One of my best friends, Heidi, was in town for the week, and of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Turkey vacation without a visit to Bursa. We went for the day on the new BUDO ferry line direct from Kabataş to Mudayna which cost us 40 TL/person round-trip. For those who live in Beşiktaş, the BUDO ferry is a huge improvement. Previously, we would take the İDO ferry from Yenikapı in the wee hours of the morning. All too often, we missed the bus from our neighborhood, or more than often than not, it never came. The result? We would end up taking a taxi to Yenikapı which canceled out the cheap cost of the İDO ferry tickets.
Overall, we were pleased with the new BUDO ferry and landing in Mudayna (not Güzelyalı) was a nice surprise. We made our way downtown on one of the new, spiffy city buses, felt the earthquake in one of Bursa’s old wooden buildings, and headed to the Mahkeme Hamamı after an ample fill of gözleme. As everyone knows, Bursa is famous for Turkish baths especially those found in the Çekirge district. Last time, my roommate Nazlı and I had gone to the Kervansaray hamam, arguably Bursa’s most famous hamam. We were disappointed to find the the women’s section small and crowded, the service dismal and the massage unimpressive. Gürkan, however, who had gone to the men’s section had come out a new man. He couldn’t stop singing Kervansaray’s praises – a gorgeous hamam and a personal attendant all to himself. Without fail, the men’s sections are always the better of the two (unless it’s one hamam with different visiting hours for men and women) – something which confounds me since hamam culture seems to be more prevalent among the country’s females.
After that last experience, I knew I would never return to Kervansaray (not to mention it’s also one of the most expensive baths in Bursa). I did however have a pleasant memory of Mahkeme Hamamı (İbrahim Paşa Hamamı) which had been recently restored and reopened by Bursa’s Büyükşehir Belediyesi, the local municipality. While not in Çekirge, Mahkeme Hamamı is centrally located in Heykel on the way to Karabash-i Veli, Bursa’s whirling dervish lodge. The first time I visited was with my NSLI-Youth students in 2012 – the municipality had opened the hamam especially for us during Ramadan and waived the entrance fee for the entire group. Although not a huge fan of the local government, it was certainly a nice gesture and not easily forgotten.
That’s why Heidi and I also opted for a visit to Mahkeme Hamamı instead of one of the more well-known baths in Çekirge. We called ahead for the prices (very reasonable!) and were surprised to find that Mahkeme Hamamı only had a women’s section which meant Gürkan was on his own for the afternoon. We rang the doorbell and we were warmly greeted by a lady who later introduced herself as Ayşe. She showed us to a private dressing room with two lounge chairs and locked cabinets for our valuables. I explained we had come from Istanbul and didn’t have towels, peştemal, or shampoo, and Ayşe appeared with all the items very clearly explaining the prices of each to me. She also explained the bath process which you can read about here. Although I’ve been to several baths over the years, I appreciate it when they take the time to explain the process to you. Every hamam has its own culture and etiquette, and it can be awkward if you make a faux pas.
Entrance to the women’s section
We were given our own pair of wooden hamam slippers to wear and soon ushered into the bath. Imagine my surprise when we opened the door to find only two other women inside the hamam on a Saturday afternoon. Compared to 50+ women in Kervansaray’s one room, we had a huge hamam with multiple smaller rooms all to ourselves. We were in hamam heaven. Heidi and I spread out in one of the smaller, more private rooms, soaking up the heat and relaxing. After 20 minutes or so, Ayşe recommended that we go to another room – the extra hot room – so that our skin would be ready for the impending kese scrub. Until I entered the hot room that day, I had never understood why people wore slippers in the bath, but the marble floors were so hot that I had no option but to manuever in the clog-like slippers. The benches were similarly hot and sitting down was quite a task. We lasted all about 10 minutes before heading back to the main hamam room.
Turkish bath accessories
It was soon our turn for kese and massage. Mahkeme Hamamı does both on a padded massage table rather than the marble slab. In my opinion, the massage table is definitely the way to go because otherwise – if the massage is good – you feel like you’re being slammed into the hardest piece of rock you’ve ever felt. Here the skin scrub was done very thoroughly (face scrub optional) and the massage was out-of-this-world amazing. From out of nowhere, Ayşe appeared with a gigantic loofah full of bubbles, and I soon found myself swimming in bubbles on the massage table (she had told me ahead of time that she was going to do a very köpüklü massage for us). The massage was just what I needed. Ayşe took it extremely seriously and the amount of pressure she used was spot on. Covered in bubbles, I admired the sun shining through the hamam’s dome, and took note that this hamam had natural light unlike others I had visited.
After the massages, we were completely wiped out and had only enough energy to shampoo and head back out to the resting area. We bundled up in towels, found our lounge chairs, and Ayse appeared with our gazoz. She slid the curtains closed, we switched the lights out, and finally, we rested. I could have stayed the whole day but there was silk to buy and friends to meet, so our rest was cut prematurely short.
Next time you find yourself in Bursa, skip the Çekirge hamams and try this one! You won’t be disappointed.
Bursa’s Uludağ gazoz
Mahkeme Hamamı prices:
Entrance: 15 TL
Skin scrub (kese): 10 TL
Massage: 10 TL
Towels: 3 TL
Shampoo: 2 TL
Tip – up to you!