Tales from a Turkish Bath—Here’s What to Expect at an Authentic Hammam

Last updated January 27, 2023

I’ve been to a hammam before, living in Miami for over seven years. So, I had a general idea of what to expect when I was invited to experience an authentic hammam on a recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey.

What happened after the experience had me blustering on for days—mind you, to anyone who would listen. This authentic hammam experience left my skin feeling softer than a baby’s tush. 

What is so special about this spa experience that left such an impact? Here are six rituals to expect at an authentic hammam.

What is an authentic hammam?

Turkish bath, or hammam, is a relaxing and rejuvenating experience for your skin, body and mental health. Originally, a hammam was a public bathing location that has long evolved into more of a Turkish spa experience—with most Turks bathing at home these days. 

While each hammam spa hosts its own unique appeal, a few unifying factors remain the same: the rituals, methods and traditional style. 

On a recent trip to Turkey, I had the joy and (tough job, I know) pleasure to experience one of the most notable Turkish baths in all of Istanbul, Çatma Mescit Hamamı, a historical hammam from the 16th-century, that specializes in the use of organic products during your treatment. 

Ready to disrobe?

Ritual 1: the preparation 

Upon entry to an authentic hammam, someone greets you like at any spa, but that’s where the ordinary ends. The lavish, ornate cave-like environment already offers a sense of stepping back in time—to the era of the Ottoman Sultans—at least for an hour or two. 

Taken upstairs to the changing rooms to disrobe in private, you can leave on your undergarments or swimsuit. The majority of hammam-goers will remove all and experience naked, the traditional way. 

Men and women go to separate spaces, where the healing hands of your tellak guides you into the warmer area of the bath. Get ready for the next 45 minutes of rejuvenation! 

Ritual 2: the bath

Warm stones, Turkish towels and dampened lights, you’re already seven levels lower on the stress chart. There’s something so youthful and invigorating about letting go and allowing your bath attendant to bathe and care for you. 

Laying down on the stones, the bath attendant checks the water temperature prior to gently pouring water over your body from head to toe. Not to worry, many authentic hammams have large slabs of stone dividers to create a sense of privacy. 

Here, the letting go process and trusting in the very capable and caring hands of your bath attendant begins. You’re seated, washed, cleansed and purified with bowls of warm water that cascades down your body. 

Ritual 3: the scrub

As you lay in peace on the warm hot stones beneath you, the bath attendant scrubs with the aromatic soaps all portions of your body, flipping you over like a delicate crepe to get your front and backside. 

This surprisingly was one of my favorite steps. The inclusion of the organic products and invigorating aromatherapy oils left my skin feeling like I had been reborn. 

Now I know how fruitful a chameleon feels after shedding a new layer of skin. I could get used to this!

Water jar, towel and copper bowl with soap foam in authentic hammam

Ritual 4: the foam

After the scrub, your tellak rinses you on the hot stones where a large cloth that looks like one of those nets you make bubbles with as a kid is dipped in the soapy, aromatic waters. 

A special technique of spinning and producing mini bubbles that pop refreshingly on your skin leaves a little tingle of joy. This is followed by a sudsy massage — my kind of foam party. No offense, Ibiza.

Ritual 5: the chill

Cleansed once again after the foaming experience, you’re dampened and toweled off. You are then escorted to the relaxation area for Turkish tea and light refreshments or fruits, as I was given. 

What’s magical in this space is the large dome ceiling and structure to sit under, where traditionally light would shine in from the natural outdoors. 

This is the phase where your body returns to a neutral state and temperature. Your authentic hammam experience may end here, or continue on with the bonus section.

Massage at Catma Mescit @livefreemediallc

Ritual 6: the massage

Well worth the added expense is a hot stone massage with oils to relax any leftover stressed out muscle in your body.

After a long flight from the U.S., I certainly appreciated this step to unwind my back and neck that suffered from two overnight flights and an aisle seat. 

With some of the strongest hands, the massage therapist twists the mere fibers of my muscles back to pinnacle state. 

Takeaway from an authentic hammam spa experience

Post Turkish bath experience at Catma Mescit @livefremediallc

Personally, as a lymphatic cancer survivor, I truly believe the authentic hammam spa, or Turkish bath, is one of the most impactful lymphatic cleanses I’ve taken part in. 

The skin, being your largest organ, is refreshed back to purity, moisturized and anew. Breathing, rinsed, fresh and cared, it’s a total sensory adventure that can leave your body only wanting another trip back to Istanbul.

Have you heard of a Turkish bath or authentic hammam spa before? Ready to try it out?

Photo credits: @livefreemediallc, Ozan Yalcinoz and Batin Can

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