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Housed behind the Neoclassical façade of the old Bristol Hotel, which once overlooked the Petits Champs de Mort, the Pera Museum has been a landmark Beyoğlu institution since it opened in 2005. An elegant, highly professionally run museum, it is not surprising that museums such as the V&A choose to stage shows here.
The museum belongs to the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation (Suna Hanım is a sister of Rahmi Koç), and displays several of the foundation’s important collections, ranging from Kütahya ceramics to weights and measures and Orientalist paintings, including the superb 1773 Antoine de Favray panorama featured in Cornucopia’s European City issue (No 51).
The permanent collections are displayed on the first two floors; the upper three floors are given over to visiting exhibitions, always staged with aplomb and meticulously lit. A spacious auditorium in the basement is used for a programme of films, lectures and concerts. The café occupies the old lobby hall, a soothing Thirties affair with Maria Callas’s baby grand from Izmir in the middle of the room, and it is reasonably priced, with good internet connection – an excellent place to meet friends in Beyoğlu over cakes and coffee, and easy to find. Taxis can bring you to the door. The shop offers a good backlist of Pera catalogues and is a Cornucopia stockist. John Henry Haynes: an archaeologist and photographer in the Ottoman Empire was published by Cornucopia to coincide with an important exhibition at the museum, ‘Osman Hamdi Bey and the Americans’.
The Tortoise Trainer, by the great Ottoman painter and archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey, is perhaps the museum’s most famous painting. Deservedly so. The combination of hard realism, enigmatic subject matter and size would be quite magnetic in any museum space.
Also visit the foundation’s Istanbul Research Institute in the same street for exhibitions that tap into the its important holdings of historic photographs. Researchers are welcomed at the library upstairs. Both museum and institute publish thorough, beautifully illustrated catalogues, many of which can be ordered through the cornucopia.net bookshop. The Orientalist paintings might inspire you to jump in a taxi to Aynalıkavak Kasrı, on the Golden Horn, one of the last pre-19th-century Ottoman palaces to survive outside Topkapı Palace, and featured on the cover of Istanbul Unwrapped, part 1 of the Cornucopia’s new Istanbul trilogy (see ‘The Mirrored Pavilion’).The Pera Museum is a Cornucopia Stockist – get your copy of the latest issue here.
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