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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Çağaloğlu Hammam in Istanbul

What is Çağaloğlu Hammam?

Çağaloğlu Hammam is the best-preserved and most attractive of the 100 or more Ottoman period Turkish baths in Istanbul, built in 1741.

Cagaloglu Hammam

Çağaloğlu Hammam History

That this Turkish hammam is still hugely popular with both locals and visitors some 300 years after it was built is testament to the excellence of its design, the skill of the craftsmen who worked on it and the quality of the materials used. One of the last major bath houses to be built in the Ottoman period, the money it raised was used to fund a library that its patron, Sultan Mahmud I, had built in the Hagia Sophia.

During the Ottoman period there was a lack of even the most rudimentary washing facilities in most Istanbul residences. Bath houses, the grander ones endowed by the ruling sultans, their mothers, grand viziers or other wealthy notables, were therefore a crucial part of the city’s infrastructure, helping to ensure personal hygiene and to prevent disease. The antecedents of the Ottoman hammam were the great public baths of ancient Rome, palaces of health and hygiene as well as venues where the local population could come together and socialise. Ottoman hammams also served as safe meeting places, especially important for the usually cloistered women of an Islamic society, as the bath houses had either completely segregated male and female sections, or the sexes attended on different days.

Çağoloğlu Hammam has segregated male and female sections within the same building. Both conform to the pattern of a large, square room surmounted by a dome known as the camekan, where bathers pay the admission fee and get changed. Beyond that is a smaller, rectangular domed room, the soğukluk (or cold room), which acts as an antechamber to the chief room in any hammam, the hararet (or main bathing chamber). The hararets at this bath house are very grand. In each a lofty dome studded with small bottle-glass windowpanes rests on a circular arcade made up of graceful arches supported by slender marble columns. At the centre of each main chamber sits the heated göbek taşı (or navel stone), a raised octagonal marble platform where bathers sweat gently.

The patron of Çağoloğlu Hammam had an interesting life. Born in Edirne in 1696 and eldest son of Sultan Mustafa II, Mahmud was a hunchback. Perhaps because of this disability he wrote poetry, played chess and was fond of music rather than engaging in more physical pursuits. Like many other princes, Mahmud had been subjected to the indignity of the kafes (or ‘cage’) system, whereby possible successors to the throne were kept under house arrest within Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. After his father was compelled to abdicate in 1703, Mahmud was brought to Istanbul and entered the kafes, where he remained for the next 27 years under the control of Ahmed III, his father’s brother and successor to the throne. Ahmed III was himself forced to abdicate in 1730, and Mahmud became sultan in his place. He ruled with moderate success until 1754, when he died after attending prayers on Friday the 13th of December.

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