Istanbul, straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, has been a melting pot of cultures, empires, and histories. Among its many contributions to world culture, the Ottoman-era bathhouses, or hamams, stand out as a testament to a tradition that has been a part of the social fabric of the city for centuries. This blog post explores the rich history of Ottoman hamam culture in Istanbul and highlights some of the historic bathhouses that continue to operate today, offering a bridge between the past and present.

The Essence of Ottoman Hamam Culture

The tradition of hamams dates back to the Roman times and was inherited and significantly elaborated upon by the Ottomans when they made Istanbul (then Constantinople) the capital of their empire in 1453. These bathhouses were not merely places for bathing; they were centers of social life, health, and relaxation, deeply embedded in the fabric of Ottoman society.

The architecture of Ottoman hamams is a reflection of the importance these spaces held. Typically, a hamam is divided into three main sections: the cold room (soğukluk), the warm room (ılıklık), and the hot room (sıcaklık). The cold room served as a dressing and resting area, the warm room for adjusting to the heat and initial cleansing, and the hot room for the main bathing activities, including scrubbing and massage. The centerpiece of many hamams is the göbektaşı, a large, heated marble platform where bathers would lie to sweat and receive massages and scrubs from tellaks (male attendants) or natırs (female attendants) in gender-segregated sections.

Hamams: A Social Phenomenon

Beyond their function for personal cleanliness, hamams played a significant role in Ottoman social life. They were places where people of all classes and backgrounds could come together, separated from the hierarchies of the outside world. Important life events, such as bridal baths before weddings and special baths for newborns and their mothers, were celebrated in hamams. These institutions were also vital for the physical and mental well-being of the populace, believed to purify the body and soul.

Historic Hamams of Istanbul Still in Operation

Several Ottoman-era hamams in Istanbul have withstood the test of time and continue to operate, offering a unique glimpse into the past. Here are a few notable examples:

Çemberlitaş Hamamı

Built in 1584 by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, the Çemberlitaş Hamamı is located near the Grand Bazaar and remains one of the city’s most famous bathhouses. Its stunning architecture and central dome are emblematic of Sinan’s mastery, and it offers a range of traditional services, from the classic scrub and foam massage to more contemporary spa treatments.

Süleymaniye Hamam

Another creation of Mimar Sinan, the Süleymaniye Hamam was constructed as part of the Süleymaniye Mosque complex in 1557. Unique for its mixed-gender bathing (which is arranged by private booking today), this hamam offers a traditional experience with its original architecture largely preserved.

Cağaloğlu Hamamı

Built in 1741, the Cağaloğlu Hamam is one of the last hamams to be constructed during the Ottoman Empire and is considered one of the most beautiful, featured on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its baroque architecture, intricate details, and historical significance make it a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

The Legacy Continues

Today, these historic hamams serve not only as places of relaxation and wellness but also as living museums, offering insight into a lifestyle that has been a part of Istanbul for centuries. Visitors can experience the traditional rituals of the hamam, including the kese (scrub) and köpük (foam massage), in settings that have hosted countless generations.


The hamams of Istanbul are a bridge between the city’s past and present, encapsulating the essence of Ottoman social and architectural ingenuity. They remind us of a time when the rhythms of daily life were intimately connected to these communal spaces of cleanliness, relaxation, and social gathering. For travelers and locals alike, a visit to one of Istanbul’s operational Ottoman hamams is more than a luxury—it’s a step back in time, an immersion into a centuries-old tradition that continues to soothe and rejuvenate the body and soul in the bustling heart of a modern metropolis.