they will go on to give you a massage. After being kneaded from top to toe on top of the relaxing effect of all that hot water you naturally begin to feel delightfully sleepy. The Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo describes this as a state of unimaginable bliss, and says that when he came out of the hamam his body which had been ‘taken to pieces and put together again, soaped from head to foot, rinsed, dried, and relieved of tension’ felt like wearing a new suit of clothes.
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