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Military Museum

Museums are an important milestone in public awareness of the cultural legacies of the past. The museums of today may be said to have their origin in family collections of heirlooms passed down from their ancestors, and these included weapons. Following the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed II, the church of Haghia Eirene in the outer courtyard of Topkapi Palace was turned into an armoury cebehane, for the storage of both old Turkish weapons and those captured from the enemy. In 1726, Ahmed III had this building repaired and re-named it the Daru'l Esliha, or Place of Weapons. Unfortunately, the building was plundered during the janissary uprisings which took place during the reigns of Selim III (1789-1807) and Mahmud II (1808-1839), and when the Janissaries Corps was abolished in 1826, much of its remaining contents were destroyed in the mistaken belief that these belonged to the corps. In 1846, during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid (1839-1861) commander of the Artillery Barracks Ahmed Fetih Pasa founded a museum in the Daru'l Esliha building. It consisted of two sections, the Collection of Ancient Weapons and the Collection of Antiquities. Subsequently the antiquities collection was rehoused in the Tiled Pavilion, also in the palace grounds, by Osman Hamdi, forming the original nucleus of Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The antique weapons collection, or what was to become the Military Museum, remained in the original building, but interest in this waned, and the collection lay virtually forgotten here until 1909, when defence minister Mahmut Sevket Pasa appointed Divisional General Ahmed Muhtar Pasa director of the museum, and its revival began. Ahmed Muhtar Pasa set about organising the existing collection and enlarging it. He established a library, a shooting range where visitors could practice firing military rifles with blank shot, and a small cinema where films on military subjects were shown. He also revived the old janissary mehter band, which had been abolished along with the Janissary Corps in 1826. Ahmed Muhtar Pasa remained director of the museum, renamed the Imperial Military Museum, until 1923, transforming it into one of the most popular and interesting places to visit in the city.


Following the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, the Military Museum building was renovated. With the outbreak of the Second World War the collections were sent to Nigde, a city in central Turkey, for safety. They were brought back to Istanbul in 1949 and stored in  Arsenal while preparations were made for reopening the museum in this building. Meanwhile a new inventory of the collection was made. When  Arsenal building was allocated to Istanbul Technical University in 1955, the collections were moved again, this time to the gymnasium of the former Military Academy which was to be the museums new home.


After this building was converted, the museum reopened in 1959. In time the collection out grew the gymnasium building, and it was decided to expand into the former Military Academy building.


Modernisation and enlargement of the museum began in 1967 according to designs drawn up by the architect Nezih Eldem. This project was completed in 1993, and the museum pioneered the introduction of museology standards and technology as laid down by the International Council of Museums in Turkish museums. In 1994 a project was launched in conjunction with the Turkish Institute of Science and Technology to install computer-aided touch-screen monitor systems in eleven of the exhibition halls. So far this system is available in the Multi-Media Hall, the Gallipoli Campaign and War of Independence halls, the First World War Defence Weapons Hall and the Tents Gallery. The computers in these rooms provide a wide range of information in the form of photographs, drawings, text, animation, sound, and video. The museum also has a Cultural Centre, whose conference, exhibition, and reception rooms are available for a wide range of cultural events whether military or civilian, Turkish or foreign. The Centre has simultaneous interpretation facilities for use at conferences, seminars, symposiums and colloquiums.


The museum has a large collection of arms, including bows and arrows, axes, swords, and guns, and defensive weapons such as shields, helmets and armour. The cannon collection consists of over three hundred pieces, both Islamic and European. In addition there are military uniforms, medals and decorations, standards and ensigns. The magnificent collection of tents, all of which are Ottoman, numbers around 350 pieces. The world's oldest military band, the mehter, gives concerts in the grounds every day when the museum is open, and is one of the most popular attractions for both Turkish and foreign visitors.

Source: Sky life 12/2000

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