After twelve years of meticulous renovation work, the Zeyrek Çinili Hamam in Istanbul is now reopening to the public. While much of the site will now be a museum, visitors to the hamam will be able to enjoy steam baths beginning next year.
The Zeyrek Çinili Hamam was built between 1540 and 1546 on designs made by the renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. The restoration was carried out by ATELIER BRÜCKNER, which aims to create a unique visitor experience by combining the traditional Turkish bath with a new museum, a contemporary art space and private gardens.
The bathhouse’s name “çinili” refers to the magnificent Iznik tiles that once lined its interior, and while fragments of the tiles have long been displayed in the likes of the Louvre and the British Museum, they can now be admired in the new museum on site for the first time. Alongside several thousand of these fragments, the restoration work also uncovered an array of valuable archaeological finds dating back to the Byzantine period, which now also form part of the museum.
ATELIER BRÜCKNER’s exhibition conveys the history, significance and workings of the Zeyrek Çinili Hamam as well as its role as a cultural hub since the Ottoman period. The exhibition is divided into four main themes. In the foyer area, visitors are introduced to “The Story of Hamam” – the building, its key features and its history, as well as the ambitious twelve-year restoration project. The “Journey of Water, Smoke and Steam” in the Well Courtyard presents the building’s fascinating technical water systems, while a dramatic light sculpture conveys the position of the former water wheel over the deep wells.
“The Tiles Gallery”, the main exhibition space on the ground floor, explores the discovery of the blue and white Iznik tiles from the 16th century, with a centrepiece of hundreds of fragments in a dramatic display. Finally, visitors explore “The Bathing Culture Gallery”, the upper exhibition space, with an impressive scenographic wave of over 70 traditional bathing clogs from the client’s private collection, alongside beautifully illustrated graphics about the “People of Hamam” and “Depictions of Hamam”.
ATELIER BRÜCKNER’s exhibition design has been kept simple in order to focus the visitor’s attention on the architecture and the objects on display. In clear contrast to the historic building, the displays have a minimalist design; dark grey powder-coated steel, corten steel and regional Marmara marble are used.
Media is used to explore the beauty of the tiles and their unique patterns and geometry. This includes two large and impressive projection-mapping displays in which, by augmenting original fragments, the tiles suddenly become “whole again”, and return to their original positions on the hamam walls. An interactive app acts as a portal through which the visitors can travel back in time to when the walls of the hamam were still completely decorated with Çinili tiles. In “The Bathing Culture Gallery”, visitors are invited to participate with animated scenes hidden under steam. They are “uncovered” through motion-tracked interaction.
Throughout all spaces, meticulous use of lighting accents the key features of the original architecture and illuminates the beauty of the collections. Special effect lighting is also employed to create a “water” effect in areas which were formerly used as part of the hamam’s plumbing system. A custom soundscape, inspired by the hamam and developed with Youmna Saba, creates a unique, almost spiritual, ambiance throughout.
The opening will follow in two phases, with the bathing rooms playing host to a contemporary art exhibition from September, before returning to their original use as a working hamam in early 2024. For more details, please visit the Zeyrek Çinili Hamam website.
Top Image: Zeyrek Çinili Hamam. View of exhibition “Healing Ruins”.
Art Works: Mehtap Baydu (center), Candeğer Furtun, Renée Levi, Ayça Telgeren (left to right). Credit: Giovanni Emilio Galanello