A Five Star Toilet: Bathroom Tales in Turkey

Needs must - a Turkish squat toilet.

Back in 1990 when I first visited Turkey, toilets, whether squat or what we think of as ‘normal’ but the Turks call Ala Franga, were a constant topic of discussion among tourists visiting the country. There were plenty around, in mosques, restaurants, bus stations and even in free standing facilities in parks, but the question was, would they be something you’d actually want to use? At that time they were rarely supplied with toilet paper. After paying the entry fee you were usually given a few pieces of thin tissue, which I think were meant for drying your hands. Everyone was expected to use the worn out looking jug or hose next to the toilet for personal bidet style ablutions. Often the toilet flush didn’t work and so the jug has a dual purpose.

I’m pretty tough and when needs must, nothing stops me. In 1990 I used outdoor drop toilets in the Black Sea region, whose contents were regularly cleared out to be used as fertiliser on the nearby fields I could see through the gaps in the slat door. After having to hold my breath to use a stinking facility in an old bus station in Ağrı in 2001, I discovered there wasn’t even any water connected to fill the jug. I walked out and refused to pay for the service, despite a small boy harassing me for money even after I climbed back on my bus. In 2004 I had to use a cigarette lighter to find my way into basement toilets of a restaurant in Kahta. Despite the lack of electricity they were surprisingly clean, but that, I found out later, was because the restaurant had only opened three days previously. Give it time my Turkish friends said.

Yet had I gone to Giresun in 2000, I’d have discovered one of Turkey best facilities, at least according to the man who made it possible.

Turkish Daily News, 18 December 2000

As it was I was lucky enough to visit Gulhane Park in Istanbul in 2001, the former gardens used by the ladies of the harem. In keeping with the palace theme, the ladies toilets were tastefully furnished with lush maiden hair ferns, chirping canaries, cosy chairs and a full-length chaise lounge. An ironing board and iron stood ready in one annexe while a double tiered tea pot simmered quietly in another. I can’t remember what the actual toilets looked like, but it was a memorable experience, for all the right reasons.Waiting area outside the toilets in Gulhane Park, Istanbul, 2000.

I’d love to hear your toilet stories from Turkey, both good and bad. If you’re brave enough, please share them in the comments below.



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About Goreme1990

I’m Lisa Morrow, the person behind www.insideoutinistanbul.com. I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up a leafy middle class North Shore suburb. After finishing high school I went to Sydney University but failed to find my niche. After working as a public servant, cleaner, sales assistant, waitress, bar maid and car counter, I went overseas. Once there I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. My three months stay in the small central Anatolian village of Göreme changed my life. On my return to Australia I earned a BA Honours Degree in Sociology from Macquarie University. An academic career beckoned but the call to travel was louder. After several false starts I moved to Turkey and lived there for ten years. In 2017 I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, but continue to travel regularly to Istanbul. In addition to my blog I've written a travel narrative memoir called "Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul" and two collections of essays, "Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City" and "Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries". I have a regular segment on San Francisco Turkish radio and in early 2017 I released an audio walking tour called "Stepping back through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk", through VoiceMap. In addition I write for various international and Australian magazines and websites, as well as for this blog. A full list of my published articles, with links, can be found on the Writing on Turkey and Writing Beyond Turkey pages.
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11 Responses to A Five Star Toilet: Bathroom Tales in Turkey

  1. Annie says:

    So I was working at a place with ala Turka when I realised I could actually flush it. I had been using a jug to get rid of my “waste” (sometimes quite time consuming) for over a year, when I noticed. 😀

  2. Alessandra says:

    Ah what a fascinating topic! 😀 I have been living in Istanbul for almost two years and have been doing my best to stay away from squat toilets. There’s something about them that makes me wanna run away as fast as I can. Ewww!

    • Goreme1990 says:

      A lot of people feel like that. When I first came to Turkey in 1990 they were the norm, so carrying tissues all the time was a must. Especially when you travel to the east and south east. That said, they’re often really clean, although very wet, because of all the water people use afterwards!

  3. Claire says:

    I got caught out while on the metro in Istanbul. There was a toilet inside one of the stations so due to the fact i was busting i went in. All started out fine, but then i heard gurgling, i looked down the whole in the floor but nothing looked suspicious so i carried on my business, after a few more gurgles the toilet suddenly backed up and i got a short sharp shower of rancid sewer water. Ive never moved so fast in my life. I had to continue my journey on the metro covered in poop, luckily it was quite late so not many people see me. Needless to say everything i was wearing went straight in the bin, including my shoes !!!

  4. Rachel A says:

    I hate using public toilets in Turkey! I only ever use ala turka as a last resort…I don’t think I have the knack as I have ended up with splashed shoes before 😜🙈
    I HATE paying if the toilets are not clean. What am i paying for then? I was so happy the other week when I paid 2 lira (shocking) for wee but the place was SPOTLESS! Skipped out of there 😁

    • Goreme1990 says:

      They can be challenging, but at least as long as there is a mosque where you are in Turkey, you know there’s a public toilet handy. That’s not the case everywhere.

  5. Davut Gürbüz says:

    Thanks to my parents who taught me how to be a clean human !! For me, it’s about being a human being…

    Ala Franga comes from Frank word as you all guessed. (French culture was popular for a while before American-British became dominant. Pardon,antre,… )

    Ala Turka; the one there is a hole you sit on and the one you can see a hose or a box of water with a career cup. You wash ❤ it by hand using plenty of water and dry it. This is unique to TR culture. A sitting toilet is healthier because it prevents from hemorrhoids(physicians say).

    Ala Franga:
    The one a small tap integrated with the closets (this is unique to TR). This tap is a completely wrong design for ladies because water comes from back and carry thingz to the front. In the middle east you see a small shower hose aside closet. You grasp its handle and let water flow. What I understood from the power of the water flow is they don’t wanna touch that part for cleaning 😉

    Let me tell you more,
    The closet in a Jewish hotel in Jaffa street in Jerusalem was the worst one for me. There wasn’t water at all. Neither hose nor a filled tank. It was the first time I saw a closet without integrated-tab. So, I travelled with a water bottle everywhere.

    In Saudi there is also closets with mini-shower supplement and for me it’s an adaptation product of west and east culture. I prefer to use the closet at home. I’m the only one using it. If I’m outside I search for an ala Turqa one. They are cleaner and healthier. Especially in malls, when you don’t know who sit and how they used before.
    Things change with education and culture. What you see in Agri and Izmir would be different.

  6. Dina Street says:

    Well, you might not want to publish my encounters with Turkish toilets while ”on the rag.” But let me know!

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