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Besides cleaning and relaxation, hammams played an important role in developing social relations. Turkish baths provided a place for specific rituals and ceremonies. Among them, hammams have been an integral part of marriage customs. All around the world, wedding ceremonies have their own rules and are passed through generations. In Turkish culture, marriage is one of the most important institutions and social events. Marriage and wedding ceremonies are often considered a transition to a new life. That’s why many different traditions are in place before this crucial life event, including the famous bridal hammam.

WHAT IS THE BRIDAL HAMMAM TRADITION?

The bridal bath is one of the wedding traditions practiced and performed a few days before the marriage ceremony. It can also take place during the day of the henna night, which is a traditional bachelorette party. The purpose of the bridal Turkish bath is to prepare the woman for marriage. It happens through purifying and cleaning, both physically and spiritually. In this ritual, the bride may be accompanied by family members and friends. All the guests enjoy the pleasures of a Turkish bath experience, dancing, singing, and feasting together.

WHAT ARE THE CUSTOMS AND RITUALS ASSOCIATED WITH THE BRIDAL HAMMAM?

A ritual traditionally associated with a hammam for bride in Turkey is called a henna night. In Turkish culture, henna nights are organized for future brides, usually one or two days before the wedding day. It’s a traditional ritual performed with minor differences across the regions.

Henna night has been a Turkish tradition for hundreds of years. Families and friends gather along for a small celebration, and traditional folk songs are sung, while henna is applied on the bride’s palm. Henna night can also be a part of a bridal ritual, at the very end of it, in the cold section of the Turkish bath.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A TYPICAL BRIDAL HAMMAM CEREMONY?

During a traditional ceremony, as soon as guests enter the hammam, a female bath maid greets them. She then takes the bride’s bundle (gelin bohçası) and prepares her belongings for the ceremony. In the warm room (ılıklık), the bride wraps herself in a cloth, puts on her shoes, and walks into the warmth section of the bath. Her friends and other close relatives join her. She also takes off all her jewelry and puts them in a jewelry box, which was traditionally made from silver.

It is tradition for all guests to pour a bowl of water on the bride’s head. After the washing process, the food and beverages are offered to the guests. There is also entertainment, like singing and dancing.

WHAT KIND OF BEAUTY TREATMENTS ARE TYPICALLY INCLUDED IN A BRIDAL HAMMAM?

These days, there are many beauty treatments that may be a part of a traditional Turkish bath for a bridal ceremony. It all depends on the needs and wishes of the bride and her guests. These bathing rituals are traditional hammam treatments that may have a modern twist and can include beauty services such as:

  • Traditional steam bath
  • Rejuvenating body scrub
  • Bubble soap wash with olive oil handmade soap
  • Bridal massage and many different massage services
  • Manicures and pedicures

HOW LONG DOES THE BRIDAL HAMMAM CEREMONY USUALLY LAST?

To enjoy all the benefits of amazing Turkish bath treatments, a minimum of 1 hour is the best option. Then the guests can rest and lie down on the floor or on the benches. The entertainment part can be longer and depends on the individual wishes of the bride, her family, and friends.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HAMMAM IN TURKISH CULTURE?

In Turkish culture, baths have been places of entertainment and socializing, for both men and women. Even nowadays Turkish bath culture is still being kept alive in Istanbul and many parts of Anatolia. In the past women would go to a Turkish bath to observe single girls and then talk about them to their sons.

Turkish baths were public institutions. They provided civic spaces in which women from different households could come together and socialize. Brides-to-be would go there with their mothers and hang out with potential mothers-in-law. Everyone would bring traditional Turkish food there so that this feast would also serve as a test for future brides. Women could judge which of the girls was a good candidate as a wife due to her culinary talent.

HOW LONG HAS THE BRIDAL HAMMAM TRADITION BEEN A PART OF TURKISH CULTURE?

Turkish hammams are derived from Roman and Byzantine baths. In the 11th century, the Seljuk Empire conquered much of Anatolia from the Byzantine Empire, and both cultures had a huge influence on each other. The Ottomans became fond of hammams and introduced them as Turkish baths to Eastern and Central Europe. The most spectacular examples are Turkish baths designed by Mimar Sinan (1489–1588). He was a 16th-century famous Ottoman architect.

IS THE BRIDAL HAMMAM TRADITION STILL POPULAR IN MODERN-DAY TURKEY?

It depends. Inevitably, the bathhouse culture has lost its importance today. Yet, several Turkish bath options offered for tourists have contributed to the revival of the hammam tradition. It has happened especially in recent years. Sometimes these gatherings are traditional, sometimes with a modern twist.

It’s true that many customs have evolved and some have disappeared. Of course, over time the tradition has changed and pre-wedding celebrations aren’t usually as long as they used to be. On many occasions, men and women of both families attend the ceremony, not only the bride’s female guests.

CAN FOREIGNERS PARTICIPATE IN THE BRIDAL HAMMAM TRADITION?

Of course, they can! Foreigners may take part in the Turkish bath bridal tradition if they wish. Nowadays they are often used for tourist purposes due to their increasing popularity. They have become more and more popular among visitors coming to Turkey. People from different countries wish to experience authentic Turkish traditions and culture.

HOW TO ORGANIZE A MEMORABLE BRIDAL HAMMAM EVENT?

There are many different types of treatments offered by an increasing number of hammams. You may wonder how to choose from so many options available. Historical baths or modern hammams, what will be a better experience for bath lovers? Where to enjoy crystal waters, marble fountains, and all the bathing traditions? It all depends on your own expectations of this special evening that you are going to celebrate with your closed ones.

WHO TYPICALLY ATTENDS THE BRIDAL HAMMAM?

Close relatives, spouses, and friends of the bride are invited to the bridal bath by the groom and the bride. In the past, depending on the number of guests invited, the entire hammam or a sufficient number of basins were rented for the ceremony. The invitations were given by sending flower-scented soaps. Nowadays some Turkish baths offer separate bachelor parties. They are often combined with purifying spa treatments at the men’s hammams.

WHAT KIND OF MUSIC IS TRADITIONALLY PLAYED DURING A BRIDAL HAMMAM CEREMONY?

During a bridal hammam ceremony, people sang folk songs and danced traditional dances. They were accompanied by the darbuka, tambourine, and bell. Nowadays music like this can be performed live as well, together with an oriental dancer performance.

WHAT ARE SOME TIPS FOR CREATING A RELAXING AND ENJOYABLE ATMOSPHERE DURING THE EVENT?

Today the bridal hammam may be a combination of entertainment and the fulfillment of traditions, or be purely fun with friends. The celebration can also be planned as a bachelor party. You can easily get support from professional planning organizers. Music, food, and entertainment will make your bridal bath event even more enjoyable.

The historic Ottoman architecture will give you the perfect atmosphere for this special evening. For this reason, it’s worth choosing one of the traditional hammams, with their unique design and unforgettable vibe.

WHAT KIND OF PREPARATION IS REQUIRED FOR THE BRIDE BEFORE THE HAMMAM CEREMONY?

Drinks and foods served during the ceremony are of great importance in Turkis culture. For this reason, stuffed leaves, meatballs, pastries, and baklava were prepared before the event. Nowadays you can also see fruits, nuts, and drinks such as şerbet or traditional Turkish coffee or tea. You can make a wish list of all the meals and beverages you want to serve to your guests during this amazing evening.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT HAMMAM FACILITY FOR THE BRIDAL HAMMAM?

Turkish bath bridal ceremony becomes more popular among modern Turkish families and tourists. Due to the rising demand, there are several options you may find. They include fancy hotels and historical Turkish hammams. You can also choose other public baths such as budget-friendly Turkish hammams.

Choose one of the stylishly restored historical hammams if you want an unforgettable bridal bath experience. A place like this reflects the magnificence of its era and the magical atmosphere that bears traces of history.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC DRESS OR ATTIRE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE BRIDE AND GUESTS?

The traditional bridal ceremony required a bride to wear a special dress called bindallı with a silver belt attached to her waist. She would also have the traditional head decorations like a crown and wear all the jewelry. The purpose of this ceremony part was to show the guests that the groom’s family is generous and values their bride very much.

Today, guests will wear some comfy hammam clothes, including peştemal. This traditional Turkish robe is usually made from natural fabrics, such as linen, cotton, or bamboo. Traditionally peştemal has a vertical striped design and can be found in many colors.

WHAT ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR INCORPORATING PERSONAL TOUCHES AND CUSTOMIZATION INTO THE BRIDAL HAMMAM?

To make your Turkish bath experience even more special, you can organize your henna and the bridal party together. Don’t forget about traditional foods and drinks that will impress your guests. You can choose Ottoman sherbet and a Turkish delight called lokum, with countless glasses of aromatic Turkish or mint tea.

You may want to entertain your guests with live music and even a belly dancer show. Every invited person can get a special Turkish robe, peştemal, with their names embroidered on it. You may also ask to prepare gifts for guests. They will be happy to receive a special “hammam set”. It may include olive oil soap, a Turkish bath towel, a massage bath foam bag, and other beautiful hammam accessories of your choice.

References:

Bahtiyar Karatosun M, Baz T. N. Turkish Baths as Cultural Heritage in the Context of Tangible and Intangible. Architecture Research 2017, 7(3): 84-91 DOI: 10.5923/j.arch.20170703.03.

GoTürkiye: Official Travel Guide of Türkiye, Turkish Wedding Customs and Superstitions, https://goturkiye.com/turkish-wedding-customs-and-superstitions.

Mitsi E. Private Rituals and Public Selves: The Turkish Bath in Women’s Travel Writing. Inside Out Women negotiating, subverting, appropriating public and private space, Amsterdam/New York, NY 2008.

Ertuğrul A. Istanbul hammams and their architecture, 2019.

Namal A. Turkish baths in history and their place in daily life. Scientific conference: Traditions and prospects for the development of spa culture, 2017.