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After Five Centuries, Stars Rise in Istanbul

After Five Centuries, Stars Rise in Istanbul


This article is a part of our Design particular part about water as a supply of creativity.


On May 3, Zeyrek Cinili Hamam, a 500-year-old public bathhouse, reopened in Istanbul after a 13-year, $15-million-plus restoration. Named for its authentic cobalt-and-turquoise cladding (cinili is the Turkish phrase for “tiled”), the hamam is the jewel of the Zeyrek district, a historic neighborhood in Istanbul that’s now a UNESCO World Heritage web site.

Visitors can take pleasure in a conventional Turkish bathtub underneath hovering domes pierced with star-shaped skylights that ship shimmering rays into the rooms. A typical hourlong bathtub prices 95 euros (about $101) and consists of an exfoliation scrub and a therapeutic massage accompanied by the soothing sound of water splashing into marble basins.

Just as in Ottoman occasions, anybody who can afford the doorway price is welcome, no matter religion, class or occupation.

Restoring the bathhouse, which was constructed from 1530 to 1540, was Bike Gursel’s self-described obsession. Fourteen years in the past, as a board member of the Marmara Group, a privately held actual property funding agency, Ms. Gursel determined a classical Turkish hamam was simply the factor to diversify the corporate’s choices.

“I used to be trying to purchase a hamam for a very long time, and once I couldn’t discover one, I started gathering hamam artifacts equivalent to embroidered towels and mother-of-pearl inlaid clogs made for the tub,” she recalled. “I used to be already eager about a museum.”

In 2010, at Ms. Gursel’s urging, the Marmara Group purchased the Zeyrek Cinili Hamam despite the fact that it was a close to smash. “The architect mentioned it will take three years to revive,” she recalled. “Not 13.”

The restoration specialists KA-BA Architecture in Ankara, Turkey, supervised the undertaking and its group of archaeologists, engineers, students and artisans. The lengthy and sophisticated course of started with a survey of the bathhouse, which had been badly broken over the centuries by earthquakes, fires and neglect.

The 30,000-square-foot constructing was utterly unstable.

“We needed to excavate 36 toes down to seek out stable floor,” mentioned Cengiz Kabaoglu, KA-BA Architecture’s founder. A subterranean construction of metal and concrete was constructed to bolster the compound. This allowed the builders to restore the roof and partitions, set up gasoline furnaces to interchange the previous wood-burning ones, substitute the wooden beams and tie the domes with ribbons of metal.

Antiques surfaced throughout the excavations: historic cash, fifth-century Roman glass bottles, Byzantine oil lamps, terra-cotta vessels and tile fragments. They are on view in a brand new museum subsequent to the bathhouse.

What didn’t flip up have been the resplendent Sixteenth-century Iznik tiles that after lined the partitions. Ms. Gursel discovered that, within the 1870s, an Ottoman antiques seller took possession of the tiles and spirited them off to Paris. Some ended up within the Louvre. Others within the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Others within the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All have been reassembled nearly in a show on the hamam’s museum.

Now the hamam partitions are lined in pale grey Marmara marble. The rooms are minimal, elegant and serene. On the rebuilt exterior, the roofs have been resurfaced in lead, with handblown glass “elephant-eye” hats defending the skylights. A roof terrace gives views of the magnificent domes.

When Ms. Gursel retired in 2021, she handed her Marmara Group board seat and restoration obligations to her daughter, Koza Gureli Yazgan, a enterprise college graduate.

Mrs. Gureli Yazgan described the restoration undertaking as thrilling, however not straightforward. “We worth cultural preservation, however this undertaking was like opening a Pandora’s field,” she mentioned. “Every discovery led to a delay. At one level the board mentioned, ‘Stop digging.’ But we couldn’t. It was the story that saved us going.”

The hamam’s authentic patron was Hayreddin Barbarossa, the grand admiral of the Ottoman Empire who was additionally identified by the Italian translation of his identify: Redbeard. Born on the island of Lesbos within the late 1400s, Barbarossa was a part of a household of pirates who roamed the Mediterranean on the time of Spain’s conquest of Grenada. As privateers, they ferried Muslim immigrants compelled to depart Spain to North Africa, captured Rhodes and Tunis, attacked the Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese fleets, and briefly conquered Algiers in 1516.

Barbarossa’s profitable naval campaigns attracted the eye of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, who appointed him his grand admiral in 1534.

Before Barbarossa died in 1546, he commissioned the bathhouse from Mimar Sinan, a former slave who turned the chief imperial architect of the Ottoman Empire on the peak of its political and cultural energy in 1538.

The bathhouse is a uncommon “double hamam” with separate areas for women and men.

“In addition to the features of bodily and religious purification and cleaning, hamams additionally offered their frequenters with the chance to socialize, sustain with each day occasions, gossip and have fun many milestones of life collectively,” writes Leyla Kayhan Elbirlik, a visiting scholar at Harvard University, in a brand new e-book on the bathhouse restoration, “Barbarossa’s Cinili Hamam: A Masterpiece by Sinan.” Those milestones included circumcision baths for boys, premarriage baths for women and men and postnatal baths for moms and their newborns.

The bathhouse was additionally notable for its deal with — the “Fifth Avenue” of an prosperous Ottoman neighborhood, house to palace officers and army commanders. Barbarossa presumably picked the spot as a result of it neglected the Bosporus, permitting him to view the sultan’s shipyards he supervised on the other shore.

Now, 500 years later, the Zeyrek Cinili Hamam could once more be the anchor of a modern space. Across the road, a big new resort is underneath development.



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