So finally I made it: going to an ancient traditional Hammam!
I was hesitant to do so when in Istanbul, it just felt all a little too touristy. So I let it go and rather looked for a hammam in any of the next towns.
Antalya, of course is a big part of the Tourist-belt in Turkey, however it still has an old, traditional Hamman (wood fire heats it). Sefa Hammam is hidden in one of the smalls streets in Antalya’s old city – Kaleici. I read some feedback on the www and learnt to go early, so it wouldn’t be too busy. I also tried to smarten up about the actual process – so I could contain potential embarrassment
So I did.
Arrived at 11.00am its advertised opening time. Inside where just the bath- attendant and the ‘owner’, Mustafa. This Hammam is over 600 years old. Mustafa’s Grandfather had taken over this Hamman and then it passed through the family, with him now being the owner. This came out in a longer conversation, but honestly, I am never quite sure if that is true or just ‘laid-on’ for touris. Didn’t matter, I was looking forward to the experience.
So after some Apple tea (chai) – my favourite flavour – I was shown into my own change room. These rooms were positioned on the entry (ground) floor, wrapping around the entire space, an inside balcony run around and one could look down into the bottom floor where the actual Hamman hot rooms are located. I found myself in a wooden panelled room, designed for at least two, but all mine. Inside I discovered a longish towel, which soon became my single piece of cloth shrouded around my loins (Hmmmh, sounds a little biblical ….)
So out I stepped into the adventure. The bath attendant, meanwhile had also stripped off, albeit not completely. Ufff. He had a towel around his lower torso, just like mine. He signalled me to come downstairs and I followed him expectantly.
We now stepped into the actual Hamman. Some bowing to get through the low archways was required and we arrived in a circular room with a domed roof. In the middle of this space sat a large marble block. I estimated about 2.50 x 3mtrs.
My attended, let me call him Mahmut to make this easier, so Mahmut, he was at least my age, although later that day I embarrassed myself when I judged a Turkish man I had started a conversation with, 10 years older as he really was. I promise you, he did look older than me and I already opted for a low number – so I thought. But back to Mahmut, who spoke as much English as I do Turkish, he now directed me to lay flat down onto the block. Sacrificial lamb fleetingly came to my mind, but I wasn’t. Instead this block was very warm, hot indeed but not creating any discomfort. Mahmut left the room and I was all by myself in this Hamman. I relaxed but also had a good look around. The dome-like ceiling had an opening, operated with a long piece of wire tangling above me. It appeared as if the entire ground and the lower walls were cladded in marble. Easy to keep clean I guess. I also saw that the space had several alcoves. Most had one of these low, archway-like doors leading to ….. wouldn’t have a clue. Wasn’t even interested to get a clue, rather relaxed, focussed a little on my breathing, trying to enjoy the ‘here & now’, the hot here & now.
I guess I must have laid there, even drifting into a little snooze, about 30 mins, maybe more as Mahmut appeared again. Now he wanted me to sit up, slip into my slippers (as one does) and follow him through one of these mysterious archway-doors. ore bowing to get through and ‘Voila!” I was now in the washroom? Because that what was happening here. A much smaller space than before. Again a rectangular slab of marble, like a table. Here I was to sit on and Mahmut begun the procedure. With a bowl he mixed water from a fountain-like tap and poured it over me, making some loud noises. I guess words or commands to similar. Sounded all very appropriate to me. Hot then a little cooler to wash off my sweat.
Next I had to lay flat on my stomach and the loin covered barley my arse. Now the defoliating or ‘peeling’ could commence. Mahmut had found a brand-new glove-like torture instrument. With this he mercilessly scrubbed off all my old skin, the top-layer only I mean. methodically and thoroughly he went about shouting his words … and I still had no idea what they meant.
‘Turn’ and the sandpapering of my back begun. No pain, just indulgence. Travelling on my own had many advantages. Naturally they are disadvantages to it as well. One is, especially if one is a ‘tactile fellow’ , you miss touch. Any touch, not only intimate touches. So laying here on the slab and being scrubbed like a washboard, still resembled some ‘touch’. Happy I was being scrubbed – nil complaint.
Being thoroughly cleansed form my old skin Mahmut started the massage stage. However he fetched some soap from another recess and soaped/massaged me from top to toe. This fetching the soap I was able to watch with one eye. He somehow had a cotton pillow-case like cloth which he dipped into the soapy ware mater and captured the foam. This pillow-case he then squeezed out over my body.
Mahmut paid special attention to soaping/massaging/breaking my toes, or soles of my foot, ‘Aua!’ when he pressed too hard against pressure points and ‘Haha – I am seriously ticklish’ when he didn’t apply a firm grip.
Next, I understood “Turn” and I obeyed. Now my front was up for the soaping/massaging procedure. At one stage my arms were pulled, twisted, fingers cracked and tightly folded over my chest with strong downward pressure applied. Hardly could breathe …. nut just survived.
No private parts were touched during this procedure, so all men (and women) readers can relax – as I certainly recommend this experience. Although Mahmut and I operated, well he did – I just did some laying (lying??) around, but our bodies proximity during the soaping-in was intimate at stages.
Didn’t mind – just enjoyed being soaped in. Other soaping phantasies entered my relaxed mind, but quickly I banned them. Here & now! Focus on it!!
I did wonder were this procedure came from, you know in the ancient times. I would have imagined it would have been a privilege of the rich & powerful, almost something Roman, were a slave did this on you. Later, the manager/owner explained that locals just did it to each other. Literally “you scrub my back – and I scrub yours”. I was also told that Hammams are less and less frequently attended by locals. Many now have a bathroom at home. Other competitions comes from Hotels who offer a ‘Hammam’ experience. That may be so, but it all happens in newish, stylish small spaces, not in a history-breathing old cellar of a real Hammam. For me, it is not the same. I want old stuff. Yeah, yeah, I can read your thoughts … Old stuff for old man etc etc… So what!??
Back to the experience. At this stage I had been softened (through the steam room, hot slab), then washed off the sweat, then peeled, soaped cum massaged and now, I was sitting up again and poured over with hot water. ‘Stand’, Hmmmh a new word Mahmut uttered, but I still followed and more warm water was poured. Then some new, until now unheard noises from Mahmut and I almost expected what was to come: ice cold water poured over my head and shoulders. A Sauna-like experience I kind of thought would be coming somewhere in the procedure – all good.
Now Mahmut got rid of my cloth and supplied a few fresh ones. Three I scored! One for the loin, one around my shoulders and I got my own towel-turban. I felt wrapped!
Mahmut guided me up-stairs, to the level were the change-rooms were, but I got directed into the ‘cool-space’. Here I sat, blissfully happy about what had happened in the past 1 hour or thereabouts. Again, Apple-tea was served and a selection of fruit and Mustafa and I had further conversation about dwindling Hammam attendance. low tourist numbers and cost of living.
20 mins later Mahmut called me for the final stage of the procedure: an oil massage. Again ducking through low doorways into yet another space in what seemed like a labyrinth. An even smaller space, a table and off I went flat onto the stomach. ‘Autsch!’ again on the foot-sole pressure points, some bending of legs, stretching of arms, cracking of knuckles, pressure upwards on my spine, you name it. Whatever – I was a willing and lifeless object enjoying being pampered.
Not sure how long that lasted but it was thorough, back and front, sans privates.
So freshly oiled and massively rejuvenated I trotted with a contented smile back to my change room.
Aaahhhh, this Hammam experience delivered everything what I had imagined, On top, I had been all on my own throughout the entire experience. All focus was on ‘petit moi’! Loved it!! For 80 Turkish Lira, that is approx. 35 bucks I had a splendid morning. ready to wander the narrow laneways of the old city, probably smiling like an idiot.
If you ever have a chance for a Hammam, grab it! Go early to beat the crowds.