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An update from Evaneos

Harem and hammam, Turkey's heritage

One of them no longer exists; the other has many glorious days ahead. Both are part of the country's heritage. I have no doubt you will visit a hammam and wander around an ancient harem on your trip to Turkey.

The harem

Ojects of fantasy in the West, the only harems you will get to see during your stay in Turkey are void of young girls. Nowadays, a visit to this place, so full of myth and mystery, will certainly titillate your imagination. Most Westerners must have at some point dreamed of being in charge of their own harem. Picture yourself Sultan, sole master of a harem filled with hundreds of women reserved entirely for you.

Before you take yourself too seriously, know that the reality of it is nothing like what you may have fantasized. In fact, the harem was run by the Queen Mother and by the "Agha", chief eunuch. The Sultan himself did not have exclusive dominion over his harem. He was though, the only man allowed in. Life in a harem was not so pleasant. Military-like discipline was observed.

Jealousy and hard knocks made life hard for the women. When a new woman took the Sultan's fancy, the Queen Mother would transfer her to the Favourite's Quarters. Others, jealous of the new arrival, would not hesitate to have her assassinated or poisoned. Most of these women were slaves. White women were meant to stay 9 years, black ones 5 years. Those chosen by the Sultan became odalisques. Those who bore a son were promoted to "kadin". They all had the supreme ambition of becoming "Valide Sultan". Upon the Sultan's death, the women left the harem for the seraglio. The only ones who remained were the Valide Sultan and her son, who then became Sultan. A new harem would be constituted. That was the tradition until 1909, when it was abolished.

Inside the harem

The hammam

Inspired by Roman thermal baths, the Turks created the Turkish bath, more commonly known as a "hammam". You will find this institution still present in every Turkish town to this day. As a matter of fact, you cannot overlook going to a hammam while on holidays in Turkey. First of all, you get undressed in a hall where you can stretch out and drink a glass of tea. Then you proceed to a room where you will wash yourself with a horsehair face cloth. Perfect for getting rid of dead skin cells. Finally, you will enter the last overheated room. If you choose to have a massage, get ready for a unique experience. Forget about the gentle, sensual massage; over here, it is done in a very vigorous manner.

Once you're in the hands of the merciless brute, there will be no use screaming, twisting and turning, crying out for help (no one will dare interfere) or even attempting to escape. You cannot get away from him, and he will not stop until he is satisfied that you are sufficiently relaxed. Be strong! One consolation: hammams are not mixed, so your other half will not witness you begging for mercy. You can always let her believe you went through this ordeal without a squeak.

David Debrincat
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