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MUSEUM OF TURKISH AND ISLAMIC ARTS, İSTANBUL

tiamOpening hours: 9am-5pm

Closed: Mondays

Ticket price: TL20

Location: Hippodrome (At Meydanı), İstanbul

Contacts: 0212-518 1021

Facing the Blue Mosque across the Hippodrome is a brick building that was once part of the palace of İbrahim Paşa, brother-in-law, favourite and grand vizier to Süleyman the Magnificent. When it was completed some time before 1520 it was as large if not larger than Topkapı Palace although much of the complex has since been lost to redevelopment.

The remaining part of the building with its balcony overlooking the Hippodrome now houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, one of the finest collections of carpets, calligraphy, tiles and woodwork in the country. tiam3

The exhibits are displayed in roughly chronological order, starting with capitals, floor tiles and other items acquired from the palace of the Abbasid ruler Caliph Mutasim (r. 833-42) in Samarra (modern-day Iraq), and a collection of early medieval glazed turquoise pottery redisplayed as if it had just been excavated from the ruins of Raqqa, a poignant sight now that the modern city has fallen to ISIS.

One room is devoted to the Damascus Documents, a treasure trove of pages taken from Qurans dating from the ninth to the 19th centuries that were brought here from the Ummayad mosque in Damascus in 1917.

A highlight of the museum is the early 13th-century door taken from the Ulu Cami in distant Cizre. This magnificent door with two wings featured a wooden frame over which an elaborately worked metal superstructure was placed. It also featured a huge pair of griffin-shaped door knockers attached to it with knobs shaped like lions’ heads. Sadly, one of these knockers was stolen in 1966 and is now in the David Collection in Copenhagen, a clear example, surely, of something that should be returned to its land of origin.

Unusually, we know the name of the man who designed this wonderful door, a Cizre-born engineer named Al-Jazari (1136-1206) who worked at the court of the Artukid Sultan, Nureddin Muhammed Kara Aslan, and wrote a book, nicknamed Automata, in which he described his many ingenious inventions.

The museum also displays beautiful items from Safavid and Qajar Iran including mirrors that show off the Qajar rulers with astonishingly thick black beards so that they look rather like negatives of Santa Claus. Then come the purely Turkish rooms displaying choice pieces from the Selçuk, Beylik and Ottoman eras. Some of the most interesting are the Selçuk items that show how lightly the Islamic prohibition on figurative art was once held. Here you’ll see bowls painted not just with birds but also with groups of Selçuk grandees as well as panels carved with griffins and tombstones featuring men on horseback.

tiam2Finally, there are the carpets, the pride of the museum and some of the finest relics of the art from its earliest days including pieces from Konya that date right back to the 13th century. Most are appropriately displayed in the grand ceremonial hall along with pieces of fine inlaid Ottoman woodwork. 

The museum also owns an ethnographic collection but as of January 2015 that had still not reopened after an extensive refit of the museum. 

Before leaving the museum you should take a quick look at a fairly nondescript arch with a pair of painted rosettes on the ceiling in front of it in the lobby. These are the last traces of the Düğümlü Baba Tekke, a dervish lodge rediscovered during restoration work.

The tekke was a shrine to Şeyh Hafız Mustafa Efendi (d. 1886), a madman who used to knot pieces of rag to his clothes, hence his nickname, Düğümlu Baba (holy man of the knots). A popular meeting place for those with mental health issues, the tekke was closed along with all the others in the city by order of Atatürk in 1925. Its ruins were completely demolished in 1965 when work on restoring the palace started.tiam4

Also on the ground floor behind the ticket desk are unexpected pieces of the old Hippodrome, the Byzantine chariot-racing circuit over whose remains İbrahim’s palace was built. Other than these rather enigmatic chunks of masonry with tunnels running through them the only other structural remnant of the Hippodrome is the Sphendone, the soaring brick outer wall that used to support the tiered seating at the rounded end of the stadium. Pictures and photos beside the newly uncovered section in the museum reveal what the stadium must have looked like in its heyday when huge crowds cheered on their favorite teams with all the fervour of Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş fans today. 

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/travel_istanbuls-museum-of-turkish-and-islamic-arts-revisited_368065.html

 

 

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