Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Mosques and Hamams: Final morning in Istanbul

Mosque of Suleymaniye the Magnificent

On our final day in Istanbul we had mid afternoon flights which left plenty of time to fit in some last minute sightseeing.

We decided to check out the mosque of Suleymaniye the Magnificent which is a pleasant twenty minute stroll north of the old city past the Grand Bazaar and University. The mosque was practically deserted when we visited and it was simply stunning. You enter through high walls into a lawned area which creates a tranquil and relaxing place.

Roofs of the Kulliye

From the eastern side of the gardens you get a great view of the kulliye (mosque complex) built outside the mosque walls. The kulliye is made up of a series of small buildings which run round three sides of the mosque. With their small domed roofs and the odd tiny minaret they make the area surrounding the mosque look even more impressive.

I was a big fan of the mosque with its simple and geometric lines. The absence of crowds meant that you could stand back and take it all in. It was a real contrast to the the hustle and bustle of the Blue Mosque which wasn't nearly as relaxing. I can't understand why it isn't more of a tourist hot spot, but I was pleased for us that it wasn't.

 Relaxing at the mosque

At the start of the week there were a few "should we, shouldn't we?" conversations about whether to check out a hamam while we were in Istanbul. We'd resolved not to go, but then with our time running out we decided to change our minds!

The 18th century Cagaloglu hamami is one of the most recommended hamams and was also close to our hotel which made it the obvious choice. On entering the hamam men and women are separated and I was shown into a private cubical where you change and are able to leave all of your possessions.

After changing it was straight into the hararet (hot room) to lie on the marble slab, relax and frankly start to sweat! The hot room was pretty stunning with marbled walls and small pieces of glass set into the roof to let in stars of light.

After a few minutes relaxing on the slab a masseur arrived to give me a massage, followed by a wash and, the bit I was fearing the most, an all over body scrub. None of it was as brutal as I was expecting and the exfoliation didn't hurt one bit.

After the wash it was into the sauna, which I couldn't take for too long as the heat was making me a little lightheaded, so I returned to the marble slab for some more gazing at the stars. Once I'd had enough I ventured out of the hararet and returned to my little cubicle for a lie down. I also needed some time to cool down before I could face putting my clothes back on!

What prevented the experience from being totally relaxing was my masseurs blatant and assertive attempt to get a generous tip, something that I never like and puts me on edge. The masseurs obviously have a bit of a system going and I was pounced on by the barber as I left my cubicle asking me to "take a seat so my masseur could say goodbye". My lack of interest in hanging around set the barber off shouting and running into the hot room to let the masseur know his tip was heading for the door. I didn't hang around.......

You can check out my map of all the places I visited in Istanbul here.

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