Libraries in Istanbul

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I often hear expats say how they wish there were libraries in Istanbul where they could go and hang out, somewhere to do some writing or just seek inspiration. Here are four easy to get to libraries in Istanbul anyone can enter without having to be a student, a paying member or by prior arrangement.

Don't let the exterior deceive you, inside a treasure awaits!

Atatürk Library
From the outside Atatürk Library doesn’t look much, but on the inside it’s an architect’s dream. Spread over three floors, it was designed by award-winning Turkish architect Sedad Hakkı Eldem, and the rooms resemble giant honeycomb cells. Multiple spaces radiate out from a central hexagon, each one lined with books and equipped with workstations supplied with power points and reading lights. Huge glass windows provide fabulous views of the Bosphorus. The colour scheme is plain concrete, enhanced by enormous flycatcher light shades hanging down from the ceilings. They’re a mix of Art Nouveau chic and 1960s space age.

The building was constructed by Koç Holding for the 50th anniversary of the republic in 1973. When it first opened, it had around 170,000 publications. This has grown to around half a million publications, including books, antique writings, maps, postcards and one of Turkey’s largest newspaper and magazine collections. Now it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s popular with students from nearby universities and night owls so it can get pretty busy. If you’re after a seat you might have to take a number and wait but if you only want to take a look around leave your ID at the gate and gaze to your heart’s content. Unfortunately taking photos without permission is forbidden.

Where: Mete Caddesi No. 45, Taksim. An easy 10 minute walk from Taksim Square.

Make time to pop into the Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar library when you visit Gulhane Park!

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Edebiyat Müze Kütüphanesi

The Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum and Library is located in Alay Köşk (the Procession Kiosk) in the grounds of Gülhane Park. The köşk was built in the 19th century on the outer wall of the park as a place where the Ottoman Sultans could sit and watch the Janissary troops parade past in special processions while saluting them. The sultans also used it as a place for pleasure and relaxation.

It’s easy to see why. Each of the polygon shaped rooms on the entry floor have painted ceilings, ruby glass chandeliers, and windows looking out over the park. Some even have fanciful trompe l’oeil panels with scenes harking back to rural France. Imposing larger than life busts of famous Turkish authors like the library’s namesake Tanpınar as well as Orhan Pamuk, Nedim (a much admired Ottoman poet who lived from 1680 to 1730) and Nazim Hikmet take you by surprise as you enter the different rooms. Collections of typewriters, pipes, letter openers and other ephemera belonging to famous Turkish writers are proudly displayed in glass cases. The shelves are lined with local histories, novels, magazines, poems and a full range of Turkish literary works.

In a room featuring local writers, long brocade cushions cover seats lining the walls. The sun shines in onto the wooden floor, giving a dreamy feeling to the room. On the opposite side of the building a smaller plainer room equipped with a few table and chairs makes a perfect spot for sitting and contemplating the tourists admiring the gardens outside. Or a place to just sit and daydream, read a book or work on that long awaited masterpiece. Before you leave make your way downstairs to the main salon. Fifteen metre high wooden columns frame the space but my favourite discovery was a little circular room housing vinyl records from the 1960s and 70s with names like “The Voice of Turkish Authors” and others with recitations of Turkish poetry in both Turkish and English, including of works by Yunus Emre.

In the early 20th century the library briefly housed a Fine Arts Association and from 1928 to the end of the 1930s it was the meeting place of an association dedicated to Turkish language and literature. Therefore it’s fitting it’s named for Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, a poet, novelist, literary scholar and essayist considered the greatest representative of modernism in Turkish literature.

The library was opened in 2011 and contains more than 9000 books by around 1000 authors. It includes city guides, books by writers from the Marmara and other regions, and Turkish and Nobel Prize award winning books. Readers are welcome to peruse the books and magazines in the library.

The main doorway is inside the grounds of Gülhane Park and the library is open Monday to Saturday from 8.30am to 8.30pm. As with Atatürk Library you can’t take photos inside but you can visit it yourself by following the details in my alternative travel guide Istanbul 50 Unsung Places.

Have you visited the first library to open in Istanbul?

Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi
It’s fascinating to me that some of the Beyazıt State Library, which contains a wealth of knowledge, is housed in part of what was once a soup kitchen, providing nourishment to the poor. The original 17-domed imaret (soup kitchen) building was part of Beyazit Külliye. A külliye is an Islamic social complex containing a mosque, medrese and imaret, and this one was built for Sultan Beyazit II, the son of Fatih, between 1501 and 1506.

The building was restored by order of Sultan Abdulhamit II and a library was opened in the imaret section on June 24 in 1884. It was the first library established by the Turkish state and was name Kütüphane-i Umûmî-i Osmanî. Initially the books and items it contains came from libraries belonging to various charitable foundations, as well as mosques, tombs and other religious buildings. These books were not well cared for and were sometimes destroyed so it was deemed necessary to gather them together in one central place. As the collection has grown so has the library. Over time more sections of the imaret and other buildings in the complex were given over to it. In 1988 the former Dentistry School building, built between 1867 and 1876, opened for service after being restored for use as an annexe of the library. The whole collection was renamed Beyazıt State Library in 1961.

Now there are more than a million documents in the library, over 800,000 books available to researchers, more than 30,000 magazines, 55,000 volumes of newspapers and more than 5000 audio books. Additionally, there is an extensive collection of ephemera, including posters, postcards, maps, money and stamps.

The library is open 24 hours a day. The entry is through a small non-descript looking doorway, to the left of the temporary/permanent Zabita office alongside the wall. You’ll need to leave your ID if you want to sit inside and study. If you just want to visit, a nice man will show you through the first section where readers can access periodicals and magazines, and into the older six domed section. Interestingly they still use a card index system to call up books from the archives.

The library is in Cadirdilar Sokak No 4. It’s just off Beyazit Square or ten minutes on foot from Veznecilar Metro station.

Kadin Esleri Kütüphanesi ve Bilgi Merkezi Vakfi

The Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation (WLICF) in Fener is one of the libraries in Istanbul that reminds me of the libraries of my childhood. Small rooms crammed with plain wood veneer bookshelves adorned with old photos, posters and other historical paraphernalia, with as many practical workstations clustered together in the middle of the room as possible.

However quaint it seems, it’s the first and only women-centred library and archive in Turkey. It contains a wealth of documents related to the struggle for women’s rights, covering subjects ranging from equal pay for equal work, equal representation in parliament, women writers, artists, periodicals, posters from the Turkish War of Independence, theses and dissertations and much more besides. It also contains paintings and sculptures by Turkish women artists, such as Aliye Berger, Füreya Koral and Gülsün Karamustafa, covering a period between 1951 and 2017. The rich and varied materials in the library reflects many aspects of women’s history in Turkey

The library is in Fener Mahallesi, Mürsel Paşa Caddesi No. 8. It’s opposite the Fener ferry wharf and is open from 8.30 am to 5.30pm on weekdays but closed weekends.

More libraries in Istanbul to come

Have you read Istanbul Dreams?

That’s all for now but watch this space. As soon as I get to it I’ll be adding new libraries to this list, including the Rami Library. Built as the the Rami Artillery Quarters in Eyüp in the 1770s, this library has a catalogue of seven million books, reading rooms, a museum of the history of books, exhibition halls, cafes, cinemas and shops.

If you love to read and you’re tempted to move to Istanbul, find out what it was like when I moved to Turkey in my memoir Istanbul Dreams: Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom. Making the decision to come was easy. It’s choosing to stay that can be hard.

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  1. In the past I visited several Istanbul and Turkish libraries. Now the new and big Rami kütüphanesi is placed on my bucketlist in the summer.
    Hans Krol, Heemstede, The Netherlands

  2. Sounds really inviting and so much historical ad architectural information. I miss libraries with an old feel. In the north of Scotland where I used to live most libraries are housed in newer buildings and for me don;t have the childhood feel of reverence for books

    1. I’m like you, I like the musty comfort of older style libraries. High tech interactive is one thing, but a quiet corner and a good book never fails.

  3. Thank you very much for this information. You always have either historical information or much needed area information in your posts, and for an expat, it is invaluable.

    1. I’m glad you find my posts invaluable. I love Istanbul and I love sharing new discoveries for people living in here to or visiting.

  4. Thank you for this article, Lisa! I wish I had read this before we spent two weeks in Istanbul three years ago. We were in Gülhane Park and did not know about the library. Hopefully our postponed guided tour of Turkey will take place in April 2021 and then we can try to visit at least one of the libraries.

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