The hamams of a palace

When you travel to Turkey the thought of a hamam, a public bath, cannot be far from your mind. After all, so much has been written about them in guide books and blogs! So when I came to the hamam of the queen mother (Valide sultan) in the harem of the Topkapi palace, I was really intrigued. This was the chamber of one of the rulers of the Ottoman empire; the Valide sultan could give orders to the vazir (the chief minister).

From the gilded screen fencing off the bath (featured photo), to the amazingly decorative niches in the wall, and the marble basin with gold highlights, everything fitted the picture one has of Ottoman royalty. Hamams typically had a hot room with dry hot air where one would sit in order to perspire, this would be followed by a bath in which water is splashed on the body, and then a period of relaxation in a cool room.

I found it interesting to compare the hamam of the queen with that of the Janissaries. They were elite Ottoman troops, and their quarters are highly decorative. The baths, however, were plain and utilitarian, as you can see in the photos above. While I was wondering about the plumbing, The Family asked, “Why are the basins so low?” It is a question with no answer until now.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. al-Ghazali’s (an 11th century Theologian) warned against public nakedness in the communal baths or hamams. In his work he warns that overt nakedness is to be avoided. “… he should shield it from the sight of others and second, guard against the touch of others.” He writes that nakedness is “decent only when the area between the knees and the lower stomach of a man are hidden.” so the pedestals were only to be the height that covered the male’s “indecent” parts..thus they are low. And that is probably far more than you were wondering about! Blame my blather on attending a seminary instead of a college.


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