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Our First Hamam: The Kılıç Ali Paşa

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It’s hard to imagine that we could have found a better place for our first Turkish bath than the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. This historic hamam in Tophane is one of Istanbul’s most beautiful, reopened in 2012 after years of restoration. We were invited to visit on a Sunday afternoon.

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Contemporary Turkish hamams find themselves in a difficult position. For centuries, these public bath houses were an integral part of Ottoman life. Islam places great significance on cleanliness, and hamams were the only place to go for a hot, soapy bath. They were buildings of such importance to society, that the empire’s greatest architects were often employed to design them. But then came the advent of indoor baths with hot water, and the primary function of the hamam vanished. Sure, they were still pleasant communal areas to meet friends and catch up on gossip, but for day-to-day life, taking a hot shower at home was a lot more convenient.

What to do? These are buildings of great architectural beauty, and you can’t just let them sit around empty. Luckily, hamams generate a lot of interest from visitors. For many, a trip to Istanbul would be incomplete without experiencing the famous Turkish bath. So in order to survive, many of Istanbul’s hamams have reoriented themselves to serve tourists.

Marble-Stone-Hamam-Istanbul

Built in 1583 by the master architect Mimar Sinan, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı is incredible, all domes, white marble and water. After decades of neglect, it was purchased privately and beautifully restored by its new owner, who was intent on returning it to its original purpose. The interior bathing room is stunning, with a large marble stone in the center, bathed in rays of light. Looking at it, I could hardly wait to get my clothes off.

And I soon did. While I was heating my body on the stone, hypnotized by the star-shaped holes in the ceiling, an assistant came to fetch me. He sat me down at a sink, grabbed my wrist, lifted my arm into the air, and began to scrub me with a rough sponge-glove. After scrubbing the dead skin off every inch of my body, he soaped me up with something called a “loofah”: basically a cloth sack that’s pulled tight to produce an unbelievable amount of foam. He remained silent throughout the procedure, and was extremely thorough. Hamams are not for the modest. Or ticklish.

Eventually, he finished, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more clean. I was helped into a big, comfy robe and then led into the lounge area to relax with sherbet and tea, before my massage. For 25 blissful minutes, my back and legs were worked by strong, professional hands. At the end of the session, after being cleaned, rubbed, scrubbed, and massaged, I was amazed to find myself hovering in the air. I floated out of the hamam, up the hill to our apartment and settled slowly onto our couch, like a leaf falling onto a patch of soft grass.

The Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam – Website

Location of the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı on Our Map

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May 7, 2013 at 9:00 am Comments (3)

The Archaeology Museum Complex

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Set atop a hill in Gülhane Park, just meters from Topkapı Palace, the Archaeology Museum Complex boasts one of the world’s most stunning collections of ancient artifacts. At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire stretched across major sections of Europe, Asia and Africa, so it should come as no surprise that countless treasures have found their way to Istanbul.

Sarcophagus

The museum was established in the late 1800s, partially to combat the widespread practice of spiriting off archaeological finds to countries like England or Germany. (Whether this was done to loot or protect them is perhaps a matter of perspective.) The Ottoman Empire was in the process of Westernizing, and the establishment of a Archaeological Museum to protect and display its treasures was a step in the country’s new direction.

Today, the complex consists of three museums. Of these, the Archaeology Museum is the focal point, occupying a massive neoclassical building. The museum wastes no time in impressing, placing its most stunning artifacts in the rooms just past the entrance: The Sarcophagi of Sidon. Found during a famous dig in modern-day Lebanon, these incredibly well-preserved and exquisitely decorated coffins held the bones of kings. The most famous of them is the Alexander Sarcophagus, which depicts the great Macedonian king in battle scenes (though it was not, as originally thought, his coffin).

The museum features objects found across the Ottoman Empire and ancient Byzantine, with mummies and statues joining historic relics like the snake’s head stricken from the Hippodrome’s Serpentine Column. A large exhibit on the second floor is dedicated to the archaeological history of Istanbul — a collection so complete and interesting, that it could easily justify its own museum. Another exhibit is dedicated to objects from the regions neighboring Turkey, mostly Cyprus and Syria.

This museum requires at least an hour from even the most disinterested visitor, and we were inside much longer than that. So, our legs were happy to take a tea break at the pleasant outdoor cafe, in a garden decorated with an army of ancient statues.

Ceramic-Palace-Istanbul

Right across from the Archaeology Museum is the beautiful Tiled Kiosk, home to the Museum of Turkish Ceramics. Thankfully, this museum was small. The tiles found within are striking, and there was plenty of information about the history of Turkish ceramics, but (for us) the highlight was the building itself, built in 1472 for Sultan Mehmet II as a pleasure palace.

Finally, we drug our weary bodies into the Museum of the Ancient Orient, which concentrates on artifacts from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. We liked this collection almost as much as the Archaeology Museum’s. It includes the world’s oldest peace treaty, the Treaty of Kadesh, signed between Egypt and the Hittites in 1297 BC (a copy of which hangs on the walls of the United Nations). There’s also a beautifully preserved, and opened, Egyptian coffin and mummy, as well as tiles from Babylon’s legendary Ishtar Gate.

Given the ridiculous amount of incredible things to see in the Archaeology Museum Complex, the price is entirely fair, at just 10TL ($5.50). I also found the audio-guide to be worthwhile. Despite its proximity to Topkapı Palace, there are relatively few tourists here, so it makes a great place to escape the hordes and lose yourself in the ancient world. In all, a highly-rewarding place to spend a few hours… or perhaps even an entire day.

Location on our Istanbul Map
Istanbul Archaeology Museum – Website

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April 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm Comments (8)
Our First Hamam: The K?l? Ali Pa?a It's hard to imagine that we could have found a better place for our first Turkish bath than the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. This historic hamam in Tophane is one of Istanbul's most beautiful, reopened in 2012 after years of restoration. We were invited to visit on a Sunday afternoon.
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