The first time I went to Istanbul was because of a book. The Museum of Innocence is a novel about a museum in which each item plays a part in an incredible love story as told to Orhan Pamuk. In the ultimate tie-in, it is also an actual museum and an incredible testament to the creativity of Turkish Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk.
On first reading I was so captivated by the exotic descriptions — swimming in the Bosphorus, staying in a yalı on the Asian side, walking the chestnut tree-lined avenues of Nişantaşı and especially the twisty turny streets of Beyoğlu — that I booked a ticket to Istanbul with the first chance I got. I quickly fell in love with the real city and its people, but on my last day I couldn’t resist trying to locate The Museum of Innocence as shown on the map in the first pages of the book. It was a great walk through Çukurcuma, but I couldn’t stop laughing when all I found was an old junk shop.
The museum was just a block past where I had looked for it the first time. We were glad to have our books in hand as we got in for free with the ticket printed in the final pages. It was also helpful to refer to the book as each case on two floors is meticulously organized by chapter, with all the items discussed therein displayed. It brings both the story and 1970s Istanbul to vivid life, with quotes, clippings, pictures, spoons, clocks, maps, china dogs, a dress, a driver’s license and many preserved glasses of çay and rakı, among other things.
Further blurring the line between fact and faction, the top storey is the narrator’s bedroom, just as in the book. Also displayed there are some original manuscript pages with long-sighted sketches for the displays. Mostly written in the Reading Room at the New York Public Library over a ten-year period, Orhan Pamuk also worked on Istanbul: Memories and the City during this time. The memoir is illustrated from the archives of the famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler, a process which undoubtedly enriched the scenes and descriptions in The Museum of Innocence.
Allow about an hour to visit. Copies of the book are available throughout in Turkish, English and German, but it’s worth taking yours to save the 15/25 TL entrance fee. A charming bookshop on the bottom level has affordable, quality posters, postcards and other souvenirs as well as copies of all the books in several languages.
The Museum of Innocence is a tremendous creative acheivement. Read the book, visit the museum, and start your own love story with the city that inspired it all.