Çinili Hamamı. Murat Reis Mahallesi, Çavuşere Caddesi No. 204, Üsküdar. Men’s section: 0216 553 15 93; Women’s section: 0216 334 97 10, hours available most days, all day, but call ahead. Women’s section prices: 18 for hamam, 5 for kese, 5 for soap and massage, 3 for peştemel.
The Çinili Hamamı was built in 1640 as part of a mosque complex ordered by the Valide Sultan Mahpeyker Kösem, wife of Ahmet I (r. 1604-1617) and mother of Ibrahim I. Kösem Sultan was one of the most powerful women of the Ottoman 17th century and gained unprecedented influence in political decision-making when acting as regent, which she did three times, for her son Murad IV, and her grandson Mehmed IV. She made enemies as well as allies and was murdered in 1651 at the age of around 70.
Her complex has been divided by modern roads; the baths stand at the junction of Çavuşere Caddesi and Çinili Hamam Sokağı. The hamam’s unofficial website lists the neighborhood as Murat Reis but taxi drivers may better understand Bağlarbaşı. It’s a 5 minute 5 lira drive from the Üsküdar Iskelesi.
This is a double bath, with separate sections for men and women. Each has two central domed areas, one for the central room and the other acting as a large vestibule for relaxing. The name Çinili (tiled) apparently comes from the quantitities of Iznik tile that decorate both the mosque and the men’s bath, though I have seen neither.
I spent a Sunday afternoon in January at the women’s bath. Here, the vestibule has been extensively remade to include small changing rooms on two levels. These have their own charm, but any sense of a gracious space under the dome has been lost along with any original tile – an effect not greatly helped by a quanitity of new, bathroom looking tile, cheap plastic patio furniture, and a space heater. The last is an unfair complaint on a cold day; like most 17th century buildings, this isn’t equipped with central heating. And all the chairs were occupied: the hamam was really crowded.
The bathing section was less steamy than in past visits when the göbek taşı (the ‘belly stone’ under the big dome) was sometimes almost too hot to touch. Around the main domed room are a series of small alcoves alternating with small chambers. These house the faucets and basins which bathers themselves control. These are elegant marble, possibly 17th century, and the rooms are high ceilinged with niches for one’s peştemels (special hamam towels) and other bathing equipment. One of these small chambers is now a sauna; it’s bare-bones but hot and the wood is fragrant. The hamam is very clean and provides plastic flipflops; on this Sunday, though, the employees had to work to tidy discarded soap slivers, gazoz bottles, and the odd sponge.
The other bathers were mostly Turkish women and mostly seemed to be from the surrounds, though not necessarily the immediate neighborhood – several had come from Bostancı (further up the Asian coast of the Marmara). The mix was well-distributed between old and young – all other distinctions of dress, hair-style, make-up (and certainly headscarf) are lost. One sees the occasional tourist here but not often. Discussions between strangers revolved around other hamams, often new ones on the Asian side of Istanbul.
There was a striking difference between this and the hamams I’ve visited in other parts of the world: on this afternoon, no small children were present. This could indicate a variety of factors: the hamam as a space of adult sociability or work – children were not included in either; that most people come to the hamam for something other than necessity, as they have hot running water at home and children can be washed there; small children are offered an option to stay home or go elsewhere which requires someone else to look after them.
There was a usual array of bathing attire. Some younger women wore two-piece bathing suits; older women wore panties and sometimes bras, some wore peştemels around their waists. There is a kese (scrub) and soap & massage service, which is administered by one of several employees. The scrub is good though my keseci was unhappy that I’d applied moisturizer at some point a few days before which prevented the kese from adequately stripping the dead skin away. “Kremi kullanma!” The soap & massage is less recommendable, being really only a soap. This all takes place on the central stone, from which one can be dripped upon, pleasantly, with water condensing on the dome above.
The habits of the bathers range from social to serious; some are there to take care of their nails and hair as well as their skin. Clipping and filing is a public activity, but shaving goes on as quietly as possible, usually in a corner. Having a complete wash, which means nudity, also was done discretely, and a clean peştemel or bathrobe donned afterward.
The hamam strikes a good balance of the elegant, utilitarian, and local. On a winter’s day, it was crowded but still friendly and provides a place to escape domestic routines and the cold. It may not satisfy those who demand absolute luxury but it provides a comfortable experience nonetheless, without any of the hurry and pressure for tips of a more tourist-oriented hamam.