Unlike the SuperTourists I shared a table with in Eminönü, I found it impossible to see everything in Istanbul in three days. The city claims to have 81 museums.
One challenge is what actually counts as a museum. While the echoing rooms of some glittering gold mosaiced sites, including the out-of-the-way but unmissable Chora, are officially museums, places that are operating mosques, churches, bath houses and bazaars (Grand and Spice: still bustling after 500 years) are not.
New museums funded by private universities and businesses help push the number up. The polished concrete floors of a former power station, now santralistanbul, was an inspired venue to examine photos of the cutting edge construction of Le Corbusier. Similarly, Sakıp Sabancı, in a beautiful mansion high above the Bosphorus, was ideal for Sophie Calle’s video installation on Istanbullus seeing the sea for the first time. Salt:Beyoğlu is free, right on Istiklal and has beautiful clean bathrooms and a great interactive exhibit on Becoming Istanbul.
Finding the museums and discovering new neighborhoods is half the fun. Photography definitely seems to be the medium of choice, and pop-up exhibits on the streets or rotating ones in the cafés seem necessary in this oft-photographed city. Get lucky in the Ara Cafe and you might snap its most famous photographer sitting under one of his own iconic prints.
The list goes on and on, and every month it gets updated by TimeOut Istanbul: in English. If you haven’t got months, even three days should be enough to produce your own photographic support to the claim that Istanbul itself is the greatest open-air museum in the world.
clockwise from top left: santralistanbul hall, photography exhibit poster, pop-up photos in Taksim, looking for Chora