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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul

What is the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts?

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is a fine museum of Turkish carpets, ceramics, manuscripts and Persian miniatures, housed in the late-15th-century palace that once belonged to a famous grand vizier (chief minister).

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

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Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts History

This palace was the home of one of the Ottoman Empire’s most powerful grand viziers, Ibrahim Paşa, although it was completely rebuilt to its original plan following a devastating fire in the mid-19th century. Fortunate enough to rise to prominence when the Ottoman Empire was at its height under Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Ibrahim Paşa was born a Christian in Epirus, in modern-day Greece. Captured during battle by the Ottoman governor of Bosnia, he became a slave, converted to Islam and eventually ended up in the service of Süleyman while the latter was still a prince. Once Süleyman became sultan he promoted Ibrahim to the second most powerful office of state, grand vizier, and he was given this late-15th-century palace as a gift. Although he carried out his duties with great skill for 13 years, Ibrahim Paşa began to see himself, rather than Süleyman, as ruler of the empire. The wealth he accrued in office and accompanying arrogance finally proved too much for Süleyman and the grand vizier was killed on his orders in 1536. Ibrahim’s wealth and possessions, including this palace, were confiscated by the state.

Ibrahim Paşa’s once run-down palace, with its spacious rooms and prominent position overlooking the old Byzantine chariot racing arena, the Hippodrome (in Ottoman times used as a parade ground), was restored in the 1980s and opened to the public as a museum. The permanent collection is made up of around 40,000 artefacts dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries, covering amongst other periods the Umayyads, Abbasids, Mamluks and Ottomans, a comprehensive ethnographic section and a world-class exhibition of Turkish carpets.

There are over 1,700 rugs in the carpet collection, housed in what was the ceremonial hall of the palace. These include a time-worn Seljuk carpet dating from the 13th century and the huge, plush Uşak carpets that once adorned the Topkapi Palace. Other carpets on display come from as far afield as the Caucasus and Iran. There are also manuscripts, glassware, miniatures, gypsum plaster reliefs and glazed tiles taken from Seljuk buildings, wall paintings from Abbasid palaces and tiny Sancak Korans, which once dangled from the banners of the Ottoman army when it marched forth to wage jihad.

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