Orhan Pamuk, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, is easily Turkey’s most famous contemporary author. And one of his books, The Museum of Innocence, is more than just a novel. It’s a real museum, designed to exactly replicate the imaginary museum described in his story. A fascinating project which begs the question: does a thing cease to be fictional when it actually exists?
The Imperial Harem, the private pleasure palace of the Sultans, is the most well-known aspect of Ottoman royal life. But why has the Harem proven so persistent in the mind of popular culture? What is the secret behind its fame? Is it the fabulous tile-work which decorates its walls? Or is it the concept of hundreds of beautiful concubines with the sole mission of providing pleasure to a single man? Hmm… it’s a toss-up.
The seat of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, Topkapı Palace is today one of Istanbul’s most popular sights. The massive complex consists of four courtyards and hundreds of rooms, and the treasures on display are among the world’s most valuable. A visit to Topkapı Palace is almost compulsory during a trip to Istanbul… just expect to be exhausted afterward.
Housed in a 19th century mansion in the neighborhood of Emirgan, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum features a permanent collection dedicated to calligraphic art, along with outstanding temporary exhibits. This was one of the surprise cultural highlights of our time in Istanbul.
Karagöz shadow puppetry, one of Turkey’s most distinctive art forms, was born in Bursa. And the city is still the best place in the world to catch a regular performance. It might be the only such place. Every day, the Karagöz Museum puts on shows starring the puppets which have kept Turkey in stitches for hundreds of years.
Established in 1856, the Ottoman Bank was a part of a comprehensive effort to modernize the flagging Ottoman Empire. Today, its former headquarters in Galata is home to SALT: a non-profit organization dedicated to art, architecture and urbanism.
The irony wasn’t completely lost on us. Visiting Dolmabahçe Palace, a symbol of preposterous wealth and privilege, while just outside workers were marching in Istanbul’s infamous Labor Day protests. “What’s that smell?” I whispered to Jürgen, while admiring a carpet with more square footage than any apartment I’ve ever lived in. “Tear gas”, he said, his eyes starting to well up. “Amazing carpet, though.”
With their heads slightly tilted, arms raised in exaltation and spinning in graceful circles, the whirling sufi dervishes are among the most enduring images of Turkey. Istanbul boasts a number of places in which to catch a ceremony, but we chose to attend the twice-monthly performance in the Galata Mevlevihanesi; the city’s oldest tekke.
Under the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul was one of the world’s great ethnic smorgasbords. Greek, Armenian, Albanian and Turk all got along relatively well and lived peaceably, if not equally, under Ottoman law. So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Jews fleeing persecution in Europe found a permanent home here, and have long been part of the city’s cultural fabric.
Spread across some of the most beautiful land in Europe and the Middle East, Turkey lays claim to a jaw-dropping number of incredible sights. Visiting everything the country offers would take a lot longer than 91 days, so it’s lucky that there’s an alternative. Welcome to Miniaturk.