October 17, 2011

Kasimpaşa, Istanbul. June, 2007

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the Büyük Hamam (“Big Bathhouse”) was wonderful inside. Possessing some remarkable marble architecture throughout its variously temperatured rooms (cool, tepid, hot), this Turkish bath was the last of four I tried during my first visit to Istanbul. By the time I got there I was a pro, having started out at the much-touristed (designed by Sinan, the architect of Blue Mosque fame) and relatively luxurious Çemberlitaş Hamami (a $40 scrub and massage and their signature sudsy finale with a soapy Turkish towel -- natch! -- squeezed over your head so the bubbles come cascading down all over you.) A somewhat run-down and unmemorable Ağa Hamami was next, near a neighborhood favored by transvestite prostitutes. Whatever. The third, Sokullu Hamami, another Sinan wonder in the pre-Istanbul capital of Edirne out in western Turkey near the Greek and Bulgarian borders. (This one was low-key and terrific; the masseur was enthusiastic and I had the feeling that this was what the real hamam experience for Turks was all about. Cups and cups of warm water poured over me at the finish.) And finally the Büyük Hamam, the son of whose owners I had met through my research on YouTube. It was a great, friendly, family-run place, filled with locals young and old, not a tourist in sight in this part of town. They welcomed me warmly, even gave me a towel with their name on it when I left. Middle Eastern hospitality.

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