5 Great Literary Sites in Istanbul

We are currently reading Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin as our June pick for the bookclub Travel Europe Through Books; the country of our current focus is Turkey!

Kulin is an author of international renown whose works have been frequently published in English, but most foreigners will be unfamiliar with the majority of authors, literary works, and literary sites of Turkey. Here I’m offering a brief guide for catching some of the best literary culture Turkey has to offer.

If you are a lover of great literature and are hoping to visit this eastern corner of Europe, you might consider adding the following sites into your itinerary.

Photo: Museum of Innocence, Istanbul.  Svklimkin, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Site 1: The Museum of Innocence

Orhan Pamuk was the first Turkish author to become a nobel laureate in 2006. He’s written such works as The Black Book, Istanbul: Memories and the City, The Museum of Innocence, and My Name Is Red. There’s an actual Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, which is based on Pamuk’s book of the same name.  Everything in the museum is a reference to the chapters of the book. Quite an artistic place! If you’d like to visit, please check the website HERE.

Topkapi Palace. A.Savin, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

Site 2: Topkapi Palace Library

The Topkapi Palace is one of the most popular sites of Istanbul, mainly for its luxurious rooms and gardens. But the complex also features a library, which includes some of the most valuable manuscripts from the Ottoman Empire, including the works of various sultans.  You can’t see all manuscripts without an appointment but some are on public display in Topkapi.  It’s a beautiful building complex that offers its visitors an interesting peek into the life of a sultan and his family. Find out more about visiting this palace HERE.

Whirling Dervishes. Photo by Ayşenur Sağlam on Unsplash

Site 3: The Galata Mevlevi House Museum.

This museum is dedicated to the Mevlevis of Sufism, an order of Islam with a mystic slant. Sufism was founded by Rumi, a 13th century poet, Sufi mystic and theologian. His order is specially well-known for its whirling dervishes, a form of meditation that is practiced by the Mevlevis. Their dancing has become world-famous and attracts audiences in numerous locations, including this museum.

Sufism is also known for the importance it places on the arts, including writing and literature. Artistic achievements of Mevlevis are on display at this museum, including literary works wrought in Calligraphy, exhibits on bookbinding, and some works by Rumi himself. If you’d like to see to see these literary achievements, or witness one of their occasional whirling dervish performances, please check HERE.

Vintage photo of the Galata Mevlevi House Museum, SALTOnline, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Site 4: Booksellers of Akmar

Situated on the asian side of Istanbul in Kadiköy, is the Akmar Passage, a conglomeration of booksellers. These merchants sell books in many languages, mostly used, and will also buy or swap books with you! Be forewarned that they will call to you from their shops to strike a deal. They have all kinds of books, from novels to textbooks and everything in between.

Book Bazaar Istanbul. Matthias Süßen, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Site 5: The Adam Mickiewicz Museum

Poland’s most famous poet is Adam Mickiewicz. Having been born in Lithuania, which at the time was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and working some years in Italy and France, he eventually left for Istanbul to help organize Polish forces against Russia during the Crimean War. Mickiewicz died in Istanbul, probably of cholera, and this museum is a recreation of the simple house where he lived until his death.  A nationalist who was of key importance in Poland’s fight for independence, Adam Mickiewicz produced poetry, plays, essays, articles, and translations, and was also a political activist. For visiting information about the museum, please check HERE.

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