The founding of Istanbul has been established as dating back 8,500 years thanks to recent archeological excavation works, confirming its status as a center of art, culture and science. Museums are institutions in which the material and nonmaterial cultural heritage of humanity is gathered, preserved, exhibited and examined, and they also serve to enhance people’s aesthetic appreciation. With its historical features, Istanbul is a fertile soil for museum institutions.

Modern museology in Istanbul started in the middle of the nineteenth century during the Ottoman period. Museums have gradually increased in number and quality in Republican Turkey, and those which have benefited from its rich heritage have attained a respected place in world museology due to the quality and specialty of the artefacts in their collections.

The institution that is responsible for museums in Turkey is the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. In addition to the many museums that are affiliated to the Ministry, there are also museums affiliated to other state institutions and organizations, and those either opened by natural and legal persons or by foundations in line with their missions or objectives. All museums, apart from those belonging to the Turkish Grand National Assembly and to the Turkish Armed Forces, are under the governance of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The museums under the governance of the Ministry are subject to the Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property (Law No: 2863) and to the provisions of the Regulation Regarding the Private Museums and Their Governance issued by this law, and bear the status of “private museum.” There are also establishments which still bear the title of “museum”, although they do not fulfill the provisions of this regulation and are not governed by the Ministry. In this article, the museums of Istanbul in the Republican period will be discussed in line with the classification of the Ministry responsible.

1- Topkapı Palace, Sultanate Gate


The Topkapı Palace Museum

The Topkapı Palace, which had only occasionally been used before the reign of Mahmud II and was almost completely vacated during his reign, was turned into a museum under the order of Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Atatürk) on April 3, 1924, soon after the proclamation of the Republic. The palace gained the status of a museum with the appointment of Tahsin Öz as its director in 1928.

The palace, which has become a treasure of civilizations where tens of thousands of historical artifacts are preserved, is among the most frequently visited museums in Turkey today. Even though it began to be vacated from the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the palace embodies items that do not and will never lose their significance. Foremost among these are the priceless artifacts constituting the Chamber of the Holy Relics. In this section of the palace, a good number of very precious holy relics, especially ones belonging to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are kept. Among the artifacts in this section, there are also articles brought from Mecca and Medina in the Ottoman period. As the most frequently visited section of the Topkapı Palace, it has become a center of interest ever since the Holy Relics were brought to Istanbul. Religious rituals held during holy days and nights and practices performed in the presence of statesmen, especially in the Ottoman period have always maintaned their importance.1

Another important section of the museum is its library with a collection consisting of 21,438 works including 18,622 manuscripts and many rare printings. Another section of great importance is the Palace archives. The Harem section is also a center of attraction on its own. The sections of the Palace Museum include the following: the Imperial Court where governmental decisions of the Ottoman state were taken; the section of Arms and Weapons where all types of weapons and armours used especially by the Ottoman sultans and those belonging to the Mamluks, Persians, the Ottomans and some European states are exhibited; the section of Kitchens where mainly Chinese and Japanese porcelains, Turkish kitchenware and European crystal and the like are kept; the section of Treasures consisting of jewels, each rival one another in delicacy; the section of Clocks; the Audience Chamber; Sultans’ Clothing Chamber; Imperial Treasury, the Ahmet III Library, Baghdad and Revan Kiosks. The museum-palace makes its visitors set out on a journey through history with its more than twenty sections, ranking among the most important museums in the world with its valuble collections. In this respect, it is one of the main reasons why a great number of domestic and foreign tourists visit Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia Museum

Another world renown Istanbul museum is the Hagia Sophia. This former church was transformed from a mosque into a museum by the Turkish Republic Council of Ministers decree dated November 4, 1934. In fact, the Hagia Sophia should be considered a kulliye (a mosque complex with social functions). The mausoleums, hospices, minarets, infants’ school, water-tank and the now-ruined madrasa that were annexed to it in the Ottoman period are each like a seal affixed to the new identity of this structure. The figured mosaics in the Hagia Sophia were unveiled after its transformation into a museum. Domestic and foreigner visitors to the Hagia Sophia cannot hide their astonishment when standing in front of the figured mosaic of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus in her arms, which is currently placed on the mihrab, between the Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi’s calligraphic tablets named İsm-i Azam (the most exalted attribute of Allah) and İsm-i Nebi (the name of the Prophet).

2- Hagia Sofia

Although Hagia Sophia dates back 1,500 years, it still attracts enormous interest from domestic and foreign visitors with its historic background, unique architectural features, identity as a chapel, myths, the sancity attributed to it by various nations, its figured and nonfigured mosaics, annexes built in the Ottoman period and its interior decoration and calligraphic tablets which are among the largest in the world.

The Kariye (Chora), the Fethiye and the Great Palace Mosaic Museums, all of which are very valuable monumental artifacts are also affiliated to the Directorate of the Hagia Sophia Museum.

The Chora Museum

Located in the vicinity of Fatih-Edirnekapı, the museum takes its name from the translated (into Turkish) version of the Greek word Khora meaning “outside the city” (rural area). Its main building was first built in the sixth century. It was used as a palace chapel for important religious rituals from the first quarter to the last quarter of the sixth century. Up until the fourteenth century, new annexes and ornamentations continued to be added to the structure. The depth of the fourteenth century mosaics and murals, and the vivid and plastique expression of the figures in particular are considered quite realistic by art historians.

Used as a church until 1511 and as a mosque from this date to 1945, the structure was transformed into a museum in 1945. In the mosaics and murals recovered during restoration work carried out by the Byzantine Institute of America between 1948-1958, the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are chronologically depicted. The mosaics and murals of the Chora Museum, which majestically reflect the last golden age of Eastern Roman art, are among the main reasons for visiting.

The Fethiye Museum

This museum is in the Çarşamba quarter of the Fatih district. It was the church of the Pammakaristos Monastery which was built on the ruins of a former church in the thirteenth century. The Orthodox Patriarchate rendered service here from 1455. It was transformed into a mosque in 1586 and was named Fethiye Mosque in memory of the conquest of Azerbaijan and Georgia during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1574-1595).

While the part where the main church was located currently renders service as a mosque, the annex of the church is used as a museum. The domes and walls of the museum section are ornamented with spectacular fourteenth century mosaics and represent the last period of the Eastern Roman style of painting. This section is notable because of the figured mosaic depicting Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River.

This monumental structure, which was restored between the years 1938-1940, was given the status of museum after this date and was transferred to the governance of the Directorate of the Hagia Sophia Museum. All its mosaics and murals were recovered by the Byzantine Institute of America. The Fethiye Museum, the restoration of which continued in the ensuing years, was reopened to visitors in 2006.

The Great Palace Mosaic Museum

This museum is located in the Arasta Bazaar within the kulliye of Sultanahmet Mosque. The museum incorporated the partly-undamaged mosaic flooring at the northeast section of the cloister of the Eastern Roman Great Palace.

While the mosaics exhibited in the museum, which are dated between 450-550 A.D., are ones depicting daily life, nature and mythology, these depictions have no religious content. First opened in December 3, 1953, and affiliated to the Istanbul Archeology Museum, it was transferred to the governance of the Directorate of the Hagia Sophia Museum in 1979. After its restoration and the completion of its exhibition design the Arasta Bazaar, museum was opened to visitors in August 25, 1987. It has the privileged status of being the only mosaic museum in Istanbul.

The Yıldız Palace Museum

Following the expropriation of the realties belonging to the Ottoman dynasty, certain palaces and kiosks were transferred to the governance of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, while the basic components of the Yıldız Palace were allocated to the Armed Forces Staff College between the years 1925-1978. Transferred to the governance of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 1978, the palace was put into service as a museum in April 8, 1994. Since Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) comes to mind when one speaks of the Yıldız Palace, a great deal among the exhibited artifacts in the museum belong to his person, family or period. The most remarkable among these artifacts are certainly the carpenter’s toolkit of the Sultan.

In contrast to the Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi Palaces, the Yıldız Palace is composed of separate sections just like the Topkapı Palace. Even though its spatial organization is reminiscent of the old Turkic style, its buildings are in predominantly European design. The museum hosts the only Palace Theatre that has been preserved from the Ottoman period. The Chamber of the Regular Odalisques next to the theatre was rearranged as the Museum of Performing Arts. Here are exhibited the ethnographic materials, archive-worthy documents and the personal belongings of some prominent artists, all of which have a place in the history of the Turkish theatre that developed in two veins as traditional theatre and as under the influence of the Western theatre.

The Galata Mawlavi House Museum

As the very first mawlavi house of Istanbul, it was built in 1491 as a dervish lodge. Affected by the closure of Islamic monasteries in 1925, the institute was opened to visitors under the name of the Divan Literature Museum in December 27, 1975. Taking its current name in September 30, 2007, after restoration works between 2009-2011, and with its exhibition plans completed, it was reopened as a museum. Through this project, a most spectacular and succcessful epitome of the Mawlavi House and Mawlavi culture was displayed. Themed exhibitions are held in the twenty rooms such as those of the Tariqat or Dervish Order, Kitchen, Istanbul Mawlaviya, Masnawi, Worship and Dhikr, Lodge Music, Mıtrıp (a kind of kemancha) Place. This is the only structure that preserved its authentic characteristics as a mawlavi house. Besides its current use as a museum, Mawlavi rituals are also performed in its sema house.

Istanbul Mausoleums Museum Directorate

In 1925 shrines, along with tekkes (dervish lodges) and zaviyes (convents), were also closed. The shrines of the revered persons which were closed in this period gradually began to re-open in 1950 and the “mausoleums of value” in Istanbul were given the status of museum. After they were affiliated to the various state museums in Istanbul, these mausoleums were finally legally united under the Museum Directorate established in 1978. There are 117 mausoleums affiliated to the Museum Directorate, the center of which is located in the annex of the Sultan Ahmet Mausoleum. The mausoleums of the Ottoman sultans, sultanas and many members of the Ottoman Dynasty, who were entombed in Istanbul, as well as those of some Ottoman state notables such as the sheikh al-Islams, grandviziers, Grand Captains (kaptanıderya), etc., and of several of the Companions of Prophet Muhammad and prominent spiritual leaders who were buried in Istanbul were all affiliated to this Museum Directorate.

3- The carpentry set given to Sultan Abdülhamid II as a gift by Japan Emperor

4- The inscription over the gate of Galata Mawlawi lodge from the period of SultanMahmud II

The adherence of the Turks to their past and the importance they give to the belief and consideration of remembering their ancestors with gratitude have formed a culture of tombs and mausoleums and the main witness of this culture is this very museum.2

The mausoleum of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, located in the district of Eyüp, is the most frequently visited mausoleum of this museum. The mausoleums of Aziz Mahmut Hudayi in Üsküdar and of Fatih Sultan Mehmet in Fatih follow respectively.

The main purpose of the museum is to carry out the maintenance and repair of the mausoleums affiliated to it and to keep them open to visitors. The mausoleums affiliated to the museum are mostly ones that were built by the chief architects of the Ottoman state, were decorated by topnotch workers of the period and were ornamented with many endowed historical artefacts produced by outstanding masters. Currently, the museum’s main problem is that it has no place to exhibit these precious artifacts.

5- Beylerbeyi Palace

The Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam

The theme of this museum is a first both in the Turkish and Islamic world. Opened on May 24, 2008 at Gülhane Park, the museum consists of authentic reproductions and small-scaled models of various technological instruments invented by Muslim scholars between the ninth and tenth century, as well as those of various astronomical observatories. Also, it presents the opportunity to follow the evolution and development of the history of science in its various disciplines. This museum presents global innovations to its visitors. The museum is divided into the sections of astronomy, geography, maritime, time measurement, geometry, optics, medicine, chemistry, mineralogy, physics, mechanics, architecture and war technology, all of which are arranged in a systematic way.

The museum primarily aims to appeal to students of all age groups. The most descriptive information on the materials exhibited in the museum can be found in the five-volume catalogue written by Prof. Fuat Sezgin, the mastermind behind the museum.3

The Istanbul Hisarlar (Fortresses) Museum

The Rumelian Fortress, built in 1452, was opened to visitors in May 29, 1958 after having been restored and designed as a museum between the years 1953-1958 on the instigation of the then president. The Hisarlar (Fortresses) Museum Directorate was established in 1968, and the Anatolian and Yedikule (Seven Towers) Fortresses were affiliated to this directorate. The Yedikule Fortress was allocated to a private company in 2004 and the judicial process regarding its return to the Museum Directorate is still ongoing (2013). One can visit the Anatolian Fortress, but currently there is no permanent or temporary exhibition inside. In the open display section of the Romelian Fortress, 22 cannons and cannonballs dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are exhibited together with a piece of the chain that was used to close the entrance of the Golden Horn during the Turks’ siege of Istanbul.


The Caliphate was abolished under Law Number: 431 on March 3, 1924, four months after the proclamation of the Republic. According to this law, the palaces and estates belonging to the Ottoman dynasty were all expropriated, including their furniture. In January 1925, by a decree of the Council of Ministers, the Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi palaces were both affiliated to the unit of the National Palaces Directorate, which was established for the protection of palaces and given the status of National Palaces. In 1984, it was decided that palaces, pavilions and kiosks would be opened as museum-palaces.

In 2011, The National Palaces Directorate went through an organizational change. One of the four deputy secretary generals of the Turkish Parliamentary Speaker’s Office received the title of “the deputy secretary general of the National Palaces.” This unit was charged with the governance, maintenance, repair, restoration and management of the palaces, kiosks, pavilions, museums and historical factories under its auspices in accordance with international museology and conservation standards.

Accordingly, two palaces, three kiosks, five pavilions, three museums and two historical factories were affiliated to the unit.

The Dolmabahçe Palace

Built upon the order of Sultan Abdulmecid, the Dolmabahçe Palace was completed for its residents in 1856. No expense was spared in both the construction and decoration of this majestic palace, which substantially reflects the influence of European architecture and life-style. The Dolmabahçe Palace was home to six Ottoman sultans and the last Islamic Caliph Abdulmecid Efendi between the years 1856-1922. Abdulmecid Efendi’s library is still in the palace. The palace was also used as the presidential palace between the years 1927-1949. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Republic of Turkey continued his work in Istanbul from this palace until he died on November 10, 1938. The Dolmabahçe Palace has served as a museum-palace since 1984.

Having acquired an important status during the period of transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republican regime, the palace made its mark in the last century. One of the most important witnesses of how and to what degree the Ottoman life style was Europeanized, the palace acquired a new mission and new memories as the office of the first president of the Republic.

The walls and ceilings of the palace are decorated with the paintings of European artists of the time and with golden ornamentations. In many important rooms and halls, decorations and furniture are in adjacent colour tones. The floors are covered in different styles of wood flooring. Silk and wool Hereke carpets were preferred for the floors. Decorative items, either purchased from or bestowed by Far Eastern and European states have an important place in the interior decoration of the palace. There are magnificent crystal chandeliers, lighting and fireplaces in most rooms of the palace.

The most interesting things among the numerous important components of the palace are probably the Grand and unique Ceremonial Hall and the giant-sized chandelier hanging in the middle of its high dome with a weight of 4.5 tonnes.

The Beylerbeyi Palace

The palace was occupied in 1865 as a summer residence for the Ottoman sultans and as a state guesthouse where foreign statesmen were entertained. Its first important guest was Empress Eugénie of France. The Empress came to Istanbul to pay a return visit to Sultan Abdulaziz’s former visit to France. The palace also entertained foreign statesmen like the Austria-Hungarian Emperor Joseph, The Prussian Crown Prince, the Italian crown prince and Nasıreddin, the shah of Iran during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz. Demonstrating its hospitality in Republican Turkey as well, the palace hosted the Iranian Shah Pahlavi in 1934. Sultan Abdulhamid II spent the last six years of his life in the palace which was for him an obligatory place of residence until his death in February 10, 1918. The Balkan Games Festival of 1936 was held at the palace and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Republic, stayed there as well.

A large part of the palace’s decoration has remained unchanged. While the decoration of three rooms, the Parkeli, Halatlı and Marketörili, the Pool and Blue Halls of the palace are well-preserved, various modifications were made in several sections during the years when it was used by Sultan Abdulhamid II. Hereke style upholstery and carpets are among the remarkable components of this museum.

The Beylerbeyi Palace holds an important place in “Bosphorus culture” as an authentic palace of the period.

6- Şale Mansion

The Yıldız Şale (Chalet) Kiosk

One of the most absorbing structures of 19th century Ottoman architecture, the chalet (mountain hostel) kiosk is part of the Yıldız Palace. The existent kiosk was built during three separate periods. Two parts were later constructed as a guesthouse for the German emperor Wilhelm II. As such, the structure has, to some extent, the characteristic of a state guesthouse. The most impressive piece of the kiosk is the one-piece Hereke carpet (with a surface of 406 m2) covering the floor of the Ceremonial Hall. It is known that ceremonies were held in this hall during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II. Apart from the Dining Hall which reflects Ottoman taste, the European style is predominant in the furnishing of the kiosk. The Swedish-made large tiled stoves in its rooms are among the most impressive components of the chalet’s decoration.

Known for its distinctive halls, the Chalet Kiosk was rented out to an Italian business manager by the Municipality of Istanbul in the early years of the Republic. The kiosk was affiliated to the Turkish Parliamentary Office in 1930 on the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Having entertained many statesmen, from the Saudi King Faisal to the French president Charles de Gaulle, the Chalet Kiosk continued to be used as a guesthouse until it was put to public use as a museum-kiosk in 1984.

The Aynalıkavak Pavilion

Used as a resort during the period of the Eastern Roman Empire, the pavilion attracted the attention of many Ottoman sultans and was named Aynalıkavak Palace in the seventeenth century. The pavilion, which went through large scale restoration and rearrangement, gained its current appearance during the reign of Sultan Selim III (1789-1807). As the oldest architectural structure affiliated to the Turkish Parliamentary Office, the pavilion also has a unique place due to its traditional architectural and decorative style.

Having remained close for a long period, the pavilion was reopened to visitors on November 5, 2010 after its restoration and when inspection works were completed.

As befitting the character of Sultan Selim III, who was an artisan and music lover, part of the pavilion has been turned into the Music Museum where musical instruments and collections belonging to the deceased Gevheri Osmanoğlu, the granddaughter of Abdulhamid II, as well as other musical items donated by other pre-eminent figures are exhibited.

Florya Atatürk Marine Mansion

The kiosk was built in 1935 by the Istanbul Municipality as a fitting present to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Following the death of Atatürk, the mansion was used as the summer resort of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey. Assigned to the Directorate of National Palaces in 1988, the mansion was turned into the Atatürk Museum. The mansion, which entertained Edward VIII who renounced the throne of Britain in 1936, was also used by Atatürk for a short period of time.

The Maslak Pavilions

The Maslak Pavilions are located on the right side of the main road intersecting the districts of Levent and Ayazağa. As distinguished examples of Ottoman wooden domestic architecture and decoration of the nineteenth century, these pavilions are also significant as the place of residence of Abdulhamid II until his accession to the throne.

The pavilion’s location by the Bosphorus overlooking the Black Sea, its verdant flora, its orangery decked with the oldest camellias in the city makes this museum a place of recreation where visitors can sit and rest.

The Ihlamur Pavilions

Located in the district of Beşiktaş, between Yıldız and Nişantaşı, the pavilion was built between the years 1849-1855, during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid. It is decorated as befitting the concept of Western decoration which was preferred in nineteenth century Ottoman art. The furniture and upholstery produced in various Western styles and techniques create a certain coherence in decoration. While the Ceremonial Kiosk of the pavilion is open to visitors as a museum-kiosk, the Retinue Kiosk has been arranged as a winter cafeteria.

The Küçüksu Pavilion

Located by the Bosphorus between the Küçüksü and Göksu streams, the pavilion was built in place of a wooden structure which was demolished on the order of Sultan Abdulmecid. The reign of Sultan Abdulmecid was a period when the Western style, especially in palace and pavilion architecture, gained prominence. The pavilion was built for the general purpose of recreation and hunting. Its rooms and halls were decorated with precious artwork and furniture imported from Europe. While the pavilion is reminiscent of a fireplace museum with its Italian marble fireplaces varying in colour and style in each room, it also reminds one of an art museum with its ornamental and elaborate parquets, carpets and paintings.

In the Republican period, the pavilion was used as a state guesthouse for a while. After it went through a process of restoration, the pavilion was opened to visitors as a museum-pavilion in 1996.

The Beykoz Pavilion

Also known as the Mecidiye Pavilion, it is located in Yalıköy, Beykoz. It was built at the request of Mehmed Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Egypt and his sons as a present to Sultan Abdulmecid. The Western style is prevalent in the architecture of palaces, pavilions and kiosks, etc., of the period. While the pavilion was used as a riding pavilion by the Sultan in its early years, it was subsequently used for the entertainment of leading statesmen and ambassadors. Since it was located far from the city centre and surrounded by fresh air, the pavilion began to be used for public service in the period of the Ottoman state and was used as an orphans’ asylum for a while. During the Republican period, the pavilion was used as a hospital and a preventorium,4 and during those years several modifications were made in its internal structure. In 1997, the pavilion was allocated for use by the Turkish Parliamentary Office. With its garden of 70 decares, the pavilion is among the favorite haunts of visitors, particularly in the summer months.

7- Carpet Museum


The Air Forces Museum

Located in Yeşilköy, the Air Forces Museum was first founded in Cumaovası, Izmir in 1971. But since the museum was far from residential areas, creating transportation problems and the Cumaovası Airfield underwent expansion for training flights and for civil aviation traffic, there arose the need for a new location for the museum. The construction of the museum building began in 1977 in its current site in Yeşilköy and was completed in 1983. Following the completion of the exhibition arrangement, the museum was opened to visitors in 1985. Providing services over a large area with its indoor and outdoor sections, the museum has subsections of planes, helicopters, anti-aircrafts, rockets, weapons, outfits and airforce martyrs. All the phases that Turkish Air Force has gone through from the past to the present is artfully exhibited at the museum. The Air Force Museum serves an important purpose in the field of aviation history.


Since preparing this study (2013), the Istanbul Construction and Art Works Museum, the Turkish Foundation Calligraphy Arts Museum, the Carpet and Flat Weaving Rugs Museum of Istanbul, all affiliated to the General Directorate of Foundations have been closed for a long time and could not be included for evaluation.

The Carpet Museum

Opened to visitors in the Hünkâr Pavilion of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque) in 1979, it has a very rich collection. The oldest carpet in the museum dates back to the fourteenth century, the period of Anatolian Turkish principalities. Among the carpets exhibited in the museum are fifteenth century Early Ottoman carpets, classical period carpets of the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries (Uşak, Bergama, Konya and Kula carpets), eighteenth century Kazakh carpets, sixteenth century Iranian, Caucasian and Turkmenian carpets and ninteenth century Yagcıbedir prayer rugs. However, the museum was closed for a long time due to restoration and was reopened again on November, 15, 2013 after the Hagia Sophia Almshouse, built under the command of Sultan Mahmud I, was turned into a carpet museum.

The museum collection comprised of a total of 806 artifacts including 394 historical carpets and 412 carpets from the study collection, and 46 carpets and prayer rugs selected from among the most valuable museum pieces. They are chronologically exhibited in 3 galleries according to their pattern styles. In the first gallery, the Anatolian carpets, woven during and after the periods of the Anatolian Seljuk Empire and of the Turkish Principalities are exhibited. The second gallery is allocated to Central and Eastern Anatolian carpets belonging to the Ottoman period. In the third gallery, large size carpet specimens of the Uşak region and pure carpet prayer rugs are exhibited.

Akaretler Mustafa Kemal Museum

Located in Akaretler, Beşiktaş, the museum was opened in 2011 when the house where Zübeyde Hanım, Makbule Hanım and Abdürrahim Tuncak, the mother, sister and the foster son of Atatürk respectively, lived between the years 1912-1919, was turned into a museum. The museum is organized around themes related to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s life especially associated with this house before the start of the Turkish Independence War.


The Atatürk Museum

8- Atatürk Museum

Located on Halaskârgazi Street, Şişli and rented by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk during the planning of the Turkish National Struggle (between December 1918 and May 16, 1919), the house was opened to visitors as a museum in 1942. Before going to Anatolia to start the National Struggle, Mustafa Kemal Pasha held important meetings with his civilian and military friends here. The essential part of the museum’s collection consists of photos, clothes and articles related to Atatürk’s life from his birth to his death as well as documents about his life and revolutions. The National Struggle and Atatürk-themed oil and watercolour paintings of preeminent painters are also exhibited in the museum.

The Aşiyan Museum

The house in the district of Bebek, which was planned, designed and inhabited by Tevfik Fikret between the years 1906 and 1915 was initially called Edebiyat-ı Cedide (the New Literature) Museum before 1945 and was then opened to visitors under the name of the Aşiyan Museum in 1961. The museum, which exhibits the personal belongings and photos of the poet Tevfik Fikret as well as those of other Edebiyat-ı Cedide poets and writers such as Abdulhak Hamid, is a center of interest for lovers of literature in particular.

Istanbul City Museum

Founded in 1939 within the body of Beyazıt Municipality Library, this museum was moved to the Gazanfer Ağa Madrasa in Saraçhane and became the Municipality Museum in 1945. Afterwards, in 1988 the museum was moved to the Yıldız Palace and was named the City Museum. Its collection consists of ethnographic and historical artifacts, most of which date back to the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries. Reflecting the social life of Ottoman Istanbul, these artifacts give some idea about the period.

In the museum, precious paintings of preeminent painters such as Şevket Dağ, Şerif Ferid, Civanyan, Sami Boyar, Prieur Bardin, Ibrahim Çallı, Hikmet Onat and Bedri Rahmi Eyüboglu are also exhibited. Additionally, visitors can see the calligraphic tablets of famous calligraphers such as Mustafa İzzet, Sami Efendi, Hamit Aytaç, İsmail Hakkı Altunbezer, Şefik Mahmud Celaleddin Efendi and Sultan Abdulmecid.

9- Istanbul City Museum

The Basilica Cistern Museum

The Basilica Cistern was built under the command of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century in order to meet the water requirements of the city. In 1940 the Metropolitan Municipality expropriated the structures in the upper part of the cistern. The cistern was opened to visitors after having undergone extensive restoration between the years 1985-1894.

During the restoration, two ancient Medusa heads were found. One of the heads is at the end of the museum tour route. Two of the four known Medusa heads in the world are exhibited in this museum.

The cistern has the appearance of a mystical and nostalgic place where visitors make wishes and throw coins into the pond with mirror carp. In recent years, the cistern has played host to various concerts and art performances as well.

The Fire Fighting Museum

Founded in 1922 with the purpose of offering an insight into the history of the Turkish Brigade, the museum was established next to the old building of the Fatih Municipality. The name of the museum was first changed to the “Count Szechenyi Brigade Museum” in 1998. Following the great fire of Istanbul which erupted in 1871, the Count was invited to Istanbul as a consultant for the re-organization of the Brigade. Although giving the Count’s name to the museum was an expression of gratitude for his contributions to the organization of the Brigade, it might be more appropriate to use the title “pasha” instead of “count” for the museum, since the Count was given the title of “pasha” by the Ottoman state at the time.

The museum was closed for modification at the end of 2008, and was moved to Çitlenbik Street in Beşiktaş. It was opened to visitors again in May 2013.

Witnessing a history of 300 years, the museum is chronologically arranged, beginning from the Ottoman Fire Brigade organization (Tulumbacılar). Local and military pumps, air pressure pumps, the first motor pump, horse cart pumps, linen cisterns, ladders, fire brigade lanterns, tinware water-cans, life-saving ropes, filter masks, pumps with pergolas and firemen’s clothes are among the artefacts exhibited. With a collection of almost 1,000 pieces, the museum is the only fire brigade museum in Istanbul or in the rest of the country.

The Miniaturk Museum

Located in Sütlüce, the Golden Horn, it was opened to visitors in 2003 as the first miniature park in Turkey. The museum, in which miniature models of architectural works selected from the Ottoman and Turkish territories are exhibited, displays civilizational and cultural history as well as the technology and interpretation of these artifacts. In the arrangement of the museum, both the development of the implementation of Turkish and Islamic architectural and artistic perspective, and the historical development of the material assets of the Anatolian states and communities with their similarities and differences were included.

10- A piece from the Panorama of the Conquest of Istanbul in Panorama 1453 History (Conquest) Museum

The Panorama 1453 History Museum

Opened in 2009, it is the first panoramic museum in Turkey. The panoramic picture in the museum is a first in world museology with its 360 degree angle. In the museum, the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman State is illustrated in a triangle of picture-light-sound. On the route from the entrance of the museum to the venue of the panoramic picture, the history of Istanbul, its siege and invasion, construction facilities after the invasion as well as the life, artistic and cultural perspective and contributions of Mehmed II, the conqueror is illustrated in miniatures, gravures, drawings and photographs in a narrative style. Despite the historical character of its location, the architecture of the museum is far from reflecting the historical character of the period.


The Istanbul Postal Museum

The PTT Museum is located within a building known as the Sirkeci Post Office, which was built in 1909. Inaugurated in the year 2000, the museum exhibits on three floors. In the museum, artifacts which reflect the historical development of mail, telegraph and telephone during the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic from 1840 are exhibited.

The museum consists of four sections, those being mail, telegraph, telephone and stamps. In the mail section, tools such as mail bags, post coaches, mail cars, and post boxes are exhibited, while in the telegraph and telephone section visitors can see various devices of telegraphs and telephones, manual and automatic telephone switchboards and telephones produced on PTT production lines. In the stamps section, various postage stamps belonging to the period between the Ottoman State and the inauguration of the museum are exhibited. Examples of the official and work attires of the postal personnel are also exhibited. A room on the third floor is allocated to the telegrapher Manastırlı Hamdi Bey who is among the heroes of the National Struggle years. It is important to honour the memory of this important figure who greatly contributed to the national struggle by secretly communicating the news regarding the occupation of Istanbul and subsequent events to Mustafa Kemal Pasha.

11- Istanbul PTT Museum

The Sirkeci Railway Station T.C.D.D. (Turkish State Railways) Museum aka Istanbul Railway Museum

More than 300 artifacts are exhibited in this museum, which was opened at the Sirkeci Railway Station in 2005. Among these, are artifacts such as service tools used in the dining and sleeping cars of the Orient Express, warning signs, portable telegraph machines, location plans, train plates, various types of office equipment, station bells and chinaware stoves. The museum attests to the story of the railways from the Ottoman Empire to the Republican period.


Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Museum of Painting and Sculpture, Istanbul

Opened in the Chamber of the Crown Princes of the Dolmabahçe Palace, Beşiktaş in 1937, the museum was closed in 2007 due to restoration work, and the artifacts were moved to another site. A large part of the museum’s collection consists of artefacts dating back to the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. It contains more than 10,000 paintings, more than 600 sculptures, 10 icons, more than 100 ceramic artefacts and almost 80 collections of calligraphic artefacts.5

The museum hosts the paintings of Ottoman period painters such as Salih Molla Aşkî, Şefik, Vidinli Osman Nuri, Ahmet Şekur, Şeker Ahmed Ali Paşa, Hoca Ali Rıza Paşa and Osman Hamdi. It also features works of Republican period painters such as İbrahim Çallı, Nazmi Ziya Güran, Namık İsmail, Hikmet Onat and Feyhaman Duman, and the works of prominent sculptors such as Ali Hadi Baran, Nijat Sirel, Nermin Farukî as well as those of other important plastic artists and calligraphers.

Istanbul University Cerrahpaşa Medical School Museum of Medical History

The museum was first opened on May 20, 1985 as the “Museum of Medicine and Pharmacy” in an empty room of the department of Medical History of the Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Medicine. As the collection expanded, there arose the need for a larger place and the collection was moved to the former deanship building of Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Medicine in 2007. The collection, consisting of medical implements, photos, paintings and documents reflecting the historical development of Turkish medicine are exhibited with the aim of conveying the legacy of Turkish medicine to younger generations, reinforcing the medical community’s bond with history. It commemorates those who contributed to Turkish medicine and gathers historical materials related to Turkish medicine under a single official roof. Most of the historical artifacts exhibited in the museum belong to the Late Ottoman and Early Republican periods. In the museum’s three storey building, artifacts such as manuscripts on the history of medicine, printed medical books written in the Ottoman language, edicts, miniatures, medals given to doctors, medicine bottles in various sizes, pictures of plants used in the production of medicines, various medical tools and devices, surgical instruments and portraits of prominent doctors are exhibited. As a first in its field in Turkey, the museum also has the most complete collection.

The Istanbul University Museum of Geology

The museum is located at the Avcılar campus of Istanbul University within the Department of Geological Engineering. The foundation, which formerly existed within all the bodies of the Department of Geological Engineering regardless of being under the name of the museum or not, began to attain the attributes of museum in 2005 and was officially recognized as a museum in 2012. In this thematic museum, plant, microorganisms, invertebrata and vertebrata fossil collections as well as minerals, rocks (igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks), coal samples, samples of various geological formations and educational posters regarding various disciplines of geology are exhibited. It is the only museum specializing in this field in Istanbul.


In Turkey, the foundation of museums by natural and legal persons began in 1980. The founders of the first museums were from wealthy Turkish families. This shows evidence of the connection between museums and wealth.

Vehbi Koç Foundation Sadberk Hanım Museum

Founded on October 14, 1980 in the Azaryan Mansion in Sarıyer, Büyükdere in commemoration of Sadberk Koç, it is Turkey’s first private museum. First opened with the purpose of exhibiting Sadberk Koç’s personal collection, the museum was developed through donations and later purchased artefacts.

Thus far, the museum has hosted very important exhibitions all of which were published in book form in order to contribute to the world of science. The section of Turkish-Islamic Artifacts, which centers on life in Istanbul in the 19th and early 20th centuries has a remarkably rich collection. The museum’s collection of chinaware is the largest in Turkey. The collection of official statistical yearbooks of the Ottoman State in its library put it in first place among other private museums. Another ever-developing museum collection is that of archeological artifacts. The collection consists of artiacts dating back to the Neolithic age to the last period of the Roman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, and includes the Assyrian, Hittite, Urartian, Phyrigian periods as well as various earthenware, rock, metal and glass objects from the Mycenean, Geometric, Orientalized, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic ages.

The Maritime and Aquaculture Museum

Opened in the garden of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha Maritime Anatolian Vocational High School in Beykoz in 1983, it is the first maritime museum in Turkey with its collection of 3,800 pieces consisting of fish species, marine animals and crustaceans. Many species are exhibited in the museum, ranging from freshwater fishes and species of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Seas to extinct sea animals and fishes, starfishes, corals and crustaceans which are currently unable to be seen according to their normal sizes due to environmental pollution.

The Press Museum

Opened in Çemberlitaş in 1988, it is the first press museum in Turkey. Artifacts reflecting the developmental process of the Turkish press from its beginning to the present day are exhibited. Personal professional belongings of some prominent journalists are also exhibited here. The museum’s library is especially rich in journals and newspapers and is an important source of reference.

The Museum of Illumination and Heating Appliances

Located in the district of Beykoz, the museum was opened in 1991 and is the only museum in its field in both Turkey and in the world. Its collection consists of more than 2,000 rare historical artifacts. These artifacts, most of which were from Anatolia, were collected from various countries.

The illumination and heating appliances exhibited in the museum were collected as a consequence of 65-years of dedication by Mehmet Yaldız, the founder of the museum. The museum, in which inventions from the beginning of mankind to the invention of electricity are displayed in a thought-provoking way, with the aim of exhibiting the links between humanity’s past and future for visitors of all ages.

Yapı Kredi Vedat Nedim Tör Museum

This museum was founded in 1992 under the name Yapı Kredi Bank Vedat Nedim Tör Museum as a result of an idea to gather the collections of coins, medals, handiwork, fabrics, manuscripts, tambacs, prayer-beads, etc., that have been collected by Yapı Kredi Bank since 1950 within a museum.

Bearing the name of Vedat Nedim Tör, who directed all cultural and artistic activities of Yapı Kredi Bank until 1977, the museum has the world’s third largest coin collection with 55,000 coins. In the museum, where other private collections are also ocassionally exhibited thematically, four major exhibitions are held a year and academic catalogues are published for all these exhibitions. Since the museum is being moved to another location, it has suspended its activities for the last two years.

The Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews

This museum, which was founded by the Turkish Jewish community for the purpose of compiling, maintaining and exhibiting the data and documents witnessing their cultural legacy, sheds light on the position of the community within the Ottoman state and their contributions to life in the Ottoman period. Founded in Karaköy on the 500th anniversary of the oppressed Spanish Jewish community’s acceptance in Ottoman territories by Sultan Bayezid II in 1492, the museum also bears a positive message in terms of international and interfaith dialogue. The museum has the status of being the only minority museum in Istanbul.

Rahmi M. Koç Museum of Industry

Opened to visitors in 1994 the museum is located in the Hasköy district and consists of three main sections. Initially founded with the personal collection of Rahmi M. Koç, in time, the museum was enriched with other objects and documents of industry and engineering. The museum has the status of being the first and the largest industry museum in the country. An educational programme of museology is being carried out for kindergarten and primary school students as well.

Orhan Kemal Museum

Founded in Cihangir by the family of the famous writer Orhan Kemal, the museum was opened to visitors in 2000. The museum’s collection consists of Orhan Kemal’s photos (70 pieces), original first editions of his books, his private letters, articles written and academic studies done on his works, his bed, clothes, typewriter, his death mask and other personal belongings. Despite the recent increase, the number of museums and cultural centers commemorating the lives of artists and literary figures in our country is still insufficient. We hope that such attempts will set an example for future projects.

Sabancı Museum

The museum, which is within the body of Sabancı University, was opened at the Atlı Kiosk in Emirgan, on June 2002. First opened with the private collection of Sakıp Sabancı, the inventory of the museum has been enriched with purchases and endowments. The collection of furniture and decorative artefacts are exhibited in the three ground floor rooms all of which are decorated with eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture and artworks maintained as they had been protected by the Sabancı family in the period when they lived in the kiosk. The section of paintings consists of distinguished examples of the early Republican period Turkish painting and of the works of foreign artists who lived in Istanbul in the late Ottoman era. Among these are the paintings of prominent Turkish painters such as Osman Hamdi Bey, Şeker Ahmed Paşa, İbrahim Çallı and Fikret Mualla as well as those of foreign painters such as Raphael, Konstantin Kapıdağlı and Fausto Zonaro. The works in the collection of Book Arts and Calligraphy are exihibited next to the latest technological innovations.

The museum, in which temporary exhibitions are also held through international cooperation, brings a great many works to Istanbulites during the year.

The Ottoman Bank Museum

Founded in the General Directorate building of the Ottoman Bank, on Bankalar Street, the museum is in the Ottoman Bank Archive and Research Center which is affiliated to the Garanti Bank. The museum’s rich collection, is arranged in and around the bank’s strongrooms and sheds light on the history of the Ottoman Bank which functioned as the central bank, emission bank and the treasury of the Ottoman Empire.

Opened to visitors in 2002, the museum is witness to the shadowy world of Late Ottoman and Early Republican periods. The documents and objects exhibited in the museum give clues regarding the political, economic, social and daily life and culture of the period. Arranged in chronological and thematic order, the museum is a source of information not only about the bank itself but also about the general condition of the Ottoman Empire from the 1839 Reforms to the Republican Era.

The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art

Located on Meclis-i Mebusan Street in Karaköy, the museum was founded by Eczacıbaşı Foundation in 2004. A large part of the artifacts exhibited in the museum are from the collection of the Eczacıbaşı family.

The works of nineteenth and twenteith century artists such as Osman Hamdi, Fausto Zonaro, Hoca Ali Rıza, Nazmi Ziya Güran, Hikmet Onat, Ibrahim Çallı and Fikret Mualla are exhibited .

The exhibition halls of the museum are composed of two main sections. In the great hall upstairs, visitors have the opportunity to see examples of modern and contemporary painting in Turkey displayed in chronological order. In the small parlor of the museum, the works of native and foreign artists are exhibited. The museum’s collection consisting of diverse artifacts, from painting and sculpture to installation and video from the early twentieth century to the present, arranged in a modern display. Downstairs, there are the Periodicals Halls, the Photo Gallery and Short Term Exhibition areas where visitors can enjoy two or three exhibitions simultaneously.

12- Istanbul Press Museum

The Istanbul Toy Museum

Founded by the writer Sunay Akın, the museum was opened to visitors on April 23, 2005. The museum’s collection consists of over 4,000 toys purchased from and donated by various countries. It was founded with the idea of narrating the history of dreams and of science through toys. The museum is an example of active museology with various activities, seminars, organizations and exhibitions held at different times of the year. As the first and only toy museum in our country, it is also a world class museum.

Pera Museum

It was founded by the Suna and Inan Kıraç Foundation in Beyoğlu in 2005. Carrying out art projects in cooperation with the world’s leading museums, collections and foundations, the museum brings Istanbulites into contact with the world’s master artists. The exhibitions held in the museum are permanent through the support of published catalogues. In the museum, applied educational studies are also given weight.

The Museum of Kazım Karabekir Pasha

Opened in 2005 in Erenköy in the personal kiosk of Kâzım Karabekir (d. 1946), a leading commander of the Turkish War of Independence, it is an example of a museum-house, in which the personal belongings and documents of the pasha and his family are exhibited. The museum, which has a collection of original artifacts, was founded by Kâzım Karabekir’s daughters and was organized in deference to the historical period when Kâzım Karabekir and his family inhabited in the kiosk.

The Rezan Has Museum for Golden Horn Cultures

Located within the Fatih, Cibali campus of Kadir Has University, the museum opened in 2007. It is located in a sixteenth century Ottoman Bathhouse and an eleventh century Eastern Roman cistern, and comprises mainly of original artefacts and cultural facilities. The two sectioned museum has a collection consisting of artifacts from the Neolithic age to the period of the Seljuk Empire. Documents and objects belonging to the Cibali Tobacco Factory are also exhibited in.

İşbank Museum

İşbank Museum is a museum of institutional history where the economic, social, institutional and developmental data of the bank from its foundation in 1924 to the present were brought together, maintained and exhibited. It was opened to visitors in 2007 in the district of Sirkeci.

The collection consists mostly of three dimensional objects that have been used as integral parts of the bank’s daily life from its foundation to the present, in a way that reflects the historical transformation banking has undergone through the Republican period.

In the museum, several pieces from the painting collection of the Turkish İşbank are also exhibited. The museum is a successful example of the museology of institutional history.

The Beşiktaş J.K. Museum

Opened in 2007 as the first sports museum in Turkey, the museum was founded as part of the first football club in Turkey. Located in the historic Dolmabahçe Stadium, the museum was temporarily closed in 2013 owing to the restoration of the stadium.

The museum exhibits the certificate of incorporation of Beşiktaş as the first Turkish football club, cups and other awards, club rosettes from past to present, historical photos, original crampoons and sports gear of legendary players, as well as 420 historical documents and objects shedding light on the history of Turkish sports.

The Nature and Science Museum

Opened in the latter part of 2011, the museum is the product of its founder, Ahmet Hamza’s acquisitions. It is located in Güzelyalı, Pendik. With its collection consisting of more than 600 animals and more than 250 species it is one of a kind in Turkey.6

Sait Faik Abasıyanık Museum

The house of the famous writer, Sait Faik Abasıyanık on Burgaz Island was opened to visitors as a museum-house in August 22, 1959. Having been restored between the years 2009 and 2013, it was reopened as a museum in May 11, 2013. The personal letters, postcards, photos, documents and numerous other personal objects belonging to Abasıyanık are exhibited in the museum.


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1 For the two most recent studies in this particular area see Hilmi Aydın, Hırka-i Saadet Dairesi ve Mukaddes Emanetler, Istanbul: Kaynak Kitaplığı, 2004; Sevgi Ağca, Hırka-i Saadet Teşkilatı, Törenleri ve Kutsal Emanetleriyle Hırka-i Saadet Dairesi, Istanbul: Korpus Yayıncılık, 2013.

2 For a comprehensive study on the mausoleums in Istanbul see. Serhat Teksarı, İstanbul Türbeleri, Istanbul: Gül Neşriyat, nd.

3 Fuat Sezgin, İslâm’da Bilim ve Teknik, V vol., Istanbul Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2008.

4 The medical institution for the prevention of tuberculosis in healthy people who have not yet contracted tuberculosis, although they carry the tuberculosis microbe.

5, 25.11.2013.

6 A similar museum was founded in the Yıldız Palace by Sultan Abdulhamid II but unfortunately the artefacts diappeared from the place they were entrusted to after the Sultan was dethroned.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.