The Traditional Turkish Bridal Bath
The bride's pre-wedding visit to the hamam was a distinctive custom in ancient Turkey. One of the prerequisite gifts of the family of the groom was a vest, and a pair of loose trousers, the "shalvar" made of fine felt cloth. This outfit was worn on the special day for going to and coming back from the bath during the winter months.
Another item of clothing worn specifically on the day of the bride's visit to the hamam, was a silk robe open at the front similar to the Japanese kimono. The collar, the sleeves, and the front borders were all embroidered. In this ornate robe, the bride would sit on an elevated seat, much like a throne in the tepidarium, or the warm room of the hamam. Maidens and young attendants carried candles as they walked in circle around the would-be bride.
Then, with the bride leading the way, the procession would move slowly behind a woman beating the tambourine, around the hamam's main pool. Singing and chanting joyously, the candle-bearing procession would go around the pool several times. Following this ritual, the bridal veil is produced and used to cover the bride's head. After the procession comes the ceremony of wishing. Unmarried girls, wishing to find an ideal husband, tossed coins into the pool.
Even until today these deeply rooted customs are still observed in the rituals of the hamam in some parts of Turkey.
A veil of sheer white muslin with edges bordered with "Oya" (crochet work) is a woman's essential companion for the hamam. Turkish women own several of them. They are usually tied over the hair before leaving the hamam, to soak up any remaining moisture and prevent head chills.
In its own special way, the Turkish bath is akin to a beautician's school where women learned and practised the art of body and hair care, as well as applying make-up. It was here that women - normally kept almost exclusively indoors- could genuinely relax amongst their peers and enjoy the freedom of the day.
In conclusion, the importance of the hamam resides chiefly in bringing together many dimensions of the society's culture, creating a new phenomenon. The hamam has long been an institution in Turkey, with a deep rooted social character that sheds light on many aspects of Turkish life.
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