Introducing İstanbul’s newest museums

A few weeks ago the Museum of Innocence, novelist Orhan Pamuk’s private museum »»

A few weeks ago the Museum of Innocence, novelist Orhan Pamuk’s private museum in Çukurcuma, finally opened to great fanfare.

Although there are many museums around the world devoted to individual writers, often housed in their own homes, this one may be unique in that it is dedicated instead to the characters created in a work of fiction, and for that reason alone the hoopla was probably justified. But the truth is that several other excellent museums have also opened in İstanbul in recent years without attracting a fraction of the publicity given to the Museum of Innocence. So I’ve also listed these, including a couple that could certainly do with a bit more attention.

Museum of Innocence

When is a museum not a museum? When it’s the Museum of Innocence, of course. First a novel and now a beautifully presented evocation of the content of that novel, the Museum of Innocence is probably best thought of as a vast and prolonged piece of conceptual art in multimedia format. The book itself is something of a doorstopper despite the fact that it rests on the fairly flimsy story of a man’s eight-year-long obsession with a woman that plays out with little drama right up until the end. Now onto that story has been added this extraordinary house-sized “museum” that seeks to encapsulate aspects of the book in traditional museum-style glass cases full of objects. Each of these vitrines is a little work of art in itself, as is, surprisingly, the wall on the ground floor that is decorated with 4,213 cigarette butts supposedly from cigarettes smoked by the fictitious heroine Fusun, alongside tiny hand-written quotations from the book. From a distance it looks fleetingly like a board onto which innumerable dead butterflies have been pinned, a Victorian convention that would itself have been most at home in a museum.

Only on the topmost floor does the Museum of Innocence finally give into the ways of conventional museums when it showcases some of the original hand-written pages from the book’s manuscript. These are so scrawled, drawn and doodled upon that it’s hard to believe even the author could have deciphered them. Savor them while you may, though, since computers have rendered such examinable rough drafts pretty much a thing of the past.

Çukurcuma Caddesi, Dalgıç Çıkmazı, Beyoğlu. Open daily except Monday. TL 25 (TL 15 for Turks). Nearest tram stop: Tophane

Museum of the Islands

Did you know that the Princes’ Islands were once attached to the mainland? No? Well, that’s just one of the interesting tidbits you’ll pick up from a visit to the new Museum of the Islands on Büyükada.

The first thing to say about this museum is that it is not exactly in a handy location, being a good 40 minutes’ walk from the Büyükada ferry terminal opposite the municipal rubbish dump.

The second is that it’s housed inside a disused helicopter hangar, which makes for some interesting acoustic effects, with every sound picked up, magnified and tossed around the building.

But that is to nitpick because this is one of what is becoming a steady stream of new-generation museums that really do manage to educate and inform. Come here to find out not just about the history of the Princes’ Islands but also about the life of the different communities -- Turkish, Jewish, Greek and Armenian -- that once lived side by side here, along with some fascinating information about their different festivals and cuisines.

Aya Nikola Mevkii, Müze Alanı, Büyükada. Open daily except Monday. TL 4. Nearest ferry terminal: Büyükada

Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum

Could you tell a member of the Kadiriyye tarakat from a member of the Celvetiyye? If not, then this is the place to come to find out about all the different religious brotherhoods that have played a role in Turkey as well as about the “Mevlevi” (whirling dervishes) movement and its most famous members. There was always a small museum of literature and musical instruments in the Galata Mevlevihanesi, but since its restoration this has been moved up into the galleries, while an entirely new an d surprisingly informative museum has been created beside the “semahane” (dance hall) where the dervishes still whirl on a regular basis.

Galipdede Caddesi, Tünel. Open daily except Monday. TL 5. Nearest transit station: Tünel

Türvak Cinema and Theater Museum

This new museum is very conveniently located in increasingly trendy Yeniçarşı Caddesi, just off İstiklal Caddesi. If you’ve ever watched old Yeşilcam movies on Turkish television, you’ll relish this place, which is literally plastered with old movie posters and photos of the stars. Unfortunately, non-Turkish visitors might feel themselves a tad overloaded, especially since there’s little information to provide a context for the photos. A must for real cinephiles though.

Yeniçarşı Caddesi, Beyoğlu. Open daily except Monday. TL 10. Nearest tram stop: Galatasaray

Museum of the History of Islamic Science and Technology

Tucked up against the wall of Gülhane Park, the Museum of Islamic Science and Technology contains a beautifully presented collection primarily of replicas of scientific instruments in use over the course of the last 1,400 years.

Gülhane Park, Sultanahmet. Open daily except Tuesday. TL 5. Nearest tram stop: Gülhane

Barış Manço Museum

Over in the Moda neighborhood of Kadıköy, the fine stone house that was home to the much-loved rock star Barış Manço has been turned into a museum that shows off not only items that belonged to him but also memorabilia associated with the Turkish music industry of the 1970s and ‘80s. These days, it can seem strange enough looking at Western pop stars of that era in their skin-tight trousers and long hair. To see their Turkish equivalents similarly clad comes as quite a shock.

Yusuf Kamil Paşa Sokak No. 5, Moda. Open daily except Monday. TL 5. Nearest tram stop: Moda

Kite Museum

The back streets of Üsküdar might not seem the most likely of places to find a museum displaying colorful kites from all around the world, but that is nonetheless where you’ll find the Uçartma Müzesi spreading itself across two buildings, one of them devoted to displays, the other to kite-making workshops. If you still think kites have to come in the shape of flat diamonds, this is the place to come to be taught otherwise. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how some of the monsters in here would ever have found themselves airborne.

Uncular Caddesi, Bakıcı Sokak No. 12, Üsküdar. Open daily except Sunday. Free. Nearest ferry terminal: Üsküdar

SAV Automobile Museum

The most obvious place for car lovers to feed their addiction is probably the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Hasköy. There, though, the cars are just part of a much wider collection not just of vehicles but of other industrial artifacts, too. On the road running inland from Çengelköy to Ata 2, however, there is a small and easily overlooked museum completely devoted to veteran and vintage cars which are parked in all their shiny glory across two whole floors.

NATO Yolu, Bosna Bulvarı No. 104, Çengelköy. Open Friday-Sunday. TL 10. Nearest bus stop: Müze

Armenian Museum

İstanbul’s least conspicuous museum must be the one that lurks underground across the road from the church of the Armenian patriarchate in Kumkapı. Basement rooms exposed by the 1999 earthquake now house some of the magnificent robes and other glittering fabrics once used in rituals in the Armenian churches around town.

Sevgi Sokak No. 20, Kumkapı. By appointment only (Tel: 0 [212] 517 09 70). Free. Nearest station: Kumkapı

İstanbul Aquarium

A bit of a cheat, this one, since it isn’t really a museum at all. On the other hand the new İstanbul Aquarium in Florya goes in for a bit of cheating itself since alongside the huge tanks of fish on display it also devotes lots of wall space to the stories of the Panama and Suez Canals. Pride of place is a giant tank ringed with replicas of Bosporus buildings although many people will probably leave with a more vivid recollection of the steamy room devoted to the Amazon rainforest and to a tank of piranhas that look nowhere near as fearful as their reputation might suggest.

Yeşilköy Halkalı Caddesi No. 93, Florya. Open daily. Admission: TL 29 (discounts for children, students, teachers, the disabled, seniors and groups). Nearest train station: Florya



Columnist: PAT YALE