Splendid Renaissance baths still flourish at the entrance to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Built for the mother of Sultan Murad III, the all-powerful Nurbânu, and opened in 1584, today the Çemberlitas Hammam is the liveliest of Istanbul’s grand baths.
Nurbanu Sultan, wife of Selim II, the intelligent, immensely wealthy patron of the Çemberlitas baths, best-loved and liveliest of Istanbul’s “marketplace” hammams. A thimble in her huge property portfolio, the double baths (for men and women) were shrewdly located on the Divanyolu, the road leading to Ayasofya and the Topkap.
Known until recently as the Valide Hamam, or Queen Mother’s baths, they were designed by Sinan, builder of mosques for sultans, at the height of his genius. The hand of the great Renaissance architect is evident in the gently pointed arches, lace-like marble carving and classical elegance.
The baths are a soothing, contemplative contrast to the bustling bazaar a few feet away. The hammam owes its state of preservation to the fact that in the 1650s it came under the protection of another powerful patron, the grand vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, who built his mausoleum directly opposite, and, next to the baths, the Vezir Han, a gigantic hotel-cum- shopping arcade which at one time had its own private passage to the hammam.
Çemberlitas Hammam, Vezirhan Cad 8, Çemberlitad, Istanbul (www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr; 00 90 212 522 7974)
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