Hammam, meaning “the spreader of warmth,” is the merging of the ancient Roman baths with the Ottoman influence after the conquest of Constantinople in 1450 AD.
Divided into 3 sections, the Turkish bath not only promoted public hygiene before indoor plumbing, but it also was a very social place for people to gather and relax. Upon entering a Turkish bath, you would first enter into the camekan, an impressive entrance hall that served as a reception area where you would undress and receive a Turkish towel, a peştemal, to cover your body and a pair of wooden slippers, nalin, to prevent slipping on the wet floor. The peştemal would be striped or checked, a colored mixture of silk and cotton, pure cotton, or even pure silk. These days, you can find pestemal in new fabrics such as bamboo and linen. Bamboo peştemalnot only works just as well as cotton, but has the added benefit of being antimicrobial in addition to being quick drying.
When you go into the Turkish Bath, four towels are needed for the full experience: one for drying, one to go around the hair like a turban, one around the shoulders, and one around the waist.
Peştemal turkish towels are a light weave of cotton that are woven for absorbancy and quick drying. They way the fibers cross each other enable the material to almost capture the water faster and better than the typical towel we are familiar with. This weaving also enables air to flow in and out, drying the towel crazy fast.
After exchanging your clothes for towels, clogs, and metal bowl to gather water for rinsing, you would be excorted to the main room, the sıcaklık, where thick, wet steam would begin to relax the muscles and detoxify the body. The Turkish bath was heated by the hypocaust system used in Roman baths which used a wood or coal furnace to heat water used in the bath and air that circulated under the floor and in the walls. The sıcaklık has a large marble slab, usually octagonal or rectangular in shape, called a göbek taşı, or belly stone, in the centre and niches with fountains in the corners. The most distinct feature of the sıcaklık is the dome-shaped roof decorated with circle or star-shaped windows through which natural light passes and illuminates the space in an otherworldly glow.
Lying on the stone or seated in one of the niches, the treatment begins with a muscle kneading massage and then pours of warm water, followed by a vigorous scrub using a rough cloth glove, called a kese, all over the front and then back of the body to remove dead skin. After rinsing off the dead skin, mounds of bubbles are piled onto the body and black soap is massaged into the skin. Black soap is made with eucalyptus oil, olive oil and macerated olives that give the soap its characteristic dark green black colour. After the final cleanse and cool water rinse, the body feels revitalized, smooth and moisturized. The last room, the sogulkluk, is a room for recovery, a modern-day tea lounge, where you would relax and re-energize with a cup of warm tea and Turkish sweets like baklava and Turkish delight.