Cengelhan Rahmi M. Koc Museum

Opened recently in Ankara, Turkey’s second museum of industry takes visitors on a journey through time in a 500-year-old building.

During the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, his son-in-law Rüstem Pasha, the husband of his daughter Mihrimah Sultan, had a khan built in 1522. Fulfilling all the usual functions of an Anatolian caravanserai, the Çengelhan was a hostelry that offered lodging to travellers while also supplying local shopping needs. Thus begins the story of the Çengelhan, a 16th century hostelry just opposite the Ankara citadel, that has now been transformed into a museum preserving a centuries-old legacy. An historic space in its own right with low doors and passageways and walls carved with niches and covered in inscriptions, the building inevitably makes you feel as if you are traveling back in time.

MEMENTO OF A FATHER

The Çengelhan has housed the Rahmi M. Koç Museum of Industry since April 2005. The significance of the building is enhanced not only by the fact that Rahmi M. Koç’s father, the late Vehbi Koç, one of Republican Turkey’s pioneering industrialists, served as an apprentice here but also by Rahmi M. Koç’s own love of Ankara. Koç, who has been collecting mechanical devices and industrial artifacts ever since his father gave him an electric train as a boy, opened Turkey’s first museum of industry in Istanbul in the 1980s. But here, at the Çengelhan, the story of early industry is told through scale models since most of the fullsize objects are on exhibit at the Istanbul museum. In keeping with the building’s original appearance even the electrical outlets have been covered in gold leaf. The Çengelhan was famous already in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the major khans of Ankara, which was rapidly becoming an international center of trade and industry, it was one of
the four largest of the period. Later, in the first half of the 20th century, it housed shops that sold a variety of textiles and wool products such as angora and mohair, as well as untanned leather and rigs for horse-drawn carriages. Before being abandoned at the end of the century, it was used as a tannery and a warehouse for wool, where angora, mohair, and rawhide were sold wholesale. The Çengelhan is the only hostelry in the city’s khan district that bears an inscription. This relief inscription inside a stone frame over the khan’s low-lying vaulted entrance documents the completion of the building in 1522-1523. Entering the Rahmi M. Koç Museum of Industry, you are impressed first by the successful restoration, completely faithful to the original building. Each of the small, typical khan rooms has been allocated to one the museum’s main areas of focus. There are fourteen of them altogether, ranging from rail transportation and navigation to the earliest toys; there is even an Atatürk corner. More than 1200 objects are displayed in the museum’s 32 rooms.

RETURN TO CHILDHOOD

If you’re ready to embark on an historical journey, then it’s time to climb the stairs. On the upper floor you will encounter first the rail transportation section, where you can see everything from windup trains with carriages made of metal to models of 1930s trains and steam locomotives and even a conductor’s whistle from the Orient Express, all exact replicas of the originals and fitted with authentic accessories. Toys are the first thing that come to mind when a person remembers his childhood. And the toys here exude genuine history. Cars and motorcycles, made of metal, tin, even wood... So simple as not to be compared with today’s complicated toys but seemingly far more creative and imbued with human warmth. Leaving childhood behind and pressing on we come to several ‘first’s in the annals of communications. Typewriters, for example, which surely represent a pinnacle in the history of the written word—until the invention of the computer, of course, that icon of modernity, more advanced models of which are appearing by the day. The original portable typewriter, produced in 1893 by George Blickensderfer, with more than a hundred different keys including even musical notes, must be one of the most popular gadgets of all time. You can also see one of fifteen surviving specimens of Edison’s phonograph. Made in Paris by Hardy in 1878 with the Edison trademark, it was the first instrument to record and play sound. Continuing our historical journey we come upon a number of objects ranging from submarines to the earliest surgical instruments. A brief note on each item provides interesting details about its history.

MANUAL LABOR AND EYESTRAIN

One of the most fascinating sections of the Rahmi M. Koç Museum is the workshop of İsmail Atsürer, a representative of the class of small shopkeepers in Turkey. Atsürer’s tiny workshop and hand-crafted objects have a special significance. Set up inside a small display window, the workshop is a one-on-one mirror of reality. So refined are the details that when you look inside, for a moment at least, you think you can actually see Uncle İsmail’s hands at work and the sweat beading on his brow as he fashions the models that are arrayed behind him. İsmail Atsürer aroused popular and media interest with the model trains he manufactured in the 1920s. Converting the coal bin of his home into a workshop, he spent all his time making replicas of machine tools and instruments from the 1800s.

A GIFT FROM ATATÜRK

The objects in the Atatürk room take us back to the early years of the Republic: a replica of the binoculars Mustafa Kemal used at Kocatepe during the War of Liberation as well as glasses and plates, many of them used by him personally. Among these priceless objects are some with a special significance: a shirt, a handkerchief and collars sent by Atatürk as a gift to Dr. Asım Istanbullu, who treated Atatürk’s sister Makbule Hanım, refusing all remuneration for his services. Descending to the lower level we are again confronted by images from childhood, this time bicycles! Bicycles with one enormous and one tiny wheel, and tricycles, one of them a 19th century three-wheeler in the shape of a wooden horse. Imagine how many tiny pairs of eyes must have gazed longingly upon it. Or how many children fought imaginary battles or captured phantom fortresses while riding it.

A MUSEUM TO STIMULATE THE IMAGINATION

To my mind one, however, of the most compelling features of the Rahmi M. Koç Museum is its appeal to the imagination. This is a museum where anyone who wants to revive the past in his mind can easily do so, as is evidenced by the words one mother inscribed in the guest book:

“I used to have to con my children into going to a museum. But they are so taken with this one that I have to drag them away!” And that, in a nutshell, is the mission of the Çengelhan Rahmi M. Koç Museum. Not only to present the past but to stimulate the imagination of its young visitors in particular and prepare them for the future. As for us, while we lost all track of time as we toured the museum, there was one thing that did strike our attention, namely, that time passes and even our own time is now history.