I was looking forward to visiting the hammam in Istanbul. I did my research and found a really smart place, not far from where I was staying. The day before my appointment I went to a breakfast with some fellow bloggers, and that’s when I started to get cold feet. Horror stories of naked staff, naked clients and almost having skin shredded off….oh, my, was I nervous when I arrived for my appointment!
Any second thoughts I had disappeared the minute I walked in the door of the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami. A calm and serene atmosphere, and friendly reception in the ladies’ area quickly quelled any nerves. I’m escorted upstairs to a change room and given a woven cotton towel and plastic slippers to change into. Back downstairs it’s time to meet my therapist. Not a lot of English, but many kind smiles and reassuring hand pats put me at ease.
Into the bath area at last – how hot and humid it is! But how calm and cool looking the marble is. I’m instructed to take my towel and slippers off before I’m painted top to toe with my clay mask. Once I’m painted I get left alone to sit and contemplate my surroundings. Yes, there are other naked women sitting around the hammam, at various stages of their treatments, but really there’s nothing to see – everyone is either covered in suds, sitting behind marble dividers, or being protectively tended by their therapist.
Once my mask has done its magic, the worst of it is washed off with hot and then cold water, before I’m taken into a non-heated bathing area for a thorough wash. Then back into the main treatment room where my hair is washed with the most gorgeous jasmine scented shampoo, then conditioned. My hair is wrapped in a luxurious, pure white towel so the exfoliation can commence. My therapist starts as the top of my forehead, and works systematically downwards to the bottom of my toes. She’s so careful I feel like a child being lovingly tended by its mother – no shredding of skin here!
Finally, it’s time to hit the marble platform for a thorough wash. Delicious lemon scented suds wash over me, and I gaze up at the star windows in the ceiling. I’m calm, rested and at peace……
All too soon we’re finished. I’m swaddled in towels to sit and rest with a pomegranate juice drink while my therapist changes. Upstairs for a vigorously oil massage and my hammam experience is finished.
So, what are my impressions? Personally, I loved visiting the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami. To me, it was like a really exotic spa. The hammam was built in 1556 for the Sultan’s wife but fortunately it’s now a luxury open to all of us (there is a separate men’s hammam at the other end of the building). A visit to an hammam is an opportunity to take a break from the bustle of Istanbul. It is a tactile and restful experience – with no cameras, no guide books and no crowds, it forces you to relax, to rest, and to be in the moment, far away from the stimulation overload that is Istanbul.
Speakimg to Ozlem Emem, Sales and Marketing Manager, after my treatment, we discuss how I felt after my first hammam experience. She’s pleased when I tell her how relaxing it was, and how I enjoyed just “being”. Ozlem sums up a visit to Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami beautifully:
In the hammam is where we feel closer to God
Author’s note: I received a discount when visiting Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami. This in no way alters my view of the hammam. It is a genuinely wonderful experience that I thoroughly recommend. Don’t hesitate to explore a hammam in Istanbul.