SSM exhibition chronicles eight millennia of İstanbul

Millennia-old İstanbul, with all its history, has no intention of waning any time soon. Moreover, the passage of time proves that there’s even more splendor this city has to offer. Like a fruit carrying its seed inside, each and every person who has one way or another been in İstanbul at some point in time carries inside him or herself a passionate love for this city. And now an 8,000-year slice from the history of İstanbul, which has served as the setting for numerous eras in the history of humanity, is spread before our eyes in a new exhibition at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) in Emirgan.

“From Byzantion to İstanbul: 8000 Years of A Capital,” a joint effort by the SSM and the İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, with support from Sabancı Holding, showcases the matchless beauty of the city in a chronology that stretches all the way from Byzantium to Constantinople and İstanbul.

The 500 artifacts brought together for this exhibition from 40 museums in 15 countries range from statues to coins and portraits and from caftans to miniatures to handwritten manuscripts, all of which recount various stories of this old city.

SSM Director Nazan Ölçer, in a press preview last week, said they aimed to contribute to the collective memory of the city. “In this exhibition, we want to introduce the history and the cultural mosaic that makes up this city to all its inhabitants. By showing the cultural wealth they live in, we want to raise public awareness of protecting the cultural inheritance,” she said.


İstanbul is a city that has always been in the limelight, a city that has been subject to numerous sieges but one that has always managed to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. The difficulty of managing the massive history of the city in one exhibition is quite obvious and, to overcome this, the team behind the show seems to have put in an enormous effort.

The exhibition opens with an animated video that chronicles the city’s history, starting from prehistoric times. Showcases placed among large trunks of wood trigger a childlike curiosity, while the passion of the numerous empires aiming to get a hold of the city at various times throughout its history amidst the sounds of swords and horses immediately draws in onlookers. It would not be an overstatement to say that the exhibition, with its design and arrangement, resembles the “Tales of One Thousand and One Nights,” for the question of “What more is in store?” follows museum-goers like a shadow in each step around the exhibition area.

The team that designed the exhibition comprises an assorted group of experts, including historians, archeologists, architects and museum specialists. They arranged the show in such a way that each hall depicts a different era in the city’s history, almost as though spreading out records that show phase by phase how the city turned from a small habitat into a capital fit for empires. All the items in the exhibition, ranging from statues to coins, handwritten manuscripts, miniatures, sultans’ caftans, holy books, cannons, portraits, church bells, textiles and metal and glassware, share their own stories with the onlookers. And this makes it necessary for visitors to make an unhurried tour of the exhibition.

The show once more underlines the wealth that İstanbul boasts; the section devoted to the Ottoman Empire in particular showcases a number of rarely exhibited pieces. A quite large replica of the interiors of the many domes of the city, of its landmark mosques and churches, is another attraction in the show. When the visitor stands underneath that replica, s/he is permeated with the sense of eternity emanating from those domes. There are many things to say about this show, impossible to sum up in just one news story. So it would be better to go see the exhibit for yourself before it ends on Sept. 4.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul
Today's Zaman