If you have never had the pleasure of experiencing a hammam (Turkish bathouse) before, then the Hammam Yalbougha al-Nasri in Aleppo is a great place to do it.
In the mid-1980s, the Syrian government restored this 14th-century Mameluke hammam to full working order and opened it back up to the public. This hammam is one of the largest, and certainly most ornate, hammams in all of Syria. From the outside the building looks like a typical Mameluke structure with a large entranceway and black and white stones, but, once you enter, a long and winding hallway takes you down into the main salon of the hammam, a large, lavishly decorated room with a raised platform running along the walls, on top of which are a series of padded benches. Built into the walls are small recesses covered by drapes and beads that act as changing rooms, and in the middle of the room is a large fountain.
When you enter you will have the choice of which services you would like, each costing a different amount. The all-inclusive package will run you 415 Lira (less than $10), meanwhile, a steam bath with some soap will cost you about 215 Lira. If this is your first real hammam experience, you have to go for the full package - it just wouldn’t be right if you didn’t.
If you opt for the full package, you will be given a security box to put your valuables in and then shown to one of the benches where an assistant will give you a red towel. You then take this towel into the changing alcove where you will strip down and put the towel around your waist. Note that no matter how comfortable you are with your body, that towel had better not leave your waist. After a bit, you will be given some wooden slippers and then led down another winding hallway, through the cold room and into the main bath area. From here, you will be shown the steam room where the temperature is the hottest. After sitting in there for a while, meaning after your pores have expunged themselves, you will be led back into the cold room by a large Arab man (or woman if you are a woman). With a series of grunts he will command you to sit up, lie down, and roll over as he takes a large glove with the consistency of steel wool and vigorously rubs it over your body. It will hurt a bit at first (you had better hope you are not sunburned), but, after a bit, it will actually start to feel good and you will feel even better when you see large rolls of dirt falling of your body, dirt that has probably been lodged in your skin for ten years.
After your exfoliation, your attendant will then take a loufa and some olive oil soap and give your entire body a good rub. Once soap has been grinded into every inch of exposed skin, you will be doused with water and cleansed. Then comes the best part - the massage. Your masseur will lay you down and then begin to use his fleshy arms to press deep into your chest, back, arms, and legs. He will press all his weight onto your spine, flattening you against the stone floor until every vertebrae cracks. Then your arms and legs will be bent into directions you never thought they could go, stretching your muscles and creating space between your compacted bones, all of it done quickly and forcibly but never inciting pain. Soon you will get a big slap on the back signifying that you are done and you will be left to wander back to the main steam area to sit and douse yourself with cold water from copper bowls. You will be left to sit for as long as you need and when you have fully recovered you can head back into cold area where the attendant will wrap you up like Tutankhamen in towels and then send you back into the main hall. Once in the main hall, you will be allowed to rest on your bench, drinking tea (and nargile if you wish) until you feel ready to go.
It’s truly a wonderful experience and will leave you feeling clean and refreshed the rest of the day. Note that although this hammam is a bit on the touristy side, it is still very traditional and everything is done in a traditional manner, and this means that there are separate times for men and woman. The times are set up by alternating days; men on Friday, women Saturday and so on. So if you are there with co-ed company, the best thing to do is just designate a bath time for each day. The whole process will take about an hour and a half, so if the men want to bathe one day, then the ladies can go to the National Museum or walk around the Old City. You can then alternate the next day. Also, this hammam is a bit more expensive than those in Damascus, so if you are visiting both cities and in a crunch for money, you may want to hold out for Damascus, but this hammam is definitely the grandest in Syria. Whether you bathe in Aleppo or Damascus, it is sure to be a great experience and one not to miss out on if you have never done it before.