Bathing in Istanbul: Hamam and steam

This warm marble is a forgiving resting place for a tired body with heavy limbs.

Cemberlitas Hamami bathhouse has been restoring weary pilgrims, travellers and locals for over 400 years. How many women have lain on this marble slab before me?

The steam, the heat of the stone and my own sweat enable neglected muscles to melt as I doze.   The mind clears as the eyes gaze hazily up through the steam to the vaulted roof, perforated to the sky.

My foot is tapped. It’s my turn to be scrubbed.

The jovial and ruthlessly efficient bath attendant gets to work – sluicing water over me, and scrubbing me down with coarse linen. I am the most docile creature in the world, and entirely obedient to this slightly maternal lady who stands beside the marble slab in her knickers, and washes me. I’m sat up, in a cloak of soap bubbles, and I realise how tight my shoulders are as the attendant starts kneading.

The experience is both intimate and anonymous. We have no common language, and here we both are, sweating, covered in soap as I am being bathed. This is an ancient and comforting practice.

Lead to an alcove, I sit at the feet of the attendant, who washes my hair. The hair washing involves copious water scooped from a marble trough with an ornate metal bowl and poured over my head and body.

Scrubbing complete, I’m left to lie on the slab as other women are bathed.

I’m a fat, happy, blue-tongue lizard who has found the first rays of sunlight hitting a rock on a winter’s morning. Not quite able to move, lest the magic of the heat desert me. My mind is pleasantly foggy, and I wonder what prompted me to think of a lizard. Ah yes, because of the hypnotic power of this heat.

I stay on the stone for at least an hour, wet, sweaty, placid and entirely content



Pictures taken from here