Written by Diana Darke
Copper bowls in a traditional Turkish bath © Pashin Georgiy, Shutterstock
It helps if you have an idea beforehand of what the ritual is. First of all, take with you a change of underwear as you should keep your genital area covered at all times, and your own soap and shampoo. Payment is always up front at the start, according to what level of bath you want, for example just use of the bath facilities on your own or full wash and massage from an attendant as well. There is no time limit and the average period to allow is at least an hour, preferably two if you are having the massage and want a full relaxing experience.
The bath attendant gives you a pestemal (thin cotton sarong) and shows you to a changing cubicle in the camekan (changing room). Architecturally this is often the most beautiful part of the bath-house, with a domed ceiling. You emerge from the changing cubicle (having locked up your valuables) wearing only your pestemal and raised wooden clogs (nalins), clip-clopping on the marble floor to enter the soğukluk (cold room) where you adjust to the heat. After a few minutes you then pass through a wooden door into the sıcaklık (hot room), usually a square room with four arched side spaces and cubicles with marble basins at the corners. You are left here to adjust to the heat, pouring hot water over yourself, until the attendant calls you over to the central marble slab (göbektaşı) located directly above the wood or coal furnace, and begins to scrub you all over with the kese, a coarse mitten worn over the hand like a glove, made of plant or goat hair fibres. After this you are soaped and shampooed by the attendant till you are in a frothy lather all over, then rinsed off with more basins of hot water. Then the massage begins, starting at the neck and working all the way down the spine and to the feet, and you are asked to roll over from your front to your back for more of the same.
The process finishes with another thorough soaping from head to toe, then a final rinse. You can stay as long as you like in the sıcaklık, and when you are ready, re-enter the soğukluk and the camekan where you are then given fresh towels, and can sit and rest, dry off, drink tea, coffee or refreshments and socialise with other bathers. When you finally get dressed and head back out into the outside world, your skin will feel glowing and wonderfully clean, having shed many layers of dead skin. A word of caution – avoid having a Turkish bath if you are a woman menstruating or if you have sunburn.