Aga Hamami - Turkish Hammam

A Review in Things to do - 19/12/2022

1100 Turkish Lira (around £50) per person
Aga Hamami
Beyoğlu, İstanbul, Turkey

Situated in the hyper-bohemian Cihangir area of Istanbul where the street cats and dogs roam about as if they rule the place is the oldest Turkish hammam in the city (and I'm assuming because of that, the universe). Now, I had no idea what a hammam was nor did I know the difference between a Turkish bath, a Roman bath, a B&Q bath, the city of Bath, et Cetera. My levels of interest and curiosity we almost at an all-time high.

Through an old single-human-wide door, down a narrow stair set sat the lobby to the Aga Hamami which was not unlike an old hotel lobby; glued together with marble-effect stone slabs, a dribbling central fountain, rich wood panelling, and chairs and mirrors adorned with gold paint. Above us, two more floors bordering the edge of the building leading to a lovely skylight - very Spirited Away in its weird bathhouse style. We were told to sit in the waiting area where a stray cat slept (you'll find stray cats in every single shop/restaurant/room in Istanbul. It is simply glorious) and was soon joined by other tourists filling out the same timeslot. This was clearly everyone's first time as we all perched there like we were waiting for our number to be called up to be taken out back and executed; the air was filled with a suffocating sense of dread and unknowing. My personal reasoning for worry came from a question I had asked my partner earlier on in the day as she knows way more about anything than I ever will, but even she wasn't able to cement an answer and kill my worries in the cot.

So I sat there looking at this sleeping cat and thought, I know what sleeping animals that have a strong sense of self-preservation enjoy, and that is to be woken up by ruffling their exposed underbelly. Oddly, I didn't get shredded to death as the small guy liked it. Until it didn't. It rapidly turned on a dime to turn my fingers into bloody ribbons after 10 seconds. 
Eventually, my other half and I were instructed to change into gowns provided in a single changing room. I thought it awkward if you were there on a first date or with a bunch of work colleagues as there wasn't enough room to swing a cat, and by this point glancing down at my scratched-up fingers, boy did I really want to swing a particular cat about.

Stage 1

We exited the changing room of flying elbows and were led into the depths of the attraction. On the way there, I saw a young boy in one of the rooms before the sweaty door we were being led towards. Above him was a man furiously cleaning the boy's back something akin to an angry gorilla cleaning a red wine stain from a cream carpet. Both were covered in soap suds and the man was seemly crushing the kid into a stone bed on which he was laying face down. The unfiltered happiness coming from the boy's face was like something from a comic book. I've never seen such glee, and sadly, I may never again.
I finally caught up to our guide and entered through the awaiting door into an octagonal steam room with the newly-formed idea of the levels of happiness I'm soon to reach. On each wall was a pair of taps aiming their watery contents into a stone basin where metal scoops were set about for you to soak yourself, and in the middle of the room was a giant heated stone slab for you to lay on and burn. We were soon joined by the rest of the groups, each taking camp by a tap, and skittishly awaiting their fate.
I had poured cold water all over myself like the final act of a man lost to madness and slid on the hot slab to await my destiny. I lay there, half on and half off staring at the domed ceiling watching the steam being piped in from various stone vents thinking if my enemies wanted me dead, this is how they'd do it, and seeing if I could hold my breath in the now-imagined poison gas being pumped in before I could get rescued by a member of staff. That lasted 4 seconds before my breath escaped carrying the words, 'it's fucking hot', and retreating back to the cold water tap. A few others decided to brave the stone slab from Hades as I re-slid my way on it to burn more multiple layers of my skin right off and after a while of enjoying the heat treatment, my other half and I were requested to the next phase.

Stage 2

Just outside the steam zone were a few stone-clad rooms with stone beds fixed on the walls and a stone sink with various buckets and hoses within - the same soapy dungeon I saw the boy get pasted into the rock in. My other half went off to another room for the same experience so I was told to sit on the wet stone bed and just wait. My mind wandered to what types of exotic ointments, soaps, and spices I'd be lathered in but the heady visions of smelling like an Ottoman lord came to a halt when I saw a bottle of Palmolive shampoo in the corner. Not long after, the same gorilla-built man I saw came in, grabbed some blue basketball shorts from a bucket underneath me, and stripped off and into them. At this point, I didn't know if he worked there. All the other staff were in branded uniforms, and suddenly I get this big topless dude in shorts telling me to pour water all over myself and stood there watching as he then instructed me to use the Palmolive and wash my hair. For fear of having my brittle neck snapped, I did just that. All my ideas of being 'the toughest bastard in any prison' if I were ever to get incarcerated flew right out of the atmosphere as I did exactly what I was ordered without a shred of hesitation. Then the big man told me to lay face down on the slab then slipped onto his meaty hand something that resembled a coarse oven mitt and without any oils or soap proceeded to violently scour the skin from my bones sans remorse for my fragile frame.
As the layers of my skin vanished the rough glove soon lost all of its biting power and ended up feeling like someone rubbing a wet piece of leather on me. I'm assuming that it ran out of power or whatever instead of the very real reason that my dead and dirty skin smoothed over the roughness right away. Oddly, my other half was gifted her scrub glove as a souvenir after the hammam wherein it look untouched by anything - I never even got to see mine.

After the initial scrub, cold water was thrown on me which felt amazingly renewing - possibly the only time I've enjoyed having cold water thrown on me without warning - It felt as if electricity rippled through my now-raw skin around my body. Following another short order to lay face down on the rough stone slab, I heard the distinctive click of the Palmolive bottle opening and whilst having to protect my precious face against the rough stone with my equally uncomfortable hands, I was suddenly engulfed in a wave of pharmacy store-brought foam being slapped into me by the giant man that loomed above. He continued to wildly rip the remaining flesh from the back of my body while I lay there feeling concerned about being snapped into a bag of broken bones. Every now and then he'd simply move and slide me around the stone as if I were a TV remote being pushed about a coffee table.
I kept feeling the man's huge belly rubbing against me any time he leaned over during the scouring of the skin. I had to soon pretend the contact was from a nice and lovely dolphin because the more he leaned over, the more I became a soapy stomach shelf, which was rather weird. A final foamy order to lay on my back and the pattern was repeated; vigorous scrubbing of my dead and living skin on my arms, torso, and legs before he got me to lay on my front again. Any time I wasn't in position, he'd grab me and pull me closer to the edge of the table, scraping the remains of my body about the stone as he did. The slab felt much colder now my raw skin had awakened but I was now looking like a cloud giving birth to a human adult and shitting myself that I was going to be slid off and onto the hard floor where I'd no doubt die right away for unlike him, I have no padding around me whatsoever. Wrapped around in a comical amount of soapy suds and foamy shampoo, the man soaked and wrung out a towel and moved on to the next part.

Now I couldn't see what went on but it must've been something mystical. Short bursts of warm air from a sharply wafted hot towel blew the peaks of the foam mountains into small avalanches, sticking and unsticking its way across my skin as it finally flew away. Having gone from bracing up for the previous few minutes to this was such a bizarre but immediately relaxing sensation. I felt as if I had a warm cloud slam-dunked on me as once all the foam had been blown away, I was born anew.

Feeling like 1,000,000 Turkish Lira, I was roughly wrapped in several towels like a clean burrito and told to head upstairs to the next level.

Stage 3

Waddling up the old stairs to the next floor I took in the architecture and design of the walls, ceiling, and the beautiful stair set. Halfway up was a windowsill with various antiques, flowers, and the edge of a book presented on an old wooden stand that hadn't quite come into view. My interest was kindled by what book was deliberately on show;  maybe it was the history of the Aga Hamami or the chronicle of Turkish baths itself? No. It was Sharon Osbourne's autobiography. I certainly wasn't expecting that.

The next floor opened out and wrapped around the lobby below mezzanine style. Towards the right-hand side and back were a bunch of wicker loungers replete with cushions. I quickly squirrelled my way over to one and waited for my other half to finish her foam experience. Not sure whether to sit my soaking-wet-ass body down on the seats, I took heed of those around me and hesitantly sat on the chair, getting the non-waterproof fabric gross with soapy wetness. A group beside me were taking turns snapping pictures for Instagram with horrendously fake laughing pictures by the balcony with an ornate chandelier in frame, watching as each picture ended with their face dropping from 'happy smiles!' to a stone-cold dead expression whilst they feverishly swiped, pinched, and zoomed into their pictures as the next clone in their group rolled up and did the same routine. Thankfully I was soon reunited with my better half and we swapped tales from the front line. It turns out she had her hair washed by the lady soaping her up (I had to wash my own while my guy stared at me as if he was going to punch my face through the wall) but we both agreed on the wet towel and foam wind being an almost paradisiacal and spiritual encounter.

I was summoned by a new guy up the narrow stairs for the final stage and into a massage room that doubled as storage for cardboard boxes of crap strewn about the place. Ready for a rub-down to fully complete my journey from a dirty little monkey to a clean and refreshed young man, I clambered onto the massage table careful to not show my balls through any gaps in my towel, and rested my face into the corresponding face hole. A face hole that might just as well have been a wooden toilet seat. No padding, nothing. The masseur spent a few minutes finding some massage-appropriate music and began his quite frankly shit massage. It was like the massage of a man forced into the act - none of it had any meaning to it. Also, the constant sniffing of his didn't help me zone into the zen-like realm I was hoping for. Another member of staff poked his head around the door a few minutes in and just stayed there talking in hushed tones about something with every other word being spaced with a cough. I was finally done and left the broom cupboard with a race-track oval imprinted on my face from the sawn-out hole in the table I was just on and went all the way down to the lobby.

My time at the Aga Hamami hammam was a reanimating experience I haven't had quite like it before. Although similar to the weird and wonderful sauna/massage places I visited all over China the Aga Hamami was steeped in its own cultural charms and practices. And a book about Sharon Osbourne.


Skin-reddingly clean

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