A story about Ephesus in the Dec. 15 Travel section incorrectly credited the excavation of the site, which is being carried out primarily by Austrians under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Education. The location of some relics from the city's Temple of Artemis, which can be seen in a museum on the site, was also omitted from the story. A reference, attributed to the Bible, to visits by Christ and several apostles to Ephesus cannot be substantiated.
The advertisement for Cagaloglu Hamami in Istanbul was suitably enticing. It said: "Have you ever been to a real Turkish bath? If you haven't you've missed one of life's great experiences, and you can't really be clean!"
In truth, it was not the real reason we had come to Turkey. We were two journalists in search of a place of rest, a place where the newspapers were beyond our comprehension and where we could soak up sun and ancient history.
But before long, following the seasoned traveler's advice that when in Turkey do as the Romans do, a primary mission here was simply to soak.
In this beautiful, raw country, where pollution rains supremely in the cities and relief is provided by a plethora of warm fresh underground springs, we became ardent bathers. Between trips to some of the most beautiful and complete ruins from the Greek and Roman empires plus visits to tiny, uncluttered beaches on the Aegean, we tested some of the best bathing in Turkey and what seemed to us the merely okay. We defied modesty; we indulged ourselves; we lolled in marble pools and relaxed in huge, Turkish bathrobes to enjoy or sometimes endure some of the more ancient forms of scrubbing up.
One bath was about as luxurious as an urban public swimming pool -- an underground spring in Datca that has been trapped by a brick wall for the town bathers in this southwestern Mediterranean coastal town. One, the classic Turkish hamam (bath) in Istanbul, with its dark, steamy interiors, is best described as exotic and most easily encountered with a bit of advance research on the proper etiquette.
And finally there were the warm-bubbling pool in Pamukkale and the indoor hamam once used by Ataturk at the Celik Palas in Bursa -- both so satisfying, so deliciously soothing, that we began to understand why some early Christians frowned on bathing as a variation of sin and decreed that dirtiness was a lot closer to godliness.
By contrast, cleanliness has almost always been an important part of life, religion and ritual in Turkish society.
"One of the amazing things about this as an institution is that in the 15th and 16th centuries -- a time when Europeans did not bathe even from year to year, particularly the French -- the hamam was a basic part of life for every person, regardless of stature here," said Heath W. Lowry, executive director of the Institute of Turkish Studies in Washington.
"In the Ottoman Empire, this was an institution that crossed religious boundaries. It was a very basic part of Turkish life," Lowry said.
With the advent of indoor plumbing, the baths in many urban areas of Turkey became less important for hygiene. But, in rural areas, Lowry said, the community baths are still important, with many residents dropping by every five days or so for a full scrubdown.
"In cities, and I know Istanbul best, it depends on the neighborhood. In lower- to middle-class neighborhoods the bath is more of a functional thing, whereas in upper-class areas you probably don't find them at all.
"If you do it's more of a social thing -- men, after a night on the town, might well go to a bath late at night," Lowry said. "It's much better than a cup of coffee after a night of drinking. It sweats it out well."
Eric Newby, whose book "On the Shores of the Mediterranean" has a very useful section on Turkey, provides a good primer on baths and their status both in the past and today. Earlier this century, according to Newby, the right to be clean was considered so essential that, even in this male-dominated country, a woman could get a divorce from her husband if he failed to give her money for the hamam.
Thus informed of the law as we prepared for our first bath in Turkey, my husband dutifully shared our Turkish lira and we made our way to the separate entrances at the Cagaloglu Hamami, a classic multidomed bath that is only a few blocks from Sancta Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace -- which are on any one-day tour of Istanbul. The men's entrance was on the main thoroughfare and fairly easy to spot, but the women's entrance was tucked around the side with a modest sign that gave no indication of the traditional edifice inside.
Just before we parted, my husband offered a bit of precautionary advice, passed along to us from an American friend. Don't get the full massage and complete bath had come the suggestion: What is a suitable rubdown for a Turkish bather may be akin to being caught under a bulldozer for anyone else.
Inside the female section of this hamam, a woman smiled and offered the fare: An unassisted bath was 1,000 Turkish lira (about $2.60) up to the "treatment fit for a Sultan" at 5,000 Turkish lire (about $13). (One adds to this price small tips for everyone who helps by scrubbing, bringing tea or simply offering towels.) I chose an "assisted" bath for 2,000 Turkish lira, which sounded not only reasonably priced but also safe.
This entrance room, protected from the street by a curtain, was dimly lit, and as my eyes focused, I saw that the chamber was lined with small compartments, the top half of which were glass, with scrubbed wood on the bottom. Each dressing room had a small bed for resting after the bath, a small table for coffee or tea and a Turkish carpet on the floor.
In my dressing cabinet, I disrobed as modestly as possible -- given that the top half of the room was glass -- and, once stripped, wrapped myself in a towel that was barely large enough to go around. The attendant brought wooden slippers and directed me through a narrow door, down a short hall and through another small door into the 350-year-old bathing chamber.
The door opened into a large, misty room of gray-blue marble, and for a moment I stood there alone, taking in the architecture, the alcoves for bathers, the basins with antique marble carvings, the columns that gave the room an aura of institutional authority. The sound was of water running into basins or slapping onto the marble floors, and the overwhelming and not unpleasant smell was of some very basic kind of soap, unperfumed and obviously sturdy.
Along the walls were marble basins about six feet apart, under graceful marble arches, making room for about eight bathers to wash comfortably while the central area was reserved for assisted bathing or massages on large plastic mats.
Three old women, wearing nothing but large black nylon underpants and towels knotted around their heads, were there to provide the "assistance." One beckoned, but instead of walking toward them, I skated, the sandals (nalin) that had been provided suddenly floating on a layer of soap that was steadily being washed over the slick marble floor.
Once steadied, I was placed next to a basin and ordered by hand signals to begin ladling warm water over my head and body. I sat, dutifully pouring water over my head, with the voice of my mother rising to a panicked shout in the back of my mind, asking me why I did not bring my Lysol. As I watched another woman enduring a massage, I began to wonder whether this bath would add as many germs as it took away. I consoled myself with the recollection that, according to the brochure, Florence Nightingale once washed here.
Within minutes, it was my turn on the mat for the "assisted" part of the bath. The assistant, who seemed less formidable up close, rubbed my body with a harsh, woolen mitt that I feared was removing not only the dead skin that I had paid to have removed, but also some that might have had a fairly good chance of surviving.
After a suitable rinsing, she gave me a good soaping, careful to get behind the ears and also to stay away from those sections of the body that are traditionally one's own responsibility. (While Turkish baths were patterned more or less on the Roman version, the excesses that may have accompanied mixed bathing in the later Roman period have not lived on through the intervening centuries in the hamam. This is an exotic, interesting event, but it is not sexy. My husband reported that the same was true in the men's section. And while mixed bathing is allowed in some establishments, like hotels, both sexes are cordially ordered to wear bathing suits.)
Finally, I slid back to the cubicle, where I could rest, dress and prepare myself for a departure that included modest tips for all (totaling about 200 Turkish lira). For all the timidity, I felt terrific, skin alive and rejuvenated, backache from the airplane gone.
Around the corner in the men's section, my husband had especially enjoyed lounging on the large central area that is heated from underneath and gives the whole room its warm, steamy feeling. He roared out of the men's bath declaring himself ready to samba.
Once outside Istanbul, in small rural towns, we stayed away from the more traditional baths and went instead to areas fed constantly by underground springs. As we drove down the Aegean coast, avoiding hellbent Turkish drivers who have been known to pass a bus that is already passing a truck in oncoming traffic, we arrived safely at Datca, a tiny port on a long finger of mountainous land pointing into the Mediterranean. Here where most tourists arrive by yacht or small sailboat, the chief town bath is a huge makeshift swimming hole that is fed by underground streams of fresh warm water.
The residents of this gentle-looking place have constructed a wall around the springs, but they have left one large gap where water continuously arches in a six-foot waterfall.
Natives and tourists alike took turns this steamy September afternoon sitting under the downpour, giving up the plastic community chair for a moment to apply shampoo and then returning to indulge in a robust public shower. Bathing suits remain on, of course, since the beach a few yards away features rows of sunbathers lazily viewing the town ablutions.
The pool itself is not for everyone. Much of the water is cool, but as you swim, suddenly a stream of warm water bubbles ever so gently from below. There seems to be no solid floor in these warm spots, so we floated over these springs, our feet dangling happily in a mass of soft mud.
By far our best and favorite immersion was in Pamukkale, once a Roman spa built on a profusion of hot mineral springs that now boasts a nest of motels and camping areas. It was a long drive -- about 150 miles from the lovely port of Maramis -- from the coast inland to this hilltop town, and more than once we wondered whether it would be worth it.
But as we rounded the last bend, the tiny town of Pamukkale, which means "cotton castle," was a suddenly dazzling mass of white in this green farmland. Once called Hierapolis, the town perches atop a large white hill made of salts deposited by mineral-rich waters running down into the nearest valley. It is the kind of place that looks magnificent in real life, cheap and tawdry on a post card.
Children wade barefoot in small white pools created by eons of salt dripping down the mountain. Elders rest, letting the calcium in the waters soothe them. Well-heeled tourists stay in a large, rambling motel that features a profusion of pools, all of which seem to be well-guarded against those who are not registered.
The best of baths is at the government-owned tourism hotel, or Turizm Oteli, which is on a side street in Pamukkale and is easy to miss. Within a few hundred yards of a government-run museum that has artifacts from the old Roman baths, this hotel has the look of a county office building, a look that is enhanced by the number of military officers and bureaucratic-looking people going in and out of the place.
For 600 Turkish lira an hour, the gatekeeper gave us a large key for a small but adequate dressing chamber. Just a few feet from the chamber, steps led to a pool that stretched throughout the courtyard of the hotel. The water was warm, a perfect bath temperature, but as we swam luxuriously toward the center and perched momentarily on a Roman ruin in the central pond, we became aware of the bubbles.
My mate, smiling uncontrollably, said: "It's like swimming in warm Perrier," a remark that we both thought was extremely clever and descriptive until a German couple swam by, the woman exclaiming, "Das ist wie Perrier Wasser."
An hour, as it turned out, was more than enough time to relax in the gaseous waters. On leaving, we felt slightly heavy -- having quickly become accustomed to being uplifted by waves of tiny bubbles that made us feel exuberantly light and -- momentarily at any rate -- graceful.
Driving back to Istanbul, after our tour of the Turkish Mediterranean and its stunning ruins along the coast in Ephesus and Didyma and the Roman baths in Pamukkale, we stopped overnight in Bursa. At the Celik Palas, a hotel much beloved by the father of modern Turkey, Ataturk, we asked for accommodations in the old section. They gave us an elegant room with a balcony, marble bathroom, burgundy silken bedspreads -- all for about $36.
On the beds, in plastic bags, were two thick white bathrobes and instructions on how to get to the Celik Palas baths, which were once for men only but consented to go coed in 1952. Wearing our bathing suits as suggested, we showered and then eased into the pool. The waters, which come out of the ground at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, are mixed with enough cold water to bring the temperature down to a still-hot 95 to 125 degrees.
Alone in the domed marble bath, a natural echo chamber, I had the urge to sing but managed to hold back the first strains of "Bye-Bye, Love," settling for a brief yodel since we were alone that evening. This desire to break into song is apparently such a common failing that a number of tourist books warn against singing in the baths, an event that has been known to offend fellow bathers who have come for silence and relaxation.
When my husband turned a rosy color and my fingers began to wrinkle, we emerged, wrapped ourselves in the luxurious robes and wandered upstairs to dress for dinner, remarking on how this vacation had been educational, enjoyable and hygienic -- to wit, good clean fun.