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The combination of bathing, relaxation and enjoyment makes the hammam a unique wellness experience. The cleansing ritual is more than 800 years old and is still very much alive, not only in Turkish and Arabian regions of the world but also in many European cities. Hammams invite you to visit the world of A Thousand and One Nights.
If you travel to Istanbul as a tourist, you can be sure to come across the legacy of a man who has not lived for a long time. His name is Yusuf Sinan bin Abdullah, or simply Sinan. He lived in the 16th century and is considered one of the most important architects of all time. On behalf of his contractors – the sultans Selim I, Suleiman I, Selim II and Murad III – Sinan designed many architectural wonders such as the Şehzade Mosque and the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque complex. The beauty of these and other buildings earned him his nickname as the “Michelangelo of the Ottomans”. But Sinan built more than just mosques and palaces. Every mosque came with its own bathhouse, the so-called hammam, where the rulers daily celebrated the traditional cleansing ceremony, which consisted of washes, showers and massages in an atmosphere of soft lighting, heating, foam and oriental scents: a dream taken right out of A Thousand and One Nights.
While back then these splendid baths were reserved only for the sultans and their entourage, and served as the scene for both socialization as well as political decision making, today these places of relaxation are open to everyone. Indeed, the hammam, or Turkish bath, has become widely popular in many European cities.
In a large room billowing with hot steam, visitors can stretch their bodies out on warm blocks of marble. A specially trained masseur or masseuse will work their way across your entire body with a glove made of goat hair. Afterwards, your skin will feel incredibly soft and all muscle tension will have dissolved away. The warm showers that follow will take care of the rest. The heat can finally escape the body in the relaxation room, where a glass of ayran or the traditional black tea known as ‘cay’ rehydrates the body, and fresh fruit is often served as well. When you step back out into the street two or three hours later, it will feel like entering a new world. Then it helps to close your eyes and delve back into your dreamy memories.
Sultan Hammam, Berlin
This minimalist modern hammam consists of a main hall with marble tiles and adjoining steam bath, a sauna with colour light therapy and several relaxation rooms.
Bülowstr. 57, Berlin-Schöneberg
Opening hours: daily from 12am to 11pm
The Moroccan Urban Retreat, London
This luxurious hammam is exclusively reserved for women and is situated on the fifth floor of the famous department store Harrods. The heavy drapery and artistic décor of the decadent lounge create an atmosphere suggestive of a Moroccan palace. Your personal masseuse will pamper you with scented body care products from the spa’s own line of cosmetics.
Harrods in Knightsbridge, 5th floor
Opening hours: Mon. to Sat. 10am to 9pm; Sun. 11:30am to 6pm
Le Riad, Brussels
Le Riad in the Schaerbeek district has, aside from the typical services such as peelings and massages, a special feature for brides-to-be: at the ‘Bain de la Mariée’, the future bride, accompanied by her friends, can advance through seven ritual washes that will prepare her for the big day. Men and women have separate access.
Rue Gallait 29, Brussels-Schaerbeek
Women: Tue., Thu., Fri. 10am to 5pm; Wed. & Sat. 10am to 11pm
Men: Mon. 2pm to 11pm; Tue., Thu., Fri. 6pm to 11pm