Baths

The washing facilities at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul's Old City

The washing facilities at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul’s Old City

Why didn’t anyone tell me about Turkish baths?

The first step is to completely undress, put all of your clothes and valuables into a locker and don only what looks like a sarong and a pair of plastic slippers. Then the attendant shows you into the bath room and walks away, closing the door behind him. The air is dense and humid and the room is clad completely in white marble. There’s a hexagonal slab in the centre about the height of a man’s knee and several metres in diameter. Around the walls of the room there are a series of knee-high sinks, complete with hot and cold taps and ample space either side for a person to sit. If you’re lucky, you’re totally alone. The only sound ringing through the heavy space is a drip somewhere in the system. Your first job is to sit against the wall and drench yourself with the pail that sits in each sink. The sarong stays on – it’s meant to get wet. They leave you for a little longer than you need, necessitating some quiet meditation. Just as you start to wonder if they’ve forgotten about you, a man with a big moustache walks in clad in a smile and a similar sarong, carrying a heavy mit. He orders you to lie face down on the marble slab. Then he begins to rub your exposed skin with his mit. It’s like a giant cat’s tongue, and the dead grey skin falls away with each scrub. You turn over and he scrubs your chest and stomach. You’re not sure whether to close your eyes or leave them open staring at him as he goes about his work.

Then stage 2 begins. He places at your feet a bucket of warm water and in his other hand he holds a bag with a weight in the bottom. He dunks the bag in the bucket and it emerges enormous like a fabric balloon. He dangles it over you and squeezes it from the top with his other hand. A cloud of milk white suds billows from the bag and lands on your body, condensing as a thick film of soap. He does this several times, after each time rubbing the soap in and massaging your muscles. He goes between your fingers, between your toes, and then you turn over and he soaps and pushes the knots out of your back in the same way.
Finally, he orders you back to the seat next to the sink, and there he washes your hair, throws your neck around and douses you with waves of hot, then warm, then steadily cooler water. With the last rinse he leaves you, the echo of the drips still ringing through the empty room.

The man returns through the humidity holding out a dry towel and dry sarong. You drape the towel over your shoulders, replace the sarong, and follow him out of the room. The bath door closes with a thud and you’re back in reality. You return to your locker, dry yourself, dress yourself and replace the slippers with your shoes.

Outsourcing your own hygiene. It’s brilliant. I did this twice in my first 3 days here, and both times out of necessity – the first was after a 10 hour flight while my Sultanahmet hotel room was unavailable and the second simply to avoid showering in the horrid facilities of the Cihangir apartment I was renting. The first bathhouse was 500 years old and eye-wateringly expensive, while the second was from the 80s and unfeasibly cheap.

(there are no photos of the baths. Mainly because I was worried about the humidity doing things to my lenses. But also because it’s an odd thing to request)

A kid stood still for me in front of the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia)

A kid stood still for me in front of the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia)

Crowds entering the Blue Mosque for taraweeh prayers

Crowds entering the Blue Mosque for taraweeh prayers

 

Ramadan sweets for sale on the Hippodrome in Istanbul's old city

Ramadan sweets for sale on the Hippodrome in Istanbul’s old city

 

The old city as seen from the Kadikoy Ferry on the Bosphorus. L-R The Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya

The old city as seen from the Kadikoy Ferry on the Bosphorus. L-R The Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya

 

The interior of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque), complete with Australian cruise ship tourists' heads at the bottom of your picture

The interior of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque), complete with Australian cruise ship tourists’ heads at the bottom of your picture

 

Cheese scrolls for breakfast made by an Armenian woman: a real rarity (not the cheese scrolls)

Cheese scrolls for breakfast made by an Armenian woman: a real rarity (not the cheese scrolls)

 

The streets of Kadikoy, from where I am posting this (sounds of street gypsy band and dancing not included)

The streets of Kadikoy, from where I am posting this (sounds of street gypsy band and dancing not included)

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Baths

  1. Tony

    This is great, ke them coming Rob!!

  2. judith barge

    The photographer is very talented as well as a gifted storyteller.

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