While Budapest is famous for its Christian and Jewish landmarks, it’s not widely known that the Hungarian capital also has some stunning historical Turkish baths from the 16th and 17th century Ottoman Turkish occupation. While Hungarians are slightly ambivalent towards the Turkish culture as the Turks were their fierce enemies for centuries, they are also very proud that within the area of the medieval Ottoman Empire, Hungary has the largest number of Turkish baths preserved in their original form.
Historical roots of Budapest’s Turkish Baths
Turkish rule in Hungary started with the occupation of Buda in 1541 and lasted for more than one and a half centuries until the liberation of the Buda area with the help of the Habsburgs in 1686-1699. While the Turkish legacy is still detectable in the Hungarian vocabulary and gastronomy, their biggest impact on culture was undoubtedly architectural. Apart from Spain and the Balkan states, there are hardly any European countries in which Muslim architecture so visibly complements the local architectural styles. Although the Turks occupied Hungary for mainly military reasons, they also built several mosques and about a dozen baths during their more than 150-year stay in the country.
The Turks’ love for baths has faith-based reasons. According to religious teachings, Muslims need to bathe in running water before their daily prayers. Personal hygiene and cleanliness in the Islamic culture is therefore a religious obligation, and visiting a bath is a form of both physical and spiritual purification.
The Turks have recognized early on that some thermal waters have a healing effect. Therefore, they called the ordinary cleansing baths “Hammam” (steam bath) and the medicinal baths “Ilidsa”. The center of an “Ilidsa” is always a round thermal pool, while in the center of a traditional Hammam is a marble sweat stone.
Turkish bathing culture
The classic Turkish bath (Hammam) consisted of three parts: a changing room (camekan), a transitional room (soğukluk) and a hot bathing room (harara, sıcaklık). A marble sweat stone was placed in the middle of the bathing room where guests were massaged. Along the walls there were small wash basins with running water. The floor was heated with thermal water and was regularly hosed to ensure high humidity.
In the beginning, public Turkish baths were only visited by men. Later, when they discovered that the warmth of the bath enhanced fertility, women were also allowed to visit, but only when the men were not present. Therefore, men usually used the baths in the morning, and women in the afternoon. Turkish baths soon became an important social center for people of all classes. It was not only a meeting place, but also a place for massage, wellness, cosmetic treatments and hairdressing as well. This was where mothers picked out the future brides for their sons and where the bride and groom came to perform a special cleansing ritual before their wedding.
The Turkish baths in Budapest are not “Hammam”, but rather “Ilidsa” type baths. Their services have expanded quite a lot over the centuries. Today, thermal pools, a sauna, a swimming pool, a steam room as well as various medical and wellness treatments are available for visitors. The Turkish tradition is also broken by the fact that Budapest Turkish baths can be visited by both men and women at the same time – although some baths still have special timeslots for women only.
Turkish baths in Budapest
Budapest has four Turkish baths: Rudas Bath, Király Bath, Veli Bej Bath and Rác Bath. The latter one – Rác bath – was fully renovated in 2010, but is unfortunately currently closed. Although there are plans to reopen it in the future, it’s not clear when. All baths are located in Buda.
The construction of Király Bath has started under Arszlán Pasha of Buda in 1565 and was completed by his successor, Szokoli Mustafa Pasha of Buda. It’s the oldest and smallest Turkish bath in Budapest. Király Bath never had a direct hot water source since the Turks built it further from hot water springs in order to provide bathing opportunities within the castle walls in case of a siege. The water of Király Bath was and still is provided by Lukács Bath. In addition to the historical Turkish pool, today it has three smaller pools and a jacuzzi pool as well.
Rudas Bath was built from 1566 to 1572 under the rule of Szokoli Mustafa. The construction of the bath was so successful that it still operates in its original form, with some additions. Rudas Bath today offers a complex bath and wellness experience with a beautiful historic Turkish pool, six thermal baths, a swimming pool, a wellness section and sauna world, and a panorama pool on the rooftop.
Built around the same time under the commission of the same Szokoli Pasha, Veli Bej Bath was one of the most beautiful baths of its time. After the Turkish occupation it was renamed Kaiser Bad by the Habsburgs. The historic Turkish bathhouse has been closed to the general public for decades but regained its original beauty after recent renovations. Apart from its Turkish pool, it now has a Finnish sauna, an infrared sauna, a steam bath, a jacuzzi, a Kneipp walking pool and a full body shower.
Must-try Turkish bathing ritual
Budapest Turkish baths offer plenty of medicinal and wellness treatments in a beautiful, historical environment. If you want to experience the original Hammam bathing ritual, however, you will need to visit a day spa. Mandala Day Spa, Vanilla Day Spa and Aquaworld Resort Budapest for example all offer a traditional Hammam ritual that is worth to try. The treatment starts with heating up the body in the steamy Hammam room. Then it’s gently washed with traditional olive soap. The body wash is followed by a special stretching massage on a heated marble bed. Between each step, warm water is poured on the body. The warm water and unique massage techniques provide perfect pampering for body and mind. After the treatment, guests are invited to drink traditional tea and they can also lay down to relax.
The benefits of Budapest thermal baths
Not only the Turkish baths, but most thermal baths in Budapest have a special mineral composition such as calcium, magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, sulfates, fluoride and sodium. The amount of minerals varies by location. These medicinal waters provide relief for damaged joints, chronic arthritis, and lower back pains. They are also effective for blood circulation and respiratory problems as well as after accidents as a post-traumatic therapy. They calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote sleep and overall well-being. Therefore, a trip to the Budapest thermal baths is beneficial for everyone and will leave visitors feeling refreshed, energized and relaxed at the same time.