Some Like It Hot!

LIDYA DURMAZGULER

Do you like ceremonies? Especially those healing ceremonies made with hot water for purification and holistic cleansing. If you are interested in such things, now I would like to tell you about a ceremonial culture that has survived in Turkish culture for hundreds of years and still exists in the present day.

Yes! I'm talking about the Turkish Bath tradition.

The origin of this bathing culture dates back to the Roman and Byzantine Empire periods, even before the Ottoman Empire. It is a purification ceremony starting with soap and hot water. As in every culture, the method has its unique elements and for sure has many special tricks while being applied. This is perhaps one of the best examples of holistic purification methods. The underlying purpose of the method is to purify both the body and soul equally and prepare it for healing as a whole.

Water-based body therapies have a long history in many civilizations and are profoundly ingrained in the Ottoman culture. The bath culture, which emerged as a result of the cleaning feature of water, has been an experience experienced by every civilization from ancient times to the present. The priority given to "beauty, health and prayer" demonstrates the purifying effect of water proven in many civilizations.

From Sociocultural Perspective

The history of the bath goes back to the Ancient Romans. Excavations in the city of Pompeii, which was under the ashes after the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano, revealed the baths used by the Romans. It is understood that these baths were built not only for cleaning but also for pleasure and entertainment. 

Because of the growth of bath culture in Syria, which was influenced by Ancient Romans and Byzantine civilizations, Muslim communities were able to swiftly adapt these bathing locations to their own culture. The history of bath culture, as a continuous link in the evolutionary chain, and above all, on the love and culture of water, that springs from the ground. In Islamic culture, not the stagnant water but the flowing water is permissible. Thus, water from the basins was favoured for washing in the baths. In the historical sphere, rivers and water resources have been regarded as sacred. As flowing waterways, they are recognized as locations of cleansing in the body, soul, and spiritual sense in the Mesopotamian Region. 

The qualities ascribed to bathing thanks to its cleansing and purifying functions provided chances for individuals to share a feeling of equality, togetherness, and belonging. The bathhouse, as a magical environment, produces a metaphor of a location where bodies seem lovely within introverted walls and are singularly attractive. At the same time, it establishes an area of equality via the body, in a similarity that no uniform can provide. The fact that the baths offer a long-term and cleaner bathing opportunity and the entertaining social atmosphere in this place ensured the continuation of the bath culture for many years.

From Historical Perspective

The bath culture has been among the most important creations of the Anatolian civilization and dates back to six thousand years in historical memory. It was mostly referred as "Turkish bath" or "hammam" in the Anatolian geography during the Ottoman times. For this reason, hammam is one of the first things that come to mind when tourists come to Turkey. The bath tradition attracts a lot of attention from westerners. Even so that at the end of the 17th century, the Turkish bath fashion emerged in various European cities. 

The Role of a Turkish Bath

Turkish Baths or hammams are public gathering places for Turkish people. The fact that role of hundreds of baths in Istanbul cannot be denied in the transfer of bathing and water culture to the Turkish society.  

The baths in Istanbul are divided into two as palace baths and public baths. Among the palace baths, the most famous baths are the ‘Hünkar Hamamı' and 'Valide Sultan Hamamı’, which were built by a well-known great architect Mimar Sinan and located inside of the Topkapı Palace. Public baths, on the other hand, are local baths that could be found in large numbers among the districts. Turkish people prefer to go to these nearby hammams at regular intervals.  

The rituals and traditions created by cultures around the act of washing may differ. Contrary to the Roman tradition for instance, the act of bathing in Turkish culture has become a routine habit in daily life. However, if you go to Turkey today, you won't find a newly built hammam in Istanbul (except inside the new hotels). The last hammams in the city were built in the 18th century.

Next article: The Must-Haves of a Turkish Bath

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