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Elegant & Magnificent
A work by the great 16th century architectural genius, Mimar Sinan, Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Bath 1556 stands out as much for its elegance as for its sheer magnificence.
Its construction commissioned by Hürrem Sultan, the wife and head concubine of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, to supply an income for the waqfs or charitable foundations, it was the largest Ottoman bath ever built in Istanbul. Erected in the year 964 A.H. (1556/57) directly opposite the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Mosque), it is known today as the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı.
This elegant structure, one of the monuments that best reflects Ottoman classical architecture, was built as a pair of baths which are almost exact replicas of each other except for a few details. The bath to the north on the Ayasofya/Hagia Sophia side was reserved for men while the bath to the south overlooking the Blue Mosque was for women.
One of the structural elements that distinguishes the Ayasofya Bath is the vault over the entrance to the men’s section. Its equal almost never seen in other baths, this five-segment vault, which exhibits the extraordinary elegance that was Sinan’s signature, is reminiscent of a mosque in appearance. There is an inscription over the entrance by a poet called Hüdaî.
The cold, or dressing, rooms of the double bath are its most striking sections, insofar as they were constructed with higher ceilings than the others and each one is illuminated by an octagonal skylight atop its dome. The hot section in contrast has lower ceilings.
These two baths, the men’s and women’s sections in other words, exhibit an architectural approach rarely encountered elsewhere in the sense that they were built at the opposite ends of a massive block 75 meters long on a north-south axis.
The Ayasofya Bath stood at the center of a densely settled quarter until the İshak Paşa fire of 1913 when close to the entire quarter surrounding it was destroyed and it was almost the only structure left standing. In 1916-1917 the bath was redesigned as a museum and a passageway opened in the wall between the men’s and women’s sections. The project however never came to fruition and only a large carpet exhibition was held here in the 1930’s. The bath, which was used in turn as a petrol depot and printshop depot in subsequent years, underwent its first major restoration in 1957-1958 and was finally restored to its original appearance following extensive repairs in 1986. Numerous exhibitions have been held at the venue, which was rented by the Culture Ministry in 1988. Then, in 2008, restoration work got under way again, this time with the aim of restoring the structure to its original function as a bath. Today the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı welcomes visitors as the most magnificent of all Ottoman public baths.
Ayasofya Bath is a double bath with separate sections for men and women. Both sections consist of cold, warm and hot rooms.
The men’s and women’s sections of the bath at are opposite ends of the building complex, which appears as a massive block 75 meters long.
All domes are lead-covered in the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, which is the only bath with two domes on a single axis. All these features make the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı the most magnificent bath in Ottoman history.