Ask Mehmet - What's a Turkish bath?

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Host Nation Advisor
Ask Mehmet is a forum for people to ask questions of the local area, as well as the outer confines of the region and the country as a whole. To submit a question, send an e-mail with the subject "Ask Mehmet" to Then, look for an answer to the question on the 39th Air Base Wing's official website at and Incirlik Air Base's Facebook page.

Mehmet, I have heard so many things about Turkish baths. Could you tell us about Turkish baths?

Turkish baths, or hamam, have played an important part in Turkish culture for many centuries. The Turkish baths of the past were a place for socializing as well as washing.

Today everyone should visit the hamam at least once a month in addition to having normal baths and showers at home. With the availability of modern washing facilities in the home, the hamam has lost its importance. However, there is nothing like a regular visit to the hamam for one to find rejuvenation.

Everyone should experience a Turkish bath, or hamam, before leaving Turkey.

Hundreds of Turkish baths were built and restored by Seljuk and Ottoman Turks to serve their communities. Hamams have become part of the culture partly because Islam demands good personal hygiene and because a Turkish bath makes people relaxed and happy. Going to a hamam after a busy, hard, stressful, exhausting day at work can make you feel very relaxed.

A typical Turkish bath has three sections. The entrance is a big hall with or without small cabins by the walls with hooks to hang your clothing. This section could be considered as the dressing-undressing section and place to relax after washing.

As soon as you enter, you'll be welcomed by the attendant of the bath and led to a place to undress. You'll notice that the floor of the dressing area is covered with special clothes so you don't have to step on the bare floor. Then, you'll be handed a special cloth to wrap around your waist and plastic slippers to walk in. Fomerly, wooden clogs were to be used. Wooden clogs are not affected by the water and and don't slip on the wet marble floors. Some hamams still use wooden clogs. If you did not bring your soap or shampoo, you can buy them from the attendant, but I highly recommend to take your own soap and towels with you.

You will be asked to get all your valuables together and lock them in a box. That way you will feel comfortable about your belongings while you are bathing.

The second section of the hamam is warmer than the dressing section, but cooler than the third (inner) section--the main bathing section. In the second section you may stop a while until your body gets acclimated to the heat or go to the main section directly. You may come back from the main section if you want to be in a cooler place.

The main bathing room is also a big hall with a high dome. There is a single lamp in the middle hanging from the top of the dome and tiny glass windows let daylight in. The floors and walls are covered with marble. Cold and hot water flows into marble basins alongside the walls--that's where you bathe. You won't see showers hoses in a Turkish bath. There are also several compartments where you can bathe privately.

Another thing you will notice immediately in the main hall is the white, flat marble block under the dome in the middle of the room. It is heated by a furnace underneath and traditionally, people lie there to relax their muscles. Before starting to wash you can sit on the marble block and sweat for a while.

The hamam is naturally heated by the heat of the marble block and the steam of the water used in the hamam. Marble retains heat very well.

In any hamam, you can ask to be scrubbed by an attendant. The attendant will ask you to sweat first by sitting or lying on the marble block. Then he/she scrubs your skin with a specially woven cloth mitten called a kese. You might be shocked how much dirt and dead skin you carry. The attendant rolls the dirt by your shoulders to show how skillful he/she is in scrubbing (and how he/she deserves a good tip).

After scrubbing you wash yourself by the marble basins or the private sections, bowls are provided to scoop up water from the basin and pour over yourself.

The bowls used to be all metal, but now, unfortunately, they're replaced by plastic bowls. I say unfortunately, because metal bowls were part of the hamam culture. When we needed assistance from the attendant, we would slap the metal bowl on the marble basin to hasten them. Turkish baths have great acoustics, so the noise wasn't annoying. It's not the same with plastic bowls.

You keep the special cloth given to you around your waist while getting scrubbed and washing yourself. After bathing you cannot use that cloth anymore. Therefore, slap the bowl on the marble basin. That is a message to the attendant to bring you a new dry cloth. You wrap yourself with that new, dry cloth and leave the main hall. If you want you can rest for a while in the second section of the bath before going to the dressing room.

At the dressing room, you don't get dressed right away. The attendant will spread a cloth on the ground by the wall. You can put your towels on and sit on the floor. You relax for a while. During that time you can ask the attendant to bring you a drink; tea, water, soda, orange juice or mineral water. When you feel it's time, you get dressed and pay the bill as you leave the hamam. The scrubber and and attendants will be around to be tipped.

It used to be customary to take a bride to a hamam a few days prior the wedding. The women of the bride's and groom's families all went together. They'd bathe, sing, dance and talk. When families arranged marriages, it was common for mothers to select their future daughter-in-laws from among the beauties frequenting the hamam. Again as a custom, the groom used to be taken to the hamam by his friends and family on the morning of the wedding.

The three old Turkish baths in Adana are: The Mestan Hamami by the small clock, which is open for men all day. The Carsi Hamami by the Big Clock, is open for women between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and for men from 5 a.m.-8 a.m and 5 p.m.-11 p.m. and. The third one is Irmak Hamami , again in old Adana after passing the Big Clock Square behind the police station at the end of the street. It has the same schedule as Carsi Hamami. These three hamams are between 300 to 500 years old.
The cost of taking a bath, including a scrub, cold or hot beverages and tip is maximum $10.