The renowned Cagaloglu Hamam is said to have soothed the nerves of everyone from Florence Nightingale to Cameron Diaz. The Hamam was built in 1741 by Sultan Mahmut I; nowadays, a massage at Cagaloglu remains the wonderful antidote to the stress of city life, for locals and visitors alike, conducted by professional masseuse for almost 300 years.
Hamams became an integral part of Ottoman culture for religious reasons. According to the Holy Quran, washing and ablution is not only an significant but also an indispensable part of religious practice. The marble buildings that house the Hamams helped create a social atmosphere. Enjoying the companionship of friends and making business contacts were as significant reasons for the popularity of Hamams as the religious significance.
There are distinct bathing areas for men and women, and you can also choose to cleanse yourself as opposed to being treated by one of the attendants—but most visitors will not want to miss the Complete Oriental Luxury Service. After an self-indulgent hour and a half in the marble hararet (steam room) you will be revitalized and left glowing like a firefly. Even gazing around the hararet is soothing: rays of light cascade down through star-shaped windows in the domed roof as you welter in the steam on the cooling marble benches.
Once you have worked up a sweat, a masseur or a masseuse (depending on your sex) leads you to the octagonal marble plinth in the center of the hararet. It is time for a full body exfoliation, cleanse, and shampoo and, for the fantastic finale, a delectably bubbly massage, sometimes calming and tickling, sometimes forceful and pummeling, all in the midst of lovely graceful arches and distinctive columns. By the end, you will feel as flaccid as a rag doll. Take the occasion to nod off back in your private cabin or enjoy a glass of apple tea in the outdoor courtyard before returning to routine.
Hamams were the only places where Ottoman women could socialize in their constrained lives outside the closed doors of their homes. Most of the women dropped by the Hamam in their locality once a month. This ritualistic preparation was necessary as not just a few hours, but habitually they would spend an entire day at the Hamam.