12 May Turkish Bath Shoes: A Historical Status Symbol
TURKISH BATH SHOES: A HISTORICAL STATUS SYMBOL
Have you ever come across a painting depicting a scene in the hammam, and seen a lady in an incredibly high Turkish bath shoe? Turkish bath shoes were specifically made for the hammam, and they have a very important role in the bath culture, and the history of craftsmanship in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. If you’re curious about these incredible looking shoes, keep reading to find out their history, function, and how they served as an indicator of wealth and status. Let’s get started!
What are Turkish bath shoes?
There are 2 kinds of hammam shoes. The first one is called “Nalın” and it comes from the Arabic word “na’leyn”, meaning a pair of shoes. Upon first glance, Nalın looks like a small bridge, with 2 feet that hold it high. Think of Japanese Geta sandals, but much higher. The heels of the shoe could have a beveled, hourglass design, or can be circular. They can have incredible designs on them, made from precious materials.
In time, these shoes were replaced by the modest “Takunya”. Takunya is of a modest height, but the entire shoe is made from a solid platform with no separate heels. Again, think of a typical clog from the Netherlands or a Japanese Okobo but like an open toed slipper with a strap. The strap is usually made of leather or velvet. Though Takunya can be painted and decorated as well, they were not as flashy as Nalın.
Nalın and Takunya were usually made from hardwood; such as ebony, boxwood, walnut, hornbeam, and plane tree. Various materials can be used for the straps, from leather to velvet and even tire rubber.
These shoes were mostly used in the hammam environment. However, they were also used by butchers, barbers, and in spaces such as bakeries and kitchens to keep both the feet and the environment clean.
Their significance in Turkish culture
For a long time, Nalın making was a highly esteemed artisanal occupation. Different regions in Turkey were famous for their specialties;
- İstanbul: High Nalın with gold embroidery and pearls
- Caucuses, Eskişehir & Van: Silver niello
- Sinop & Gaziantep: Mother of pearl inlays
- Afyonkarahisar: Silver thread
Especially in İstanbul, Nalın-making was a coveted occupation up until the end of the 19th century.
The straps of the Nalın were intricately designed. Some common designs included depictions of birds, and flowers native to Anatolia. And in Marmara and Aegean regions, Nalın with bells were favored.
Brides had special clogs made for them
Intricately designed bath shoes were part of a woman’s dowry. Bridal bath clogs had special designs that differentiated them. They were specifically made from walnut trees and had a small tassel in the front. The wood was embellished with silver floral designs, and the fabric was embroidered with silver or gold thread.
They were status symbols
In the hammam, you could get an idea of a woman’s social standing and status based on what kind of clogs she wore. All clogs had a base of wood. But the height of the heel, the materials used, and the intricacy of the design gave away important cues.
The first and most visible cue was the height of the Nalın. Let’s be realistic, a shoe doesn’t have to be super tall to protect your feet from a wet floor. Wealthy women in particular would have clogs that reached even 25+ centimeters in height. Of course, they were incredibly difficult to walk in, so they required the attendance of several servants.
The second indicator was the materials, design, and embellishments on the shoe. Leathers dyed in bright colors, precious gemstones, mother of pearl inlays, and metals such as silver and gold were used by skilled artisans to create shoes that looked like art pieces. The more silver, gems, and intricate the design; the more wealthy the owner is. Rich families would have Nalıns decorated with dangly gold and silver coins.
Aside from the guests, the clogs that the bath owner wore were higher compared to the ones worn by the bath attendants to easily distinguish them. They were only worn on wet surfaces, and never outside. Men were allowed to wear these clogs only in the bath, while women could wear them out or at home. Christian and Jewish visitors were not allowed to wear the clogs in the hammam.
Footwear in the modern Turkish bath
Well, although the high Nalın and Takunya certainly seem fun to wear (maybe even dangerous) they’re not a common sight in the modern Turkish bath. Maybe if you visit a historic hammam, you can catch the bath attendant (tellak) wearing a modest, low-heeled wooden Takunya, but that’s about it. Most of the time when you see a Nalın, it will be a miniature one, used for decoration in a Turkish home.
One this is for sure though, you must wear some kind of footwear in the hammam. The floor will definitely get slippery after washing off all that dirty water and soap! So be cautious, tread carefully, and enjoy your visit. Most people opt for a slide, or flip-flops made of plastic or rubber, preferably with a thick sole. With the modern options, you definitely won’t need an entourage to assist you, and you won’t be making too much noise.