Turkish baths, or hamams are central to traditional Turkish life. It is where the women of the community come together to gossip and discuss their relationships, home life and news. Historically, the hamam was a strategic site for a discerning mother to find the perfect wife for her son, as well as an important part of pre-wedding festivities to prepare the bride for her wedding night. Hamams are slowly loosing their significance in every day life, and the most glorious and historical hamams are becoming expensive tourist traps. Thus, an authentic neighborhood hamam is hard to find and provides a truly unique experience.
I spent a lovely day with three of my friends from my old school, as well as one of my best friends visiting from Seattle. We gathered in Besiktas to start our day at one of the lovely and hip cafes hiding in the backstreets around Balik Pazari. Then, we took the ferry to the Asian neighborhood of Uskudar. Located right along the waterfront, this neighborhood is one of the city’s busiest and most conservative neighborhoods. It is also a wonderful place to experience a unique slice of Turkish life. We talked to 5 different taxi drivers before we found someone who knew where the hamam was located AND was willing to take us for this short 6 lira fare (It is somewhat off the beaten path and at the top of a hill so a taxi is recommended)
Cinili Hamam was commissioned by Kosem Sultan and built in 1640 . This Turkish bath is also known as ‘Eski Hamam’ or ‘Old Bath’ and is considered to be one of the most historical Turkish baths in the area. It is frequented by locals and expats alike. It is beautiful, as well as inexpensive and authentic. I would go so far to say that is probably one of the best hamam experiences in Istanbul.
We were quickly ushered into our own dressing room and then welcomed through the doors of the warm steamy bath itself. The hamam is arranged in a star shape.Each corner is composed of benches with sinks flowing with warm water. In the middle there is a large marble slab, where you are summoned for your scrub, massage and cleansing by women in their underwear for a full-body exfoliation, followed by a round of soap. As you await your turn, your job is to soften your skin by pouring shallow buckets of hot water all over yourself. With each bucket, comes a wave of relaxation and rejuvenation.
We came prepared: we brought flip flops, Turkish bath towels, our own bath scrubs, soap and shampoo. The entrance fee was 18 lira and the scrub cost 12 lira. For 3 relaxing hours, and indulgently soft skin, this was a steal!
The changing rooms. Photo Source