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Istanbul's historic Zeyrek Çinili Hammam has reopened 2024

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    Istanbul's historic Zeyrek Çinili Hammam has reopened 2024

    Turkish baths, or hammams, are integral to Turkey's cultural heritage, known for their deep roots in the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. These establishments, which serve both as public bathhouses and social spaces, are renowned for their architectural complexity, featuring a series of rooms each dedicated to specific rituals.
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    Zeyrek Çinili Hammam, one of Istanbul's oldest, is located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Zeyrek. Originally built between 1530 and 1540 by architect Mimar Sinan under the commission of Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa, the hammam has undergone a significant transformation. Nearly 500 years later, the Marmara Group, a real estate and hospitality conglomerate, acquired the complex and enlisted local firm KA-BA Architects for its revival. The renovation preserved ancient Ottoman features, including Iznik tiles, wall paintings, and Byzantine cisterns, while integrating contemporary design elements.

    This blend of historic and modern design enhances the hammam experience. A key feature is the central stone, or göbektaşı, where guests relax under a starry dome before receiving treatments in marble massage units crafted by Athens-based artist Theodore Psychoyos.

    The hammam has been reimagined as a multifunctional hub, incorporating a museum that celebrates Turkey's bathing culture and the building's intricate history, alongside event spaces. Cengiz Kabaoğlu, founding principal of KA-BA, discusses the renovation challenges, noting the delicate balance required to integrate modern functionality with the preservation of the building's historic fabric.

    Significant challenges included addressing the building's dilapidated condition, with disintegrating domes and vaults, cement-plastered walls, and eroded tiles. Restoring these features required meticulous work to maintain the harmony between old and new elements, crucial in cultural heritage projects.
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    The redesign also focused on preserving the traditional bathing areas—frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium—while creating spaces for cultural and artistic events. Incorporating the surrounding areas allowed for the addition of a new annex to house artifacts from the site and the private collection of Bike Gürsel, a Marmara Group board member.

    Excavations revealed cisterns from earlier periods, integrated into Sinan’s original water system, adding to the site's historical significance. The hammam now features original 16th-century tile mortars, multi-layered wall decorations from the 18th and 19th centuries, and intricately repaired white muqarnas.
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    Located in the bustling Kadınlar Pazarı area, known for its historic significance and vibrant atmosphere, the Zeyrek Çinili Hammam’s restoration reflects the rich history and social fabric of Istanbul, blending past and present in a remarkable cultural landmark.
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