First exhibition of İstanbul monumental tombs opens

A selection of items from the İstanbul Tomb Museum Directorate is currently on display at Topkapı Palace, revealing the richness of the monumental tombs that have been the resting places of sultans, statesmen and Islamic thinkers.

We live in an age where we have distanced ourselves from our deceased ancestors. Whereas we once had a culture where people lived with their deceased and even shared their sorrows and joys with them. There is a story of when a foreigner asked famous Turkish poet Yahya Kemal about the population of İstanbul and he replied, “80 million.” The foreigner objected, saying, “How is this possible?” The answer by the poet was thought provoking: “We live with our dead.”

The tombs of historic and spiritual figures currently showcased by the exhibition highlight the delicate art of the Ottomans. They are filled with artworks that reveal how these individuals and their followers saw the thin line between death and life.

The items, including coats, caps, prayer rugs, chandeliers, Qurans and royal decrees from the Ottoman period, were retrieved from storage by the İstanbul Museum of Shrines Directorate. In a joint effort by the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, the Governor’s Office of Istanbul with the Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism, this exhibition during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, titled “Gateways to Eternity: Shrines,” gathers unique pieces that had been kept in dusty chests for years at the Topkapı Palace Imperial Stables. The exhibition, featuring 120 pieces, is merely a drop in the sea, because thousands of other artifacts are waiting to be brought out of storage into the light of day.

‘Tombs must have a museum’

Culture and Tourism Ministry Undersecretary İsmet Yılmaz, İstanbul Culture and Tourism General Director Ahmet Emre Bilgili, İstanbul Müfti Mustafa Çağrıcı and director of the İstanbul Tomb Museum Directorate, Hayrullah Cengiz, were in attendance at the opening ceremony on Monday.

In his opening speech, Cengiz said, “Here we share only a small sample of the works that we have in our archives. We are both proud and sad about that. We would wish that all the pieces could be displayed for visitors in a museum. But until now the İstanbul Tomb Museum Directorate was unable to secure an exhibition space.” Bilgili also shared the same concerns during his address. The exhibition, curated by Serkan Nişancı, is set to run until Sept. 19.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul

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