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Turkish Hamams

By: Camille Hoheb
Posted: October 26, 2010, from the November 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Cemberlitas hamam spa

Cemberlitas Hamam features a large dome in the hararet and natural light streaming through glass pinpoints called elephant eyes.

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The warmth of the marble relaxed my muscles, and I felt transported to another time as I marveled at the large dome above and natural light streaming through glass pinpoints called elephant eyes. It was easy to understand why this is a popular treatment because it provides an escape from daily routines, work and life stresses. Called back to the present by my attendant and asked to sit on the edge of the belly stone, the spa professional administered vigorous strokes that sloughed away dead skin. A surprising amount of exfoliated skin was rinsed away, giving way to a fresh new layer. Next, I was led by my wrist to a faucet for a shampoo treatment and asked to sit.

I was then escorted to a small room housing two hot tubs. One was small and rectangular, built out of stone and outfitted with a sitting area, and the other was a more modern smaller pool with jets. Both enhanced relaxation. For my final treatment, I was directed upstairs to the third floor where I experienced a head-to-toe massage that included long strokes along the length of the front and back of my upper legs, followed with small, circular, energetic strokes. Knuckles were used to work out the knots in my shoulders and neck, and the head massage was incredible. I took note of the facial massage, and the trigger points used around the temples and sinus area. Acupressure was also applied to my feet and hands.

Cemberlitas was magnificent in its authenticity, its architectural grandeur and its services, and every ounce of my tension had disappeared into the humidity.

Galatasaray Hamam

My second hamam visit led me to a different part of Istanbul, requiring a taxi ride and journey into the more urban residential area called Beyoglu. As the taxi made its way down the narrow commercial street, straight ahead was the entrance to Galatasaray Hamam. I couldn’t help but notice graffiti on the wall and realized that this was going to be a different version of an authentic experience.

Built more than 500 years ago, the hamam is adjacent to a school that for many years was used primarily by the boarding students. The women’s hamam is located on the side of the building, and was an add-on to the original hamam in 1965 as a means of income to support the local school. Before 1965, the hamam space was shared by both women and men, but each had separate schedules.