Bathhouse of Sultan's favorite reopens in Istanbul

Tue May 31, 2011 4:05pm EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson and Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - For decades the 16th century bath house built for the Ottoman Empire's most infamous woman, Roxelana, languished unnoticed between the Blue Mosque and the Haghia Sophia, relegated to life as a carpet showroom.

Ottoman bath houses, structures once so important they were designed by the finest architects of the realm, fell out of favor as Turkey modernized and its citizens installed running water and bathrooms in their homes.

Yet the architectural pedigree of many of the bath houses, the rising number of foreign tourists, and a resurgent interest among Turks in all things Ottoman, have revived the fortunes of the old stone hamams as developers recognize their huge earning potential.

Roxelana's hamam, a long, domed building completed in 1557 by the prolific architect Sinan, is the latest Istanbul bath to be restored to its former grandeur -- emerging after years of neglect as an oasis of gleaming marble and inviting alcoves.

"Turkey is learning to place more importance on its past," said architect Tevfik Ilter, who led the 17 million lira project.

"In the last 15 years we started to restore our buildings. Before that the focus was on constructing things fast. If a structure was broken we'd just try and fix it with concrete."

In 2007 Istanbul authorities decided to return the hamam to its original use after a 105-year hiatus and launched a tender for its restoration, won by a tourism development group.

The bath will open in June and charge 86 euros for the customary steam bath, peeling and soap massage. The same service in one of the handful of old local hamams still in operation in Istanbul would cost around 15 euros.   Continued...

<p>An attendant walks past a customer receiving a soap massage at the newly restored Roxelana's hamam in Istanbul May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Osman Orsal</p>