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THE BATHING CLOGS

Mine Ovacık Dörtbaş

Turkish Cultural Foundation Fellow (2010-2011)
Assistant Professor, Izmir University of Economics

Bathing Clogs, in Turkish called “Nalın”, are special wooden footwear, and were worn during traditional Turkish bathing ceremonies, rituals and the daily personal cleansing activities during the Ottoman period and the early Turkish Republic. These clogs were crafted with high heels in order to protect feet from soapy and dirty water running on the floor. They were customarily worn by females, males and children at Turkish baths.

The Nalın was a common daily object of Ottoman craftsmanship in the past. The base of the Nalın was carved out of wood, ornamented with various techniques and material by artisans. The base was generally carved out of solid hard woods such as plane, walnut, box, tropical trees, ebony and sandal sandalwood; and embellished with silver, gold, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and jingles. The Nalın increased in variety based on artisanship techniques applied to it, such as ornamental inlaying with mother-of-pearl, silver filigree and being sheathed in tooled silver or gold.  The strap of the Nalın, attached to the wooden sole, which wrapped over the user’s foot, was made out of fabric, leather and decorated with valuable stones, pearls, gilded silver thread and embroidery. Today, the Nalın represents the cultural values of artisanship of the Ottoman period and as a nostalgic object of traditional Turkish bath culture.

At the present day, the Nalın is generally no longer worn in Turkish baths. They are either collectors' items or nostalgic objects mostly passed on from older generations. One may view hand-made Ottoman Nalıns in museums, antique shops and in some private collections. The antique Nalın has a remarkable basic form. Each clog has two parallel vertical wooden plates that serve as heels. The sole and the heels are carved together from a single piece. While the front heel is a plate, the rear heel acquires a different character with a rounded shape, resembling the heels of today's slippers. The left and right sole have the same form, unlike the mirror-symmetrical sole of contemporary slippers or shoes. The soles are shaped independently of the anatomy of the feet with a neat and slim look. The tipping front and rear edges create a variety in morphology among the existing antique Nalıns that managed to survive to the present day.

The heels of the Nalın were not only for elevating the body from a wet and hot floor, but also carried cultural values, especially those of women. The various heights of the Nalın represented the hierarchy in society. Similarly, the value of the embellishing materials and the quality of the craftsmanship of this wooden footwear represented the socio-economic statute of its owner. From Ottoman Miniatures and the painting and engraving works of European artists who visited the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, it can be determined that the height of the Nalın ranged approximately between 5 to 20-30 centimeters. We can infer that the highest ones were worn by the patroness. For example, an 18th century miniature entitled “Hamam Pleasure” by Fazıl from Enderun presents a well-dressed, wealthy-looking woman wearing a very high-heeled Nalın, who was either an important customer herself or a Hamam keeper who tended to high status customers. It is hard to be sure exactly what the realty was, as these visuals were based on the artist’s imagination and created mostly by male artists who were not allowed in the female baths.  Although it is hard to believe how bath users managed walking on the Nalin, especially on wet and slippery marble surfaces, we find very high-heeled Nalıns in antique collections of today. These examples indicate that they were worn by women as a means of showing off their social status in the baths.

Traditional public baths were one of very few social places beyond the home for women, who were allowed to organize and get involved in ceremonies with female friends and family members in Ottoman culture.  In this case, the Nalın was an indispensable traditional object of women’s daily life and their dowry chest. Young girls, of marriage-age, or their female family members would embroider the strap of the Nalın for her as a dower item. When the time came to get married, the bride-to-be's foot size was measured and a Nalın was ordered by the groom’s family for her as a marriage gift. While the material value of customized Nalın showed the socio-economic status of the groom’s family, it was an icon, which changed the marital-status of the engaged women. Another tradition was to give a Nalın as a gift to a newborn baby.  These traditions, rooted from the Turkish public bath culture, lost their roles to other bathing clogs and new forms of slippers after bathrooms began to be built in houses and apartments.

Today, instead of the Nalın, wooden slippers called “Takunya” are worn in both new and historical Turkish baths. Takunya are lower-height wooden bathing clogs. They are mass-produced, semi-hand and semi-machine made footwear that are not only worn in public baths and home baths, but also used for outdoor facilities. A machine cuts the sole in the same form for both the left and right, Rubber strips, made from used-tires, are then nailed to the bottom of the sole. These slippers are crafted for daily and public use, to be affordable, easy to produce and distribute, and are not embellished to the degree of the Nalın. They are simply decorated with a wood-burning technique. In the last sixty years, cheap plastic slippers became commonly available and the demand for Takunya reduced. Plastic slippers were not only the reason for this decreased demand, but also lack of interest because of their heaviness, non-ergonomic use and step-sound, considered to be noisy. Briefly, we can say that lack of development and deficiency in the design of these wooden clogs caused them to disappear both in production and use. In time, common plastic slippers have taken the place of the Takunya in Turkish baths.

Historical wooden shoes of the world are identical in an interesting respect – they represent the social life of different cultures. They give us knowledge of their daily use, craftsmanship, material, socio-economic, and even socio-political aspects of cultures. The Nalın, as one of them, is related to other historical wooden shoes such as clogs from Venice (Chopine), the Netherlands, Spain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, England, Sudan, Japan (Zori and Geta) and China, etc. This close relation appears mostly in the form and the use of material, but differentiates in use. For example, the Nalın was similar to some type clogs in terms of its structure with two-heels elevating the body. There are records of glamorous Nalıns of 16th century, being shown in the artworks of European Artists, who visited Ottoman, and consequently influenced European fashion. A well-known example is the Venetian clogs that were inspired by the Nalın. Among the wooden clogs of the world, the Nalın is closely related to its use, which was created specifically for use in public bathing facilities. Other examples were worn indoor and/or outdoor.

Nalın making (Nalıncılık) and makers (Nalıncı) represented one of the specializations of craftsmanship and craftsmen in the past. As daily bathing facilities have changed, this craftsmanship has almost disappeared. Today, in some cities of Anatolia, a few Nalın makers produce machine-made Nalın with hand-made ornamentations for the tourist trade. For example, in Trabzon, Sivas and Ankara-Beypazarı (cities well-known for their silver-filigree) and Maraş, Gaziantep and Urfa (regions recognized for their mother-of-pearl inlaying), it is possible to find Nalın makers providing newly produced traditional bathing clogs.  Only a couple of traditional Takunya makers remain, apparently without enjoying much prosperity. One of the last Nalın makers, the Tolga brothers in Tire - Izmir, are, in their own way, trying to continue the Takunya making tradition as a form of cultural heritage handed down from their father.

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