İstanbul Harbiye Militay Museum

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A Brief History of the Military Museum

Considering the size and diversity of its collection, the Military Museum and Cultural Centre Command in Istanbul, which is linked to the Ministry of National Defense, can be counted among the world’s leading museums. The foundation of the Military Museum, albeit not in the form of a modern museum, dates back to the 15th century. Following the Turkish conquest of Istanbul in 1453, the Church of Hagia Irene was used as an armoury, for storing precious weapons and military equipment. In 1726, the items in the Armoury were rearranged and a new institution was founded under the name ‘Dar-ül-Esliha’. The establishment of the Military Museum and the birth of Turkish museum curatorship in the modern sense occurred in 1846, primarily through the efforts of Ahmet Fethi Pasha, director of the Cannon Foundry. The cloisters of Hagia Irene were converted into exhibition spaces by placing showcases in the gaps between columns. Some of these spaces were used for exhibiting collections of historical weapons, together with military equipment, while in others archaeological artefacts were on display. Shortly after the formation of these collections in Hagia Irene, the museum was renamed ‘Müze-i Hümayun’ or ‘Imperial Museum’, the first time it was explicitly referred to as a museum.

The Military Museum continued its activities in Hagia Irene until 1940 and then remained inactive for a while, since it was feared that the Second World War would spread to Turkey. In 1959, once the risk of war had passed, the artefacts that had been deposited in the Maçka Armoury in 1949 were retrieved and displayed once more in the gymnasium of the Military Academy. In the course of time, this building was found to be ill-suited for modernisation and too small to house the collections of the Military Museum. For this reason it was decided that the new home for the Museum would be the main building of the former Military Academy, where restoration work got underway in 1966. This building opened to visitors on February 10, 1993, after reorganization of the museum’s contents had taken place. Initially, the Museum consisted purely of the weapons that it inherited from the Ottoman Armoury. Over time, though, the collections were expanded thanks to new acquisitions, purchases and donations. The Museum now boasts an impressive number of artefacts of military culture, covering a period stretching from as far back as the 13th century up to the present day.

In recent years, the Museum has started to make use of more modern methods of displaying objects, supplementing the more traditional display cabinets we still find in the exhibition halls. Since 2007, entire halls have been devoted to displays related to the foundation of the Turkish Army, the Seljuk period, the foundation and rise of the Ottoman Empire, the conquest of Istanbul, and the Battle of Gallipoli. In these displays, alongside authentic objects we find giant dioramas, maps, illuminated panels, sculptures, and oil paintings.

In addition, to commemorate the years Mustafa Kemal Atatürk spent as a student at the Military Academy, one room in the Museum has been decorated in the style of that period, so visitors are now able to experience Atatürk’s classroom at the Military Academy!

Besides functioning as a museum, the Military Museum is also home to the world’s oldest military band, the ‘Mehter Band’. The Cultural Centre complex within the Museum also plays host to a wide range of cultural and artistic activities, with contributions coming from Turkey and abroad, from both civil and military spheres.

A Brief History of the Former Military Academy Building

The building of the former Military Academy is actually a complex of structures extending along a north-south axis. 18,600m² in area, it was built on a 54,000m² plot of land. Construction of the building we see today began in 1834, under the supervision of architect Garabed Balyan, who was also one of the architects of the Dolmabahçe Palace. The building, originally intended to serve as the hospital of the Imperial Cannon Foundry, was officially opened on 10 October 1846 under the name ‘Mekteb-i Fünûn-u Harbiye-i Şahane’ (literally, Imperial Academy of the Science of War). 1848 saw the addition of a number of classrooms for the education of staff officers (the so-called ‘Erkan-ı Harbiye’), which constitute the foundation of today’s Military Academy. Between 1850 and 1851, a building for equestrian training was constructed, designed by an English architect Smith. At the time of the Crimean War (1853- 1856), both the British and the French requested use of the Academy building. At the time the French were using it as a hospital, the Academy was damaged by a major fire, so much so that it needed to be rebuilt by Garabed Balyan in 1864. The construction costs, which amounted to 6,551,229 kurushes, were met by the Treasury.

Until the Military Academy was moved to Ankara in 1936, this building was intermittently used for education and training. Between 1899 and 1905, Atatürk studied here, as did many other esteemed commanders and officers. Following the Academy’s relocation to Ankara, between 1936 and 1966 the building served various functions, being used as the Reserve Officer Preparatory School, the Chief Munitions Office, a Recruitment Office and an Officers’ Club, as well as being allocated to the First Army, Third Army Corps and Central Command Headquarters.

In 1966, plans were made to restore the building and convert it into a truly modern military museum. The conversion of the school into a museum involved many changes to both the interior and exterior of the building. The façade overlooking Cumhuriyet Street was completely overhauled and the rooms behind this façade were modified so that they could better serve the purposes of a museum. A 500-seater amphitheatre was incorporated into the southern end of the central courtyard, so that people could listen to concerts by the Mehter band. A two-storey car park was built in the space left by a number of demolished buildings.

Restoration of certain areas was completed in 1985, and on 10 February 1993, together with the Cultural Centre and other sections, these areas were opened to the public as a 'Military Museum and Cultural Centre.

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Prayer Room
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Summer (13/07/2023 - 13/07/2023)
09:00-16:30 Saturday 09:00-16:30 Sunday 09:00-16:30
Box Office Closed 16:00
Winter (13/07/2023 - 13/07/2023)
09:00-16:30 Saturday 09:00-16:30 Sunday 09:00-16:30
Box Office Closed 16:00

65 and over - Turkish citizens Free
Children ages 0-8 - Non-Turkish Citizens Free
Children ages 0-18 - Citizens of Turkey Free
Students (Studying art history, archaeology and museum departments in university) 30.00TL
All Adults (International and Turkish) 90.00TL
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İstanbul Harbiye Militay Museum Askeri Müze ve Kültür Sitesi Komutanlığı Vali Konağı Cad. No:2 Harbiye - Şişli/İSTANBUL
+90 (212) 233-2720
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