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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of the Naval Museum in Istanbul

What is the Naval Museum?

The Naval Museum is a fine museum primarily devoted to the history of the Ottoman Navy, located by the waters of the Bosphorus.

Naval Museum

Naval Museum History

Fittingly, the city’s Naval Museum (first established in 1897) stands on the shores of the Bosphorus in Beşiktaş, a pleasant Istanbul suburb, which is also home to the tomb of one of the Ottoman Turks’ most famous seafarers, Hayreddin Paşa – better known as the pirate Barbarossa. Under his leadership, in the 16th century the Ottomans established naval supremacy throughout the Mediterranean. In consequence he is a much-revered figure even in modern Turkey, successor state to the Ottoman Empire. Many ships have been named after him, films made about his exploits, and a major road running close to the Bosphorus Strait is named Barbaros Boulevard.

The museum is home to a superb collection of caiques. These long, narrow wooden rowing boats or skiffs, designed with no bow or stern so they could be rowed in either direction, were used to ferry passengers and goods up, down and across the Bosphorus and Golden Horn in the Ottoman period. The imperial caiques that feature prominently in the museum are altogether different. Built to demonstrate the wealth, status and authority of the sultans and their grand viziers, they are much longer and wider than an everyday working caique, with elongated, gold-painted prows and a raised platform topped by a small kiosk, to keep passengers dry in the rain or shaded on hot days. The largest of the caiques on display is 40 metres long and it took 144 oarsmen to row it. The imperial caiques were used on ceremonial occasions, and to take the sultans to and from their summer residences and palaces on the Bosphorus.

One section of the museum is devoted to wood carvings and displays beautifully fashioned figureheads from Ottoman naval vessels, often in the form of lions, dragons or other ferocious creatures. Another section documents the history of the Ottoman Navy from its earliest days through to the First World War campaigns at Gallipoli. In the basement is a section of the huge iron chain, dating to the Byzantine period, that once stretched across the mouth of the Golden Horn, and a fine collection of naval cannons lines the foyer.

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