Women’s Museum gets off the ground on web

Women’s Museum gets off the ground on web

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Women’s Museum gets off the ground on web

The Istanbul Women’s Museum highlights the women, who achieve the first in their field, and aims to become an information pool for researchers on women’s history. Pictured: Turkish singer Aylin Aslım.

While the mothers and wives of Ottoman sultans seemed to be forever busy with palace intrigues as depicted by the popular TV series “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century), such an image reflects very little of the actual truth.

A lesser-known aspect of royal Ottoman women was their charity work, as well as the patronage of large-scale architectural works in both the Ottoman capital and its provinces. Some of the modern world’s most famous attractions were, in fact, constructed with the order and financial support of royal Ottoman women.

One of them is the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul’s historic center, which is known to foreigners as the Spice Bazaar. It is called Egyptian Bazaar because it was built with money paid as duty on Egyptian imports. Yet the construction of the bazaar began in 1597 by order of Safiye Sultan, the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Murat III and the Mother of Sultan Mehmet III.

Idea of creating the museum

As her working office was situated near where the current bazaar is located, she saw how tradesmen worked under harsh weather conditions and ordered the construction of the bazaar. The fact that few know about the role that Safiye Sultan had in the construction of the bazaar motivated businesswomen Gülümser Yıldırım to come up with the idea of creating a women’s museum.

“As my office is nearby, I was curious about the restoration work going on in the neighborhood and then I found out about the story about the bazaar. It is called the Egyptian Bazaar, while the name of the person that ordered it to be built has been forgotten,” said Yıldırım, who decided to honor the pioneering women of Istanbul by opening a museum.

Restoration work on a mosque and a sultan’s mansion that included the working office of Safiye Sultan began as part of Istanbul’s tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2010, the same year Yıldırım also undertook the task of organizing an exhibition for prominent female figures of Istanbul. “At the opening of the exhibition, we had said we would start working for a women’s museum [in the city],” said Yıldırım, who is also a member of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce.

Women from different disciplines subsequently came together to establish the Istanbul Women’s Culture Foundation. While the website for the museum was recently launched, the search for a building is still continuing.

“We have already informed the ministry responsible for family and women, as well as the Culture Ministry. We will soon have a meeting with Mayor [Kadir Topbaş],” said Yıldırım. “There is not a big capital group supporting us. This is all based on volunteer work.”

Meral Akkent, a member of the International Association of Women’s Museums, is the curator of the virtual Istanbul Women’s Museum. “The object of our museum is biographies. While focusing on the history of women in Istanbul, we decided to first concentrate on the pioneers in the culture and art world,” she said.

The women featured at the museum include Anna Comena, who was born in 1083 and is billed as the world’s first person to write a memoir; Afife Jale, Turkey’s first Muslim female theater player; Elbis Gesaratsyan, the editor of the first Armenian women’s magazine, Gitar, during the Ottoman period; and Eleni Küreman, the Turkish press’ first female professional photojournalist. The list also includes contemporary names like Aylin Aslım, Istanbul’s first feminist punk singer, and Evrim Alataş, Turkey’s first Kurdish female scriptwriter.

“Our criteria were to pick women that tried the untried and did what had not been done before,” said Akkent.

The museum aims to become an information pool for researchers on women’s history; to encourage studies, the center also plans to provide grants.