Istanbul Baths: The Turkish Art Of Relaxation
Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami – The Ukrainian-born wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Roxelana (or “Hiirrem Sultan”) wielded unprecedented power and influence in her day. First a slave, then a favourite concubine, Roxelana charmed Suleiman into marrying her-almost unheard of for a sultan. She advised him on political issues during the Ottoman Empire’s reign and bore him five children. So when designing a hammam for his master’s wife, court architect Mimar Sinan didn’t dare create anything less than spectacular. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami is certainly extraordinary. It crowns the skyline midway between Istanbul’s most illustrious sights, the Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque. The impressive 16th-century hammam was actually gifted by Roxelana for the use of visitors to the nearby places of worship. For centuries, it was one of the city’s most popular places to scrub down and socialise – until its transformation into a carpet bazaar in 1958.
Just over 50 years – and one $7.5 million restoration – later, the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami has been returned to its former glory: White Marmara marble swathes the bathhouse’s two identical wings (one for men, one for women) and private steam rooms. Transparent panels throughout are a window to the past, showcasing the original 16th-century remains. The elegant space offers an extensive menu of one-off experiences. ‘These include Judas tree oil-based massages and bridal bathing parties. All accessories are top-notch, including silk and cottonpestamal wraps crafted exclusively for the hammam in the town of Odemi, a centre for woven textiles for well over 1,000 years. Pure olive oil soap is sourced from the Aegean town of Edremit, famed for its abundant olive production, and gold-plated bathing bowls are dotted liberally throughout the bathhouse for guests’ use.
Armaggan Bosporus Suites – For those who don’t know, Armaggan is the Harrods of Turkey, a luxury emporium that creates one-off pieces with artisans from across the land. Ancient Turkish crafts such as hand-woven towels, silk kese scrubs and linen dressing gowns stock its two boutiques in Nuruosamaniye and Nisantasi. In November 2013, Armaggan also relaunched three elegant waterfront yalis (traditional Turkish wooden mansions) as one plush guesthouse. The premises were originally designed by 19th-century starchitect Sarkis Balvan (creator of the Ottoman sultans’ summer palace, Beylerbeyi, across the water). It houses 18 opulent suites, waterside terraces and on-site private dining. The entire set-up is located in Ortakoy, one of Istanbul’s chic Bosphorus suburbs.
Equally enticing is Armaggan’s boutique-sized Ottoman-themed hammam. It can be booked for private sessions by hotel guests only. ‘The spa menu is short and sweet -choose from a Turkish hammam experience, reflexology7 or three types of massage – yet the benefit is that the treatments are exceptionally personalised. “Our treatments can’t be compared to a public Turkish bathhouse,” says Banu Yegul, Armaggan’s operations manager, “as the experience obviously takes place in the comfort of what feels like a guests’ own home.” All-organic products feature in the hammam. “Natural hazelnut oil is used for a 45-minute head and body massage, which kicks off the experience,” reveals Yegul. All of the treatments come courtesy of Olive Farm’s organic body creams, shampoos and soaps that are produced in Datca on the Aegean coast.