Prominently situated next to Çekirge square stands the historic, spring-fed Eski Kaplıca Hamamı (Old Hot Spring Bathhouse), the largest, oldest, and most famous Turkish bath in Bursa. Though I’ve photographed this impressive building from the outside in the past, a friend of mine and I recently took the opportunity to step inside and enjoy a genuine Turkish bath experience in this centuries-old public bathhouse.
Managed by the adjacent Keravansaray Hotel, Eski Kaplıca (also known as Armutlu Hamamı) is a massive, multi-domed building with cavernous ceilings, ornate marble fountains, and an authentic atmosphere. The current bathhouse on this site was constructed by Sultan Murad I in 1385 and enlarged by Sultan Beyazid II in 1511. However, records suggest that a public bath existed at this site as far back as 525 A.D., and the placard outside the building suggests that the wife of great Byzantine Emperor Justinian may have even washed up here during a visit to Bursa. Being an important part of Bursa’s cultural history, the hamam is included in Bursa’s UNESCO World Heritage inscription.
Eski Kaplıca Hamamı is watered by Çekirge’s Horhor Spring, which continually feeds the hamam with piping hot 90ºC water. After cooling to a still-not-tepid 45ºC (113ºF), the therapeutic water spews out of marble fixtures into marble-lined wading pools. The water is well-known for its rich mineral content and is widely believed to help cure a variety ailments from heart problems to digestive disorders.
The bathhouse has three separate sections: a men’s hamam, a women’s hamam, and a family hamam. Upon entering the men’s hamam and paying the entrance fee, my friend and I were escorted to the domed lounge area and directed to a wood-paneled changing room. Beyond the lounge area through the narrow wooden doorway were the marble-tiled bathing rooms. Inside the bathing rooms, rows of ornate marble fountains extended out from the walls. Men sat along the walls on marble benches scrubbing, rinsing, chatting, and resting in the steamy chambers. The mood was social, casual, and relaxed. Further into the bathing area, hot spring water streamed from the sculpted fountain fixture in the wall into the octagonal white marble wading pool.
After a good scrub with a kese (traditional exfoliating cloth) and a couple of dips in the hot pool, my friend and I returned to the lounge area and cooled down on comfortable lounge chairs while the wait staff attended to our needs. Fresh towels were offered and various kinds of beverages and snacks were served from the lounge bar.
As I leaned back in my lounge chair, listened to water trickling in the marble fountain, and stared up at the domed brick ceiling, I couldn’t help but wonder at the idea that I had just taken a bath in a famous old public hamam that had been the bathroom of kings and commoners for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Notes on Eski Kaplıca Hamamı
- Eski Kaplıca Hamamı is located in Çekirge square next to Keravansaray Hotel. Numerous buses and dolmuşes run from downtown to Çekirge square.
- As of this writing, the entry fee is 40 TL per person. For an additional 20 TL you can get a personal scrub. Another 20 TL will get you a massage. Drinks and snacks in the lounge are extra.
- At Eski Kaplıca Hamamı, your entry fee includes a private, lockable changing room with a safe for valuables and beds for resting. The hamam provides towels, soap, and shampoo. You can also purchase a bath sponge and a kese. Shorts or a towel must be worn in the bathing rooms at all times, so I recommend bringing along your swim shorts and shower sandals.
- Since a trip to the hamam seems to be a social event, I recommend taking along a few friends. Of course, an experienced local friend can help guide you through some of the uncertainties associated with bathing in a traditional public bathhouse. Whether you go solo or with friends, just relax and have fun!