In centuries past, the hammam, or turkish bath, was an essential urban facility in Islamic cities, along with the mosque and the suq (bazaar).
The tradition of bathing was in keeping with the religious prescript of physical cleanliness, and hence hammams were typically located near mosques, where men and women could go and perform prayers following ablutions. As a public facility, the hammam also functioned as a locus for social interactions – it is even said that a prospective mother-in-law would look for a bride for her son while in the bath.
Visiting a hammam is a must when in cities with Islamic heritage, and in Istanbul, the famed Turkish city that straddles both Asia and Europe, it would be amiss not to experience the ancient bathing ritual. In the Tophane quarter, which faces the strait of Bosphorus, is located the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, a bathhouse that was constructed more than four centuries ago by Sinan, the great architect who was responsible for the Blue Mosque and many landmarks throughout Turkey. The hammam is named for the man who commissioned it, a legendary Ottoman admiral, and as it was in the past, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque is situated nearby.
On entering the historic building, guests are welcomed into a lounge topped with an impressive dome. The hot room, where the bathing takes place, is to the side and clad in grey marble. The dome here is pierced with circular and star-shaped roof lights, allowing sunshine to permeate through during the day. Heat, water and steam are key to the hammam experience – beyond cleanliness and beauty treatment, the bath also promotes health as hot air can destroy disease germs. The full-body exfoliation cleans thoroughly and leaves the skin baby-soft, while the enwrapping foam wash completes the feeling of purification. Truly, the hammam ritual melts away the maladies of body and spirit, paving the way to relaxation and rejuvenation, as it has done for centuries.
PHOTOS Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı