The charm and character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety and jumble of contradictions. Its fascinating history has bequeathed the city a vivid inheritance and one of Istanbul’s best well known delights is the Turkish baths (Hammam). This is the Turkish variant of a steam bath, sauna or Russian Bath. The original purpose of the Turkish bath was to purify oneself. It is strongly linked to the Islamic tradition of ablutions – a religious code for washing the hands, arms, face and feet with running water prior to praying.
The hammams in the Ottoman culture started out as structural elements serving as annexes to mosques. But they quickly evolved into stand alone institutions. And eventually with the works of the Ottoman architect Sinan, they were transformed into monumental structural complexes. One such fine example is the Cemberlitas Hammam in Istanbul, built in 1584. A masterpiece of the 16th-century Ottoman architecture, Cemberlitas is still a fully-functioning Turkish bath catering for both men and women, and a favourite amongst locals. It is a beautiful structure and each steam room is lit from the top by star-shaped holes in the domed roof. A typical Turkish Bath consists of three interconnected basic rooms : the hot room, the warm room which is the intermediate room and the cool room. The hot room usually has a large dome decorated with small glass windows that lets in light; it also contains a large marble stone at the center for lying on, and fountains in the corners. This room is for soaking up steam and getting scrub massages. The warm room is used for washing up with soap and water and the cool room is to relax, dress up and have a drink like tea.