History geeks and those of you who are curious about Turkish and Islamic Arts, welcome! Today, I am about to introduce to you a very significant museum in Istanbul.
If you want to learn more about the city’s history and culture shaped under the influence of Islam religion this place is a must-go for you to say the least.
Already named in the title of this article, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is an unequaled museum with its rich collection of works of art that belong to the Turkish-Islamic world ranging from as early as the 7th century up until the 20th century.
Fun facts: It is the first museum in the country that offers Turkish and Islamic works of art together and it is the last museum that was opened during the Ottoman era.
There, you can see many kinds of works (such as woodworking, metal, glass, ceramic, manuscript, etc.) that have marked the history of civilization including the comprehensive oeuvre of the Abbasid and the Umayyad as well as the oeuvre of Turkish Beyliks such as the Great Seljuk Empire and Karamanli Dynasty.
Let’s continue with more technical information to familiarize ourselves with the place before jumping ahead to see what is behind these majestic walls, shall we?
The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is located in Sultanahmet, the most famous historical site in the whole city also known as the dwelling place of the courtiers.
The museum was opened in 1914 and initially, it was located within the Suleymaniye Mosque Social Complex. Since 1983 it gives services in Ibrahim Pasha Palace (a marvelous example of the 16th century Ottoman architecture), formerly the dwelling place of Ibrahim Pasha the son in law and the vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent.
The museum was closed for renovation in 2012 and during the renovation, the relicts of Constantinople Hippodrome were discovered, and they too are currently on display.
Except for Mondays, the museum is open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Entrance fee is 5 dollars 87 cents, however, you can get a Museumpass Istanbul for 38 dollars 12 cents (only valid in Istanbul but if you plan on traveling to other parts of Turkey you can choose Museumpass Turkey which is naturally more expensive) and use it in other museums and places with an entrance fee to make it more cost-efficiently.
Museumpass* is a card that enables you to visit all of the museums operated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. If you plan to visit many museums and historical places, I highly recommend you pay the price at once.
What Waits You Behind the Doors?
1- The Woodworking Section
This is one of the most remarkable sections of the whole museum, displaying invaluable woodworking from the periods of the Anatolian Seljuk Dynasty and Karamanli Dynasty. While visiting this section, try to pay attention to the carvings and the calligraphy, will you? The details matter so much here.
The wooden cist you see on the left of the image is from the years of 1251-1252, the time of the Anatolian Seljuk Dynasty. It belongs to the mausoleum of Seyyid Mahmud Hayrani in Konya. The most striking thing about this cist remains surely in the fine craftsmanship of its engravings.
The window leaves on the wall were brought from the mausoleum of Sadrettin Muhammed Konevi also in Konya. The plant motifs and inscriptions on it also reflect the high art of the period.
Last but not least, on the right side of both the image and the cist, we see door leaves from Karamanli Dynasty, dating back to 1432. These door leaves belong to Ibrahim Bey Soup Kitchen in Karaman, a place that provided food for the less fortunate.
This work in particular perfectly demonstrates the influence of Islam both on social life and on art.
On the door leaves it is inscribed: “Those who come, our door is open; those who eat, our goods are licit.” Indeed, it perfectly captures the importance of sharing and solidarity in Islamic culture.
2- The Rug Corridor
I assume most of you have already heard about the famous Turkish rugs. If you haven’t, this section will hit you in the face with its rare beauty. It is truly like a paradise for those of you who are a big fan of them in that there exists one of the best collections of exquisite rugs and carpets including the very rare 13th century Seljuk carpets.
Plus, it is the largest rug collection in Europe and one of the most important rug collections in the whole world with approximately 1700 works. The rugs on display were weaved with a special technique called “Turkish knot”. This technique involves tight weaving and a rich repertoire of motifs.
You can easily notice that not only the craftsmanship is one of the finest of its kind but also most of the motifs are aesthetically appealing with an assemblage of different kinds of flowers. The collection includes rugs and carpets outside of Turkey as well, mostly from Persia and Caucasia.
These unexampled handiworks vary also in size depending on the tradition they belong to, yet one thing remains common: their quality despite passing centuries. Rug corridor, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful parts of the museum if not the most.
3- The Stone Works Section
One of the most interesting sections of the museum is surely the stone works section which contains within itself the works of art that date all the way back to the 7th century. It provides a wide range of works that differ in era, style, and tradition.
It is possible to find works that are adorned with both motifs such as mythical creatures and game animals. The image above, for example, features a warrior fighting with a dragon.
This is a piece from 13th-14th century Anatolian Seljuks. The motifs correspond to both the myths in early Turkish culture and Turkish militancy.
Other than certain motifs, calligraphy on the stone works is very common as well. One of the most famous works with calligraphy is an Epitaph of a Versicle of the Quran belonging to the Ottoman era.
As a matter of fact, whether on a stone or an animal skin, you will frequently encounter the versicles of the Quran in the museum.
Last but not least, the oldest work in the section of stone works belongs to the Umayyad period. It is a milestone built by the caliphate of the Umayyad for informing voyagers about the distance between Jerusalem and Damascus.
It draws considerable attention to itself, being one of the rare remaining relicts of the early Islamic period.
4- The Stoneware and Glass Section
In this section, you are to find precious stoneware, glass, tile, terracotta objects, and artifacts from Samarra, Raqqa, and many other places. These objects include gadgets, tools, jewelry boxes, cups, and bowls. This section is remarkable in that it gives valuable information about daily life in the era.
For instance, the image above is called the Seljuk Bowl from the 12th-13th century. Notice how it is adorned with different colors, motifs such as birds, and more importantly human figures from Asia Minor where the Turks have emerged.
The collection here was actually found in the excavation between 1908-1914. My personal favorite in this collection belongs to the Ottoman stoneware and tile work alongside Kütahya and Çanakkale ceramics from the recent era. Basically, what makes the Blue Mosque the Blue Mosque is exhibited here.
What catches the eye in these works is surely the usage of colors and motifs, specifically the tulip motif (one of the symbols of the Ottoman Empire). I’m sure that most artists fall in love with this section at first glance.
5- The Manuscripts Section
This section of the museum exhibits manuscripts from the early Islamic period up to the 20th century. It covers vast geography under the influence of Islam religion and contains a wide range of documents whose value even transcend their historicity.
It is estimated that 13000 works are exhibited in this section. Without a doubt, the most common and popular type of document you are to encounter here is manuscripts of the Quran belonging to different dynasties followed by the Damascus documents (shown in the image above).
As in the early period of Islam, the Quran was reproduced by hand, seeing its manuals are especially crowd-pulling. There are dozens of examples of hand-written Quran all of which offer fine workmanship with different coloring, calligraphy, and such.
Written on a gazelle skin the 2-paged Quran sample (written in Hejaz in the 8th century) from the Umayyad era is especially invaluable as it dates back to the earliest time of the Islamic era whose rare relicts are present in this museum.
6- Metal Works Section
Most of this collection consists of the relicts from the Great Seljuk Empire and the Anatolian Seljuks era, including incensory, pitchers, mirrors, lamps, and such. Common figures and motifs among the works include warriors, swords, lions, dragons, and epitaphs.
You can find objects made from different metals such as brass, bronze, and silver all of which hold importance, particularly for the middle age metal art.
In fact, with a thorough analysis of the objects, it is possible to trace the development of metal art and craftsmanship. The symbols and motifs on the objects are especially remarkable in that they differentiate the pre-Islamic era from the post-Islamic era, demonstrating exactly the transition in time and tradition.
14th-century candlesticks with astrological motifs constitute the favorite of this collection followed by bronze doors and door handles.
Similar to the doors in the woodworking section in the museum, the metal works section also displays ornamented doors with bronze engravings and inscriptions.
7- Bonus: The Prophet’s Footprint!
The museum contains within itself various sacred objects and holy relicts as well. One of the most important ones is surely the footprint of the Prophet Mohammad which can be seen in the image above.
This holy relict is named “Kadem-i Saadet” – roughly meaning the footprint of Prophet Mohammad. Just for this sacred piece alone, the museum receives thousands of visitors from all over the world as it has such an immeasurable worth especially for the Islamic world.
Rest assured, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is one of the richest museums in Turkey. If you like to see and learn more about Islamic and Turkish art, you should definitely give it a go. Plus, the atmosphere there is one of a kind as well. It truly feels like you are in a time machine, going to the times of the highest civilization ever.
In light of all of these, if you decide to visit this treasure (I really hope you do by the way) expect to pass the threshold of the high Islamic world. The art here holds the mirror of the golden era of the Islamic world.
One last thing before we depart our ways, if you happen to go to the museum please don’t forget to enjoy the magnificent view of the Suleymaniye Mosque on the terrace of the museum, it is breathtaking! Also, this is really the last one, visit the inner courtyard, will ya?
How to go? The museum is located on the European side of the city, so if you are on the other side, your first mission is of course to cross the sea.
The best option is to use the boat from Kadıköy to Eminönü. Then, transfer to the T1 Kabataş-Bağcılar tramway line and get off at Sultanahmet station.
You can walk from there as it is pretty close. If you are already on the European side, you need to reach to T1 Kabataş-Bağcılar tramway line as well.
Your options for that vary. You can choose Metrobus line (in that case get off at Cevizlibağ station and then transfer to the tram) or you can use the M1A metro line (in that case get off at Aksaray station and then transfer to the tram).
The museum is really at the heart of Sultanahmet district, in the same vicinity as many other renowned places like Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Istanbul Archeological Museums. So, it really is a perfect place to include your historical city tour to get to know the city’s deep-rooted history.
Address: At Meydanı Sok. No:12, Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul