When I decided to travel to Turkey, Istanbul there were a number of things I wanted to see and do; The Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and a Bosphorous Cruse are just a few. The first of these experiences for me was a Turkish Bath.
The Turkish Baths come from a combination of multiple cultures, including Roman and Anatolian. Muslims also must clean themselves before daily prayers, which are one of the 5 pillars of Islam. Therefore, these bathing traditions fit seamlessly into Islamic culture as well.
After stumbling through some narrow alleys, my travel buddy Jackson and I found a recommended bathhouse and descended down the steps. We entered a large room with a marble floor and wooden changing rooms. There, a man gave us a choice of packages. Jackson decided on the budget self-service package, but as a man comfortable with his sexuality I decided on both a serviced wash and oil massage. We were given keys to an individual changing room, where we left our clothes and put on our approved thongs and towel (read: tea towel).
We went to the entrance of the Turkish bath and were met by a large, hairy, Turkish attendant, also wearing just a tea towel, who appeared to be suffering from a kebab-induced food pregnancy. We followed him into the steamy marble grotto, which centered around a marble bench with basins on the wings for washing and doors that led to a steam room and sauna. The room was decorated with an assortment of Turkish men of all shapes and sizes, all washing themselves and in their own towels and thongs.
He pointed to the sauna and commanded us to “Go! Sweat! Make clean!”. We followed his instructions and after fifteen minutes, a smaller, leaner attendant took me to one of the basins. There, he began to scrub me with a black hessian object, mixing it up with intermittent saturations of soap and unexpected buckets of water.
Now clean, he led me to the central and very visible marble bench where a towel had been placed. I laid face up and my attendant untucked my towel and folded it into an indecently small triangle to cover my genitals. He then continued the wash and massage that could best be described as a rough but somewhat pleasant tour of all the pressure points in my body. He then rolled me over onto my stomach, quickly moving the towel as he did in order to keep my dignity intact. The finale to what was quickly becoming torture was a back-crack, which involved the attendant grabbing the skin on my spine between his knuckles and twisting and pushing down.
Hallelujah! I had survived without vocalising my pain, bruised but richer for the experience. I thanked the attendant, who replied: “Now oil massage”. Crap. I was led to a more private marble bench with yet another towel for yet another painful rub down. Again, I lay down, realising I did not know my attendant’s name. Should I ask him? Is this an anonymous thing? Should I give him my name first and see if he gives me his? I stopped caring when the pain started again, this time with the addition of oil and a harsh line of questioning. He would alternate between “Good massage?” and “Massage good?”, and I’d answer with a quick “Yep” whilst trying not cry as he jammed his stubby fingers into my back.
But before I knew it, my back was slapped and my Turkish bath experience was over. In an odd painful way it was still enjoyable and, if you’re ever in Istanbul, I’d recommend it. I would give it 3.5 hairy Turkish men out of 5.