After Five Centuries, Stars Rise in Istanbul

This article is part of our Design special section about water as a source 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 original cobalt-and-turquoise cladding (cinili is the Turkish word for “tiled”), the hamam is the jewel of the Zeyrek district, a historic neighborhood in Istanbul that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Visitors can enjoy a traditional Turkish bath under soaring domes pierced with star-shaped skylights that send shimmering rays into the rooms. A typical hourlong bath costs 95 euros (about $101) and includes an exfoliation scrub and a massage accompanied by the soothing sound of water splashing into marble basins.

Just as in Ottoman times, anyone who can afford the entrance fee is welcome, regardless of faith, class or profession.

Restoring the bathhouse, which was built from 1530 to 1540, was Bike Gursel’s self-described obsession. Fourteen years ago, as a board member of the Marmara Group, a privately held real estate investment firm, Ms. Gursel decided a classical Turkish hamam was just the thing to diversify the company’s offerings.

“I was looking to buy a hamam for a long time, and when I couldn’t find one, I began collecting hamam artifacts such as embroidered towels and mother-of-pearl inlaid clogs made for the bath,” she recalled. “I was already thinking about a museum.”

One of the bathhouse’s cold rooms.Credit…Bradley Secker for The New York Times
The hamam was once covered in beautiful Iznik tiles.Credit…Bradley Secker for The New York Times
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