The Zeyrek Çinili Hamam.

Photo: İbrahim Özbunar

For nearly five decades, Mimar Sinan—otherwise known simply as Grand Sinan—oversaw all major construction projects for the Ottoman Empire, reshaping the greater Mediterranean area one bridge, mosque, and mausoleum at a time. Today, five centuries later, a little-known wonder by the architect is welcoming back the public in Istanbul. The Zeyrek Çinili Hamam, so named for the blue Iznik tiles that once lined it, first opened around 1540, its domed rooms a breathtaking backdrop for communal bathing. History took its toll (those tiles, for instance, were long ago sold off to private and public collections), and the complex eventually fell into disrepair. But thanks to the Turkish hospitality and real estate company The Marmara Group, it has now been reimagined as a multipurpose arts and wellness center, with exhibition spaces and hot and cold rooms. KA-BA Architecture led the 13-year design and preservation project, unearthing Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman artifacts along the way, including fragments of those original Iznik beauties. That trove is displayed in a new museum dedicated to hammam traditions. The complex’s Byzantine cisterns, meanwhile, serve as a venue for contemporary art. Inaugural shows also span the bathing areas, in advance of their official splash opening next year.

The cold room of the women’s section.

İbrahim Özbunar

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