Often described as the cultural, spiritual and physical ‘bridge’ between Europe and Asia, Turkey is surrounded by four seas: the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara. Unsurprisingly, the country boasts a fascinating maritime leg
Exploring Turkey’s maritime legacy in its museums.
Trade was the obvious catalyst for the development of Turkey’s seafaring tradition but, perhaps inevitably, the clash between Christianity and Islam added further impetus. After their conquest of Constantinople (previously Byzantium, now Istanbul) in 1453, the Ottoman Turks were in the firing line from the Holy Roman Empire.
During the 15th century – during the reign of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent – every corner of the Mediterranean witnessed sea battles between the Ottomans and the Holy League’s fleet. These included ships sent from Venice, Genoa, Tuscany, Malta, from the Pope himself – and the Habsburgs.
WW1 ushered in the sunset over the Ottoman Empire, but in the museums in and around Istanbul there are plenty of examples of the region’s maritime tradition – all well worth a visit.
THE NAVAL MUSEUM, ISTANBUL
Entirely refurbished in 2013, this museum captures the Ottoman Navy’s splendour – and has a particularly good collection of the imperial caiques that belonged to various Ottoman Sultans. The most important of them is the 40m Kadirga, a ceremonial galley used for parades.
She was powered by 24 rowers, resplendent in colourful uniforms. At the stern is the canopy for the sovereign, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The exact age of the Kadirga is uncertain, but radiocarbon tests place her oldest parts from the 17th century.
The remaining caiques date to the 19th century, often described as the most romantic and melancholic period in Ottoman history. This large fleet of ceremonial caiques is also interpreted as an attempt to disguise the decline of the House of Osman and the growing dependence of the Ottoman Empire on foreign powers.
Many other vessels are on display – including a small rowing boat that belonged to Kemal Atatürk – the Turkish general so effective in the Gallipoli campaign. The exhibition boasts scale models of various Ottoman ships, semi-hulls, navigation instruments, uniforms, engravings, paintings and decorations that belonged to the last ships of the Ottoman fleet, and many firearms.
Among the latter is a small but mysterious Habsburg culverin (cannon), captured by the Turks at the gates of Vienna. It features a curious, dragon-like muzzle.
NAVAL MUSEUM Sinanpasa Mahallesi Besiktas Cd. 6/1 34353 Besiktas/istanbul Opening time: 9am-5pm; weekends 10am-6pm.