Quirky and lesser known Istanbul museums

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Istanbul is always bursting at the seams with things to see and do, but come winter wandering the streets in search of history can be challenging, to say the least. However I was born in July on the opposite side of the world in Australia, so the combination of cold weather and the lure of the city’s many quirky and lesser known museums means I still go out as much as I can, albeit well rugged up. This post contains information about Istanbul museums I’ve been to in person as well as those still on my ‘to visit’ list. As and when I get to them I’ll update the entries so if you love going to museums, don’t forget to bookmark this post for future reference.

Istanbul Museums I’ve visited

This beautiful object is actually a nozzle.
From the Fire Brigade Museum

After walking up a hill so steep I had to stop twice before I made it to the top, I was pleased to find the Itfaiye Müzesi (Fire Department Museum) was where Google Maps said it would be in Beşiktaş. It’s housed in a water depot dating back to the time of Ali Paşa Kiliç (1500-1587) and contains a small collection of fire-fighting equipment used through the centuries. In the 16th century the city’s rulers required houses to have ladders, then starting from 1717 teams of men were equipped with water pumps (tulumba) invented by a French Muslim convert. In 1874 a fire department consisting of four brigades was established by Hungarian born Szechenyi Paşa.

Fire in the silo next to Haydarpasa Railway Station
Istanbul fire scene

Everything is displayed by type so there are nozzles through the ages, the aforementioned water pumps, helmets, uniforms and even brigade flags from other countries. It’s very much a museum geared towards aficianados however the photographs on show include some mesmerising images such as a fire in a silo next to Haydarpaşa Train Station and a tanker, the Peter Zoranic that caught fire on the 19th of December 1960.

Yıldız Mah. Çitlenbik Yokuşu Horoz Sok. No: 1
Open Mon-Fri 9am-4pm. Free entry.

The divine Hurrem Sultana. Gorgeous, wasn't she?
From the Uskudar Doll Museum in Istanbul

If you haven’t yet been to Nevmekan Sahil (see top), the former marriage registry on the Üsküdar waterfront, converted into a library and café, all I can say is, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy of Istanbul 50 Unsung Places for all the info you need to know about it, including how to get there. It’s worth a visit for the glorious interior alone, but while you’re there make sure you pop out into the garden and visit the Üsküdar Hanım Sultanlar Müzesi  (Sultana Doll Museum), one of the Istanbul museums listed in my alternative guidebook. This museum showcases typical outfits worn by men and women from the upper echelons of  Ottoman society through exquisitely perfect miniature versions made from original materials sourced from I don’t know where but the sewer in me would love to find out. You don’t need to like clothes to enjoy it but lovers of historical Turkish miniseries, like Mühteşem Yüzyıl, will be in seventh heaven.

Şemsi Paşa Cad. No 2, Üsküdar.
Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Closed Monday. Free entry.

One of several chanukiah donated to the museum.
Objects on display in the Museum of Turkish Jews

Türk Musevileri Müzesi (Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews )
The Quincentennial Foundation was establish in 1989 and the first museum opened in the Zulfaris Synagogue in Karaköy on the 25th of November 2001. Spread over two floors in its present location next to the Neve Shalom Synagogue, the museum provides a detailed history of the Jewish communities in Turkey, starting with the Ashkenazi, Romaniots and Jews of Spanish origins during the period of the Byzantine Empire, through to the modern day. Thoughtfully displayed archival material demonstrates the contribution Turkish Jews have made in the areas of sport, music, defence and many other areas of life in Turkey. I particularly liked examining issues of newspapers printed in Ladino and a room containing the sacred accoutrements of Judaism – an ehal (altar), Torah scrolls covered with parohet, gorgeous velvet or wool cloths handstitched with gold and silver threads and other items. If you’re like me and interested in the minutiae of everyday life in Istanbul in the past, you’ll get a lot out of a visit to this museum.

The Synagogue is open to visitors through a door on the ground floor inside the museum. As it has been bombed several times in recent decades, along with other synagogues in Istanbul, security is tight so you’ll need to hand over your passport or ID card in order to enter.

Büyük Hendek Cad. No 39, 34421 Beyoğlu
Open Sun-Thurs 10am-5pm, Friday 10am-1pm, Closed Saturday. Entry price 45tl, teacher discount 25tl

Sadberk Hanim Museum
The day I went to the Sadberk Hanim Museum up the Bosphorus in Büyükdere, Sariyer, it was raining so hard I couldn’t see the water. Nonetheless images of what I saw in this beautifully restored mansion remain very clear. Apart from a marvellous collection of items dating back to 6000BC, the museum has an exquisite array of porcelain ware, jewellery and textiles. The sewer in me swooned at the sight of gorgeous overstitched brocades, silk throws, Ottoman costumes, fabrics, rugs and more. If you share this interest with me, it’s one of the Istanbul museums not to miss.

Piyasa Caddesi No. 25/29 Büyükdere
Open 10am-5pm. Closed Wednesdays. Entry price 15tl.

Posts about other Istanbul museums I’ve visited

Make sure you check out the small but information Ataturk Museum in Sisli.
One of my favourite Istanbul museums, dedicated to Ataturk

The Ataturk Museum, Sisli.
Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar Museum, in Gülhane Park, which you can read about in my piece on public libraries in Istanbul.

Iş Bank Museum, in Eminönü.

Bariş Manço Museum, Moda, Kadıköy

Sirkeci Railway Station, Sirkeci.

Visit Istanbul museums and more with my alternative guidebook

If you want more ideas on museums to visit in Istanbul, make sure you purchase a copy of my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. It’s available online, direct from me in Istanbul or at selected Istanbul bookshops. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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