One of the fine works of renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan has been restored to its former glory, and is hosting two sound installations of the 17th Istanbul Biennial to welcome guests prior to its official opening as a bathhouse in 2023.
The Cinili Hamam in Istanbul’s Fatih district, in the Zeyrek neighbourhood, is located in a designated UNESCO Heritage Site.
Built by the legendary Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan in the 1540s under the patronage of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha, also known as ‘Barbarossa’, the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Navy, the hamam was known for being decorated with blue-turquoise Iznik tiles (cinili means ‘tiled’ in Turkish).
The restoration project was undertaken by the Marmara Group, and Co-director and Head of Construction and Restoration at the Cinili Hamam Yavuz Suyolcu says that the tiles on the walls did not survive until the modern era, and that only fragments remained.
During the excavation some other 400 tiles were found, and Board Member of the Marmara Group and Co-Director of the Cinili Hamam Koza Gureli Yazgan says they will be displayed in a small museum at the back of the hamam when the project is complete.
Suyolcu adds that during the restoration “from the 6th century to the 20th, we found artefacts from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.” The restoration project began in 2010, and is still underway, with the restorers cooperating with the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and experts.
The hamam is located above a Byzantine cistern that used to supply it with water, although now of course when it opens in September 2023 as a functional bathhouse, it will be using water from the municipal supplies and will be heated with natural gas instead of wood fire.
Suyolcu says the hamam will take as long as four months to heat up, and once that happens, there is no possibility of displaying sound installations or artworks inside the building, so they wanted to use this opportunity to allow the public in for free to view the bathhouse and the artistic content temporarily housed within.
The hamam, in addition to having men’s baths, women’s baths and a museum, will also feature a small event garden. Suyolcu mentions that they have bought adjoining buildings and areas to Mimar Sinan’s Cinili Hamam, not to be confused with another Cinili Hamam in Uskudar, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.
Tiles that were cut out from the hamam and smuggled overseas can now be seen in the collections of the Louvre, Victoria & Albert, and the British Museums. Gureli Yazgan says they collaborated with international museums to correctly label the tiles in their inventory as originating from the Cinili Hamam in Zeyrek, as opposed to their previous labelling, “unknown provenance.”
Suyolcu says the tiles, which were in a very bad condition by the 18th or 19th century, were most likely sold to Western art institutions, by a French antique dealer, Ludovic Lupti, whose name also appears in the ledgers of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He believes that about six to eight thousand tiles, hexagonal or triangular, were removed in total.
The hamam is one of the 13 venues throughout the city offering locals and visitors access to the Istanbul Biennial, held for the 17th time in 2022 after a delay brought on by the pandemic.
Elif Kamisli, Exhibition Director for the Istanbul Biennial, mentioned the three curators for the 17th iteration organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV): Amar Kanwar, a visual artist from India; Ute Meta Bauer, a curator from Germany living in Singapore; and David Teh, an artist from Australia also living in Singapore.
The Cinili Hamam, she explains, is currently hosting two sound installations by Taloi Havini and Renato Leotta. The artworks were matched with this location because of the impeccable acoustic properties of the Cinili Hamam.
Havini’s multi-channel sound installation Answer to the Call focuses on her background from a small island in Oceania, where she has recorded ambient sounds, and ocean travelling chants from her native Buka Island. The sound composition is a collaborative work with Bougainville Island (Papua New Guinea) musician Ben Hakalitz.
Meanwhile Leotta has composed music based on a seaweed called ‘posidonia oceanica’, endemic to the Mediterranean, aptly titled Posidonia - Concertino per il mare. Throughout the hamam you can see dried samples of the posidonia plant, connecting you visually to the music, and reminding you that the plant thrives in clean waters, making a statement about the environmental devastation brought on by humanity.
The 17th Istanbul Biennial is currently underway in multiple locations, which can be visited, free of charge, until November 20, 2022. Mimar Sinan’s Cinili Hamam, commissioned by Barbarossa in the 16th century, is at Zeyrek, Itfaiye Caddesi No: 44 Fatih in Istanbul.
THUMBNAIL PHOTO: Speakers placed in a circular path at the Cinili Hamam for Taloi Havini's sound installation during the 17th Istanbul Biennial. (Photo by Eran Cakan)
HEADLINE PHOTO: The Cinili Hamam in Fatih's Zeyrek district, Istanbul, Türkiye, as seen from the exterior. (Photo by Murat Germen)