I spent my last day in Sarajevo walking around enjoying the beautiful city. In the late afternoon I had a hamam at Isa Begov Hamam Hotel in Bistrik. The process was different from hamams previously experienced in Turkey.
Isa Begov Hamam Process
The hamam had a Jacuzzi and steam room divided by a warm stone sitting area. Before the bath process began, I loosened up by moving back and forth between the Jacuzzi and steam room. There was no central, raised marble platform – göbek taşı – above the heating source or “kurna stone”. Laying on the göbek taşı is the first step in most Turkish hamams. It’s meditative and special, especially if you’re looking up at a beautiful glass dome.
The bath process included four different washings, scrubbings, and an exfoliation. At the end, I was literally squeaky clean! After the scrubbing, I enjoyed an uplifting rosemary and rose oil aromatherapy massage.
Hamam has been the “meaning of clean” throughout history. The old Arabic word means the “spreader of warmth” and dates back to ancient Rome.
The main idea of the hamam is “using steam and hot water to cleanse and relax the body”.
Depending on the culture and country, hamams have different structures. Earlier blog posts describe Turkish hamams experienced in Istanbul and Cappadocia.
Three Parts – Heating, Sweating, Scrubbing
Hamams consist of three parts. The first step is heating your body and relaxing. The second part involves opening your pores and sweating. After these steps, the “tellak” (masseuse) massages and washes you vigorously with a traditional olive paste soap and thin exfoliating cloth. Bowls of water poured over the body wash away dead skin cells.
The next step is an “intensive scrubbing with a rough mitten called a kese” followed by another extensive rinse with alternating hot and cold water. My tellak was a Bosnian woman who spoke little English but enough to tell me she had a degree in physical therapy, a common occupation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The whole process lasted 3 hours leaving me rejuvenated with a body that felt like rubber. The cost, including a 60-minute massage, was $50.
History Isa Beg Hamam
Isa Beg Hamam is Sarajevo’s oldest bath. It has over 500 years of history and was an old Waqf (Islamic charitable endowment) building donated by the founder of Sarajevo – Isa-beg Ishakovic. Ishakovic’s family was from Saruhan in western Turkey. During the first half of the 15th century, they “played a significant role in Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina”.
Isa-beg Ishakovic built the Sarajevo hamam in 1462 during the era of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The building is of “great importance symbolizing the transition between the rule of the Bosnian Kingdom and Ottoman Empire”.
Isa-beg Ishakovic – known as the “founder of Sarajevo” – was a successful Ottoman General and the Beg (Governor) of Bosna Sandzak. He’s credited with Sarajevo’s urbanization and creating many “magnificent buildings”.
Isa Beg Hamam is next to Careva (Sultan’s) Mosque which Ishakovic founded and gifted to the Saruhan in western Turkey. The Mosque and hamam were built at the same time.
Damage During the War
The Hamam suffered serious damage during the war 1992-1995, but was renovated by architect Ferhad Mulabegovic. It became the Isa Begov Hamam Boutique Hotel, and is protected and preserved as an important cultural heritage icon.
I’ll truly miss Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sarajevo – a special place! Photo memories are attached. More later from Belgrade Serbia.
Great article. Thanks Sue!