The Military Museum (Askeri Müzesi) at Harbiye, 1 km (just over a half mile) north of Taksim Square, chronicles mostly the Ottoman period when the Sultan’s troops threatened to conquer eastern Europe, the entire Middle East, and North Africa.
It’s open from 9 to 5, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Don’t ignore this museum just because you’re no military buff. It holds striking historical treasures such as the chain which the Byzantines stretched across the mouth of the Golden Horn to keep out the Sultan’s navy in 1453.
The Sultan’s sumptuous sayeban or “pavilion,” encrusted with a fortune in jewels, is an open-sided “tent” in which he sat to receive foreign emissaries.
The Military Museum is also where you can hear the Mehter, the world’s oldest military band, play each afternoon (the 20-minute concerts begin at 3 and at 4 pm).
The Turkish nation has a long and distinguished military tradition dating from the time when they were palace guards for the great Arab caliphs.
The Ottomans were the first to bring musicians on campaign and to integrate music into the life and work of the army. After a town had been conquered, the Mehter preceded the conquering Ottoman commander on a procession through the town, playing slow-cadence marches in exotic minor modes.
The boom of kettledrums (invented by the Mehter), the wail of oboes and clash of cymbals (another Turkish invention) was meant to glorify the conquest and impress upon the populace that they were now part of an entirely different civilization.
Istanbul‘s Harbiye district was the site of the Ottomanimperial military academy, the empire’s “West Point” or “Sandhurst,” and is still an important military reserve, with an officer’s club and other facilities.
—by Tom Brosnahan