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A Turkish bath or hammam (Turkish: hamam, Arabic: الحمام, ḥammām‎) is the Turkish[1] variant of the Roman bath, steambath, sauna, or Russian banya, distinguished by a focus on water, as distinct from ambient steam.

In Western Europe, the "Turkish bath" as a method of cleansing and relaxation became popular during the Victorian era. The process involved in taking a Turkish bath is similar to that of a sauna, but is more closely related to ancient Greek and ancient Roman bathing practices.

The Turkish bath starts with relaxation in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air, allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before they wash in cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.[2]

The difference between the Islamic hammam and the Victorian Turkish bath is the air. The hot air in the Victorian Turkish bath is dry; in the Islamic hammam the air is often steamy. The bather in a Victorian Turkish bath will often take a plunge in a cold pool after the hot rooms; the Islamic hammam usually does not have a pool unless the water is flowing from a spring. In the Islamic hammams the bathers splash themselves with cold water.[3]

Tellak (Staff)

Detail of an illustration from the Hubanname (The Book of the Handsome Ones), an 18th century homoerotic work by the Turkish poet Fazyl bin Tahir Enderuni.

Traditionally, the masseurs in the baths, tellak in Turkish, who were boys and young men, helped wash clients by soaping and scrubbing their bodies. They also worked as sex workers. [4] We know today, by texts left by Ottoman authors, who they were, their prices, how many times they could bring their customers to orgasm, and the details of their sexual practices (From the Dellâkname-i Dilküşâ, eighteenth century work by Dervish, Ismail Agha; Ottoman archives, Süleymaniye, Istanbul).[5] [6]

They were recruited from among the ranks of the non-Muslim subject nations of the Turkish empire, such as Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Albanians, Bulgarians, Roma and others.

At times the relationship between a tellak and his client became intensely personal. It is recorded that in the mid-18th century, a janissary had a tellak for a lover. When the latter was kidnapped by the men of another regiment and given over to the use of their commander, a days-long battle between the two janissary regiments ensued, which was brought to an end only when the Sultan ordered the tellak hanged.

After the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman army in the early 20th century, the role of tellak boys was filled by adult attendants[7] that scrub and give massage.[8]

See also


  1. Cosgrove, J. J. (2001) [1913], Design of the Turkish Bath, Books for Business, ISBN 978-0-89499-078-6, http://books.google.com/?id=D4cHAAAACAAJ 
  2. "Hammam" by Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman, Jahan-i Tibb, Volume 7, Number 1, July–September 2005, Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine, Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, pages 12–17.
  3. Turkish bath from Wikipedia
  4. (Toledano 2003, p. 242) "[Flaubert, January 1850:] Be informed, furthermore, that all of the bath-boys are bardashes [male homosexuals]."
  5. (Gazali 2001, p. 106)
  6. Kemal Sılay (1994), Nedim and the poetics of the Ottoman court, Indiana University, ISBN 1878318098
  7. (Yilmazkaya & Deniz 2005) discusses occasional licentious activity
  8. Turkish bath (archive.org)