Turkish bath, known as Hamam in Turkish language, is a place of public bathing, which dates back to the 14th century and associated with the culture of the Ottoman Empire, covering a vast area of the Middle East and Europe. Inspired by Roman practices in bathing, Turkish baths were a source for both communities gathering and cleaning. Later, communal baths were designed and constructed in the city centres, accessible to everyone. It is considered by many that, as according to Islam, cleansing is required before entering a mosque for prayer, Hamams were created at the instance of the Roman baths.
Usually, the Turkish baths have separate entrances and sections for men and women. The exception to this gender segregation is the presence of young boys who often accompany their mothers until they reach the age of five or six.
Women’s Hamams play a special role in society as a primarily female space, where traditional and modern women from urban and rural areas come together, irrespective of status, to bathe and socialites. It may sound unbelievable, but two centuries ago, if a husband refused to pay for his wife’s visit to the Turkish bath twice a week, she could legally ask for a divorce.
In terms of the amount of clothing coverage for the bathers, each bath has their own norms, which differ slightly. However, it is a normal practice, both for male and female, to go topless in the Hamams. In case of hesitancy or reluctance to partial nudity, some establishments allow the female bathers to cover their body parts with the thin disposable underwear provided by them, others allow to use personal flip flops, is necessary.
In some Hamams, while the men usually completely strip down and wear nothing underneath the bath-wrap, women mostly keep on wearing their underwear, often without a bra, underneath the bath-wrap. However, one should remain clothed with the bath wrap at all times and flashing is frowned upon.
Each traditional Hamam is equipped with three chambers, which include a hot room to steam, a warm room to scrub and finally, a cooler room to relax. Though the layout differs, all have a hot marble steam room with raised circular platforms on which patrons lay to soak in the sweltering heat. The steam rooms also include small alcoves with basins around the perimeter of the room, where one can splash with cold water.
Additionally, one can get scrubbed down in the stream room or in a separate chamber. Most of the luxurious Hamams also offer add-on services, such as massages and waxes, in the massage room, complete with around four or more tables, where the masseuses attend their customers simultaneously. The time of stay in the Turkish Hammam is not limited. Customers can stay in the Turkish bath as long as they want.
Hamam has even attracted the attention of Europeans and Americans beginning from the sixteenth century. Today there are 57 working historical baths in Istanbul and their clientele is well under 200 per day. Aya Sofya, Kilic Ala Pasa and Cağaloğlu are some of the great Hamams in the city of Intanbul. However, today Hamam facilities are available even in reputed hotels around the world.