When it comes to wellness, the Turks really know what they are doing. It’s an easy conclusion to come to once you take in your first hammam in one of Istanbul’s famed Turkish baths. It’s an all-encompassing bathing experience that includes heat, body scrubbing and foam soaping that’s been a part of the country’s culture for almost a thousand years—with those living between the Black Sea and the Aegean/Mediterranean Seas having always embraced the celebrated ritual.
In Istanbul, which straddles both Europe and Asia, the hammam has been a fixture of life since the city—then called Constantinople—was under Roman control. That was during the 3rd century, when the tradition of installing elaborate baths in homes began. Later, at the height of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the 1600s, historians estimate that there were well over 200 public hammams in Istanbul alone.
Today, Istanbul is still a center of healthy living, with many centuries-old, traditional public hammams dotting its neighborhoods, as well as gorgeous and luxurious newer ones located in some of the city’s world-class hotel spas. Add to these options the Richmond Nua Wellness Spa—a spectacular destination spa not far from the city—and the choices for visitors on a wellness journey to Turkey are slightly overwhelming.
The constant at every place offering a hammam ritual is that it is always done in a warm, marble room with plenty of marble sinks and water spigots. This has not much changed over the last millennium, propelling the idea that the Turks’ specific bathing system holds the secret to maintaining a healthy life, with its benefits ranging from boosting the immune system, reducing stress and detoxifying the body, to deeply cleansing and exfoliating the skin and improving its texture.
At public hammams, like the Sultanahmet Hammam (just blocks from the Hagia Sophia) or the Cemberlitas Hamami (near the Grand Bazaar), guests often perform much of the bathing ritual themselves, moving from the steam room to a heated marble space, where they will bathe using increasingly warm water. Then an attendant armed with a kese, a special natural-fiber glove designed to exfoliate the skin and increase its circulation, comes to give you a full-body scrub. Once that step is completed, the hammam continues as you lay on the marble slab while a foam bubble bath envelops your body. Finally, the attendant splashes you with ever-cooler buckets of water to complete the ritual, which is usually priced around 40 euros (approximately $43 USD).
For a more individual and luxurious hammam experience, the five-star spa at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus creates unforgettable and very private signature treatments known as “Hammam Moments.” Beginning with a visit to the sauna and steam room to soften the skin, a spa therapist leads you to one of the hotel’s three dimly lit marble Turkish bath treatment rooms. After lying on the heated marble slab in the center of the room, a feeling of womb-like serenity descends as you are doused with progressively warmer water.