Traditional Turkish Baths in North Cyprus
The traditional Turkish baths in North Cyprus are known as the THE ‘HAMAM’ or Turkish baths are a cultural mainstay of Turkish-Cypriot life. Whilst the Romans were probably the first to build bath-houses on the island, after conquering Cyprus in the 16th century it was the Ottoman Turks who built countless public baths across the towns and cities and ensured these were accessible to every citizen.
Unfortunately, only two of these ancient traditional Turkish baths in North Cyprus remain in operation today. Both in the island’s capital Nicosia, of which the most famous is the Grand Turkish Baths or the Büyük Hamam.
These impressive baths are built on the site of an old 14th century latin church, St George of Latins. Like so many buildings in the island’s capital, the Ottomans changed this church into something more useful for them. As one of the most frequented Turkish baths open to the public during the Ottoman period its services were extremely important, particularly as there were no bathing facilities in many homes.
Today, the ornate Gothic style arched doorway lies sunken approximately three metres below street level. For hundreds of years new buildings and even whole towns were constructed on the ruins of old ones, and at the Büyük Hamam the raised ground level is particularly dramatic. Further, only this sunken entrance remains of the original church and once through the door you are in a real working bath-house.
If you’d rather stay clothed it is possible to look around the Büyük Hamam for a modest fee and it’s definitely worthwhile as the building is architecturally fascinating. However, for those willing to try out the whole hamam experience it is extremely civilised. In accordance with Turkish-Cypriot culture traditional bath-houses have separate facilities for men and women or, if only one hamam is available, different days or times are allocated.
Upon entering the hamam you undress, and wrapped in a towel you head for the “göbek tashi”, a large heated stone in the centre of the baths. Here you will allow your body temperature to rise over the course of about an hour or so. At this stage you can either opt to wash yourself using the camel hair glove provided or alternatively ask to be rubbed down by an attendant or masseur/masseuse. This is is designed to both massage and exfoliate. You can then retire to another room to cool down.
A full bathing and massage experience at the Büyük Hamam costs less than £15, a bargain compared to the cost of spa treatments in some of the hotels. That said, if you want to enjoy a splash of luxury then opt for one of the five-star spa resorts across the region which boast wellbeing centres with their very own modern Turkish baths.
Located in the tourist hub of Kyrenia, the Spa, Health & Beauty Centre at the five-star Rocks Hotel offers Turkish baths with an enticing selection of massages, wraps and scrubs. A fantastic four-star option is the Oscar resort, a short shuttle ride from Kyrenia, again with its own Turkish baths and an extensive range of treatments including traditional Ottoman and Hammam therapy. For those looking for a pampering retreat away from Kyrenia, the Salamis Bay Conti Resort in Famagusta also boasts its own Spa and Wellness Centre. These fabulous resorts ensure that the hamam tradition remains a customary indulgence across the North.
Indeed, whether you opt for the authenticity of the ancient Büyük Hamam in the city or the luxury of a modern hotel spa, the Turkish baths are a cultural experience not to be missed.