500 years of Istanbul history and architectural design washed over me on a heated marble slab.
I was lost within the elements of temperature and weight with a tremor of soap suds across my back.
It was a sensation of heat, heavy water and pockets of light air.
It felt like a re-birth as some 32 years of dirt and old skin was being scrubbed away.
Welcome to the ‘hamam’, the traditional Turkish bath.
“The skin is the largest organ in the body and has a specific function – it breathes.”
These words are a copy and paste from the website of the elite and historical Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam.
And it is a message with impact, we really should “take care of our skin”.
After five years of restoration work Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam re-opened in 2012 allowing Istanbul locals, expats and tourists the opportunity to practice what the website preaches – relax, refresh and transform your skin.
Guests are welcomed at the entrance by Mustafa, who tells me, “We are trying to continue on a tradition of hundreds of years.”
“Working at the hamam is a very peaceful and unique experience. When I explain things about the venue to guests, I explain it with pride.”Mustafa
Naturally our first story of recognition is of Kılıç Ali, the chief admiral of Sultan Selim II.
In 1580, the Ottoman ‘Architect Sinan’ was commissioned by Kılıç Ali to design this particular hamam to serve the navy.
It is a simple, yet important historical tale of the most famous Ottoman architect who helped to create the Istanbul skyline.
We know the curves of Gaudi resonate with Barcelona. In the same manner, the design lines of Sinan encapsulate this city.
Simply put, Gaudi built Barcelona. Sinan created Istanbul.
In honour of the ‘Great Architect Sinan’, there is now a Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, a high status campus for talented design students.
Taking advantage of this historical design fact is Turkey and Europe’s most prominent Industrial Designer and Istanbul local, Orhan Irmak, who says, “the architecture is really impressive.”
“You can really feel like you are in an original work of art. Knowing that it belongs to Sinan’s genius is an extraordinary feeling.”Orhan
Orhan tells me that a hamam is “all about cleanliness. We come to a hamam to clean ourselves so of course the environment must also be clean” and Kılıç Ali is absolutely immaculate.
Recently a successful Australian businesswoman engaged me over twitter asking if “this is the hamam I recommend be her first?” Because of the above qualities mentioned by Orhan, I tweeted back saying, “the first and then the only”. Why go beyond history, hygiene and experience.
Our hamam personnel had 22 years working in the field.
Their skill level showed as I was guided through all stages of the service with sleek transitions.
From greetings in the foyer, to a traditional sherbet drink, to changing into the peştemol (towel), going into the hamam, then water being poured over the body, to laying on the hot marble warming the muscle tissue, then a tough exfoliate scrub, to a soap-up that could be described as a foam-up, getting lost in the mountains of suds like a snowman being built and sculpted, then a rinse off, to a dry towel wrap, then into the lounge area to relax for as long as I wanted with a menu of Turkish coffee and tea.
What an experience.
The website says a hamam clean is recommended every 3-4 weeks.
Shame on me. I haven’t been washed like that in 32 years!
Perhaps that explains the dead skin being scrubbed off like the lint on a Turkish rug.
The effect is a fascinating smoothness. A feeling I could get used to.
Also enjoying the hamam effect was Australian tourist Marcel Neurauter.
It was his first hamam and he says,“sitting there and watching my friends get bathed, while I was getting washed was quite interesting.”
“It was nice being with friends as a social experience, something nice to share with someone. The feeling of the water, the warmth and the scrub was amazing.”Marcel
Orhan also touched on the social aspect of the hamam telling me that in the past it was a place where mothers would find possible suitors for their sons.
He said it wasn’t common for women to work in those days and so they would frequent the hamam with friends, bring platters of food and stay the whole day.
He says during this time the mothers would watch the younger women. The way their bodies looked, the way they socialised with others.
Quite an overwhelming idea…
But, let it be social with friends, or something enjoyed in solitude, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam will only ever exceed expectations.
And while in Turkey – embrace, explore and relax.
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Kemankes Mah. Hamam Sok. No:1 34425 Tophane Karakoy, Istanbul, Turkiye
Telephone: +90 (212) 393 80 10
Have you read this then experienced Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam? Tell me about it below!
You may also enjoy reading ‘Dialogue in the Dark‘. Use only your ears and hands to navigate through the chaos of Istanbul in a simulated vision impaired experience. It is an experiment in awareness.