Home Of Firsts In Museology

Turkey’s Most Visited Historic Venue, The Weapons Section Of Topkapi Palace, Recently Re-Opened To Visitors Following A Major Restoration .

The first museum to open in Turkey was a weapons museum in 1839. The reopening of the Weapons Section of Topkapı Palace in 2011 following a major restoration therefore forms an appropriate symmetry today with the opening of the original weapons museum. The story of museums in Turkey, starting with the Mecmua-ı Esliha (Collection of Armaments) opened by Fethi Ahmet Pasha at Hagia Eirene, and the progress that has taken place since in the form of technological innovations and advances in the forms of exhibiting can be observed now in the Weapons Section of Topkapı Palace.

With specimens representing a 1.300-year time period, the Topkapı Palace Museum weapons collection is one of the rare examples of its kind in the world. Weapons either sent as gifts to the Ottoman sultans or fashioned at their personal behest make up the bulk of the collection. The weapons of sultans like Mehmed the Conqueror, Bayezid II, Selim II, Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim III, Mehmed III and Ahmed I, as well as those of grand viziers, pashas, imperial sword-bearers and other high-ranking men of state, are especially important for their fine workmanship and decorations.

Swords of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs dating from the 7th to the 13th centuries, and Mamluk weapons such as swords, helmets, suits of armor and standards dating from the 14th to the 16th centuries make up the earliest examples in the collection. Not only representing the most advanced technology of their time, these weapons are also artifacts of high artistic value. Items such as bows, swords, axes, spears, armor and helmets form the group of Iranian weapons that came into the palace collection either as gifts or plunder. In addition to Mamluk and Iranian weapons, which boast a diversity reflecting the refined taste and workmanship of the Iranian art of metalworking, weapons belonging to the European states also found their way into the collection in the form of plunder while Japanese and Crimean Tatar weapons were sent as gifts. In terms of sheer number and variety, however, it is Ottoman weapons that constitute the bulk of the collection.

The renovations undertaken in the Topkapı Palace Weapons Section represent a first in museology in several respects. The explanations and presentations made using hologram technology, for example, stand out at first glance. Fifteen of Turkey’s leading musicians from Cahit Berkay and Erkan Oğur to Demir Demirkan and Hayko Cepkin arranged the ambient music for the exhibition around a specific exhibition theme. In creating the exhibition area, efforts were also made to harmonize the space with the items in the collection. With this in mind, special effects films were made depicting the Ottoman army and its campaigns using miniature paintings to give a taste of the time.

The great Ottoman navigator Piri Reis has not been forgotten either in the exhibition area. The map drawn by this Ottoman admiral, the original of which is in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, brings home to visitors the magnitude of the Ottoman Empire, which spanned three continents, and its seven major wars using LED computer technology. Illuminated sarcophagi and water wells meanwhile further enhance the overall impression made by the space.

One of the noteworthy details of the newly restored weapons section is the way in which the artifacts are displayed. The weapons in this collection of past instruments of war are held upright in the air by means of special magnets to represent peace. With a powerful language of narrative and design that addresses a universal taste in museology, the weapons section takes visitors on a journey into the past.

The building used today as the Weapons Section served as the Ottoman Imperial Treasury until the beginning of the Tanzimat (Period of Reforms) in 1839. Originally built by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, it was razed during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent and rebuilt together with the new Divanhane (Audience Hall) and Tower of Justice in 1526-28.