Leave your worries behind, step into the traditional, heavenly hammam

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Leave your worries behind, step into the traditional, heavenly hammam
Traditional Turkish Bath or Hammam, Istanbul, Turkey

For a squeaky clean feeling go in for a traditional Turkish bath or hammam - it will cleanse both the body and mind, and will make you feel like royalty

By Deepa Narwani

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Published: Fri 16 Jun 2017, 8:42 PM

Last updated: Fri 16 Jun 2017, 10:53 PM

Before the advent of plumbing, the hammam or public bathhouses were vital social institutions in Turkey. Taking a bath in a hammam is a key part of the Turkish culture that has been cherished for centuries and over the years the Turks have perfected the art of relaxation. A carry-over from the Roman social bathhouse, public hammams have played an integral role in the social fabric of everyday life in Turkey since the 1300s, and were the hotspots (literally!) for people to get together to discuss events and catch up on gossip with friends and family, until their skin would glow. Back in the day, women would relax, socialise and even look for suitable brides for their sons at the hammam!
These bathhouses are still a major part of Turkish culture, a spa of sorts for both cleansing and relaxing. It typically features a large, heated marble slab in the centre of the room, with ornate taps and basins.
The Turkish bath is based on water rather than on steam, as compared to the Moroccan bath, and is especially relaxing because of the direct heat used on the body. It offers a soft and relaxing heat, unlike the intensity of a sauna and incorporates many massage techniques that help relieve stress and muscle tension by increasing the blood circulation.
The experience starts with relaxing in a room that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, you can retire to the cooling room for a period of rejuvenation and sip on fragrant tea. The traditional hammams also have a large dome decorated with small glass windows and it contains a large marble stone called göbek tasi at the centre that people can lie on. Fountains in the corners of the hammam reflect the designs of the Ottoman era.
Every Turkish town still has at least one hammam and most of them are simple and functional, but the ones built by the sultans of the time are beautiful works of Ottoman architecture and are made of fine marble with opulent decoration.
These days, you don't even have to step out of your hotel to get a hammam treatment, as most resorts offer the experience in-house. In the hotels, to begin with, you will usually be led to a large, octagonal-shaped, marble room with a high domed ceiling, with marble basins and luxurious gold taps.
As you are seated, clouds of steam swirl about, and you can unwind in the heat. An attendant scrubs you down from head to toe with an exfoliating mitt until your skin is soft and smooth. Then huge clouds of tiny soap bubbles cover you after which you are massaged with soapy foam. The unique experience will surely leave you feeling light in body and spirit.
Dubai seems to be becoming home to this symbol of Ottoman and Turkish culture and Turkish hammams can be found all across the city. The spa at Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort (045678888) has a traditional Turkish hammam where you will be surrounded by heated marble, and can enjoy a scrub before relaxing and cleansing your body in a foam bath. It's a great place to head with friends for that much-needed catch up session. Whereas at the Talise Ottoman Spa (044530456) at the Jumeriah Zabeel Saray, you will lie down on the central stone and the treatment starts with a hot water rinse followed by a brisk scrub and a calming soapy massage. For a more private experience, head to Turkuaz House (043808703) located on Al Wasl Road that has small marble hammams, where the treatment starts with a 15-minute steam, and then you are scrubbed with a mitt and massaged with a Turkish soap, followed by an oil massage.
As an exercise in nostalgia and for a much-needed pampering session, it's well worth visiting a Turkish hammam. Its traditionally vigorous scrub should be tried at least once and is a great way to get rid of dead skin during the hot, sticky summer.
Deepa is a proud geek and an unabashed Harry Potter fan

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