The museum, housed in a former stable and located in a lush green botanical garden that is also open to the public, is a destination that Istanbulites and tourists must not miss.
The Beykoz Glass and Crystal Museum is in a gorgeous wooded area in Istanbul’s Asian side. Close to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (also known colloquially as ‘The Second Bridge’) it is easily accessible from the European side and well worth the trip.
You could, the guards at the entrance inform me, pay 5 TL (less than a dollar) to visit the garden only and not the museum – the garden is that beautiful, that much is clear, even on a rainy day. Yet if you made it that far, it seems a shame not to visit the Glass and Crystal Museum, filled with examples of wondrous glass wares.
A book published in 2021 by the Directorate of National Palaces explains that the museum is named after the Beykoz Imperial Glass and Crystal Factory, established in the same district during the Ottoman period. According to the book, the building that houses the museum was built by Abraham Pasha, “who was kapi kethudasi (a steward employed by Ottoman governors to manage their official affairs in Istanbul) to the Khedive of Egypt Ismail Pasha and subsequently appointed as vizier with the rank of pasha by Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-1876).”
Abraham Pasha owned the largest and most important wooded estate on the shores of the Bosphorus and built pavilions, aviaries, pools and stables on the 29.7 hectares of land he owned. He also planted many plants and trees found within the confines of the Ottoman Empire and beyond, turning his land into some kind of a botanical garden.
During the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) Abraham Pasha’s estate was purchased by the state and offered to the Ottoman public under the name Liberty Garden. It is the stable building that has now been converted into the glass museum after an intricate restoration by the Department of National Palaces.
The oldest artefact in the glass collection, found during excavations of Kubadabad Palace, built by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I, is the plate named after the palace. The Kubadabad plate was discovered in 1966 and its 154 pieces painstakingly reconstructed. The plate has sülüs script wishing health and prosperity to Sultan Giyaseddin Keyhusrev II. Looking at the sultan’s reign, from 1237 to 1246, experts date this extraordinary plate to the 13th century.
In the same room, there are Memluk oil lamps, one of which stands out from the others – it is a goblet-shaped lamp with a slight turquoise tint to it. The shape is unlike the other oil lamps in the room, and the museum staffer taking TRT World around informs us that while bulbous oil lamps can be found in other museums around the world, such as the Gulbenkian Museum in Portugal, this one is unique.
The book accompanying the museum notes that it must have been produced before the 14th century, a “free-blown [lamp that] consists of two separate pieces: the cylindrical body and stem, and the foot, which was attached afterwards.”
Visitors might be amused as they discover that the predecessor to the Molotov cocktail is also at the Beykoz Glass and Crystal Museum, starting from the reign of Sultan Suleyman I (1520-1566): there are examples of glass hand grenades, filled with gunpowder, used as ammunition in wars dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Humbara, a kind of hand grenade, the museum’s book tells us, was “used for the first time during the siege of Rhodes in 1522.”
There is a darkened room dedicated to stained glass windows: coloured glass for the interiors, and clear glass for the exteriors. It is one of the most delightful rooms in the museum, which is saying a lot, considering it is filled with many pleasant surprises. One pane of note is one by Sinan the Architect (Mimar Sinan) for the Cenabi Ahmed Pasha Mosque. From around the same period in the 16th century, another room boasts the glass oil lamps Sokollu Mehmed Pasha ordered for the mosques he had built.
The tulip vases, thin stemmed glass beauties of the Ottoman court, are ahead of their time as tulips had not spread to Europe at the time and were a specialty of the Turkish scene. There are also vetro filigranato (filigree glass), blown Venetian glass with white or coloured canes originating from Murano. These are significant as they are thought to have inspired the famed striped blue and white çeşm-i bülbül (nightingale’s eye) glasses of the Ottomans, production of which started in 1847.
A novelty pair sure to surprise visitors is a crystal piano made by Gaveau (Paris) and a crystal chair, made by Kamenicky Senov (Bohemia) both from the 19th century, and another, in the form of a royal coach decorated with mirror glass used by Sultan Mahmud II, made by Lelorieux, also from the 19th century.
The Beykoz Glass and Crystal Museum is open to the public every day except Mondays between 9 am and 6 pm. It costs 15 TL ($2) to visit the museum and the beautiful gardens it is located in, and there is a discounted rate for students and teachers (5 TL).