Cultural Mosaic

This exhibition explores the art and culture of the Turks from Inner Asia to the Bosphorus over a thousand year period between 600 and 1600 AD. Their journey incorporated many different centres of power and artistic traditions. The story begins with the Uighurs, a nomadic people of Central Asia and China, and ends with the Ottoman Empire from the reign of Mehmet II to Suleyman the Magnificent including the fall of Byzantium and the spread of Ottoman rule to include Mecca and Medina.

A History

The History of Turkey tells of a 10,000 year-old civilisation. Anatolia is a melting pot where cultures from Sumer, Babylon and Assyria interacted for centuries with peoples such as the Hattis, Hiittites and Hourrites. The result was a unique Anatolian civilisation which has long inspired the thoughts and legends of the West.

Troy was founded around 3000 BC, and played a major role in the importation of tin, vital for the production of bronze.


The Hittites arrived in Anatolia towards the second millennium BC. They absorbed much of the Babylonian civilisation and long enjoyed a monopoly of iron in Asia. This, combined with the use of the chariot, meant the Hittites were as powerful as ancient Egypt and other Mesopotamian states. There are Hittite archives and many remnants in Anatolian Civilisation Museum in Ankara, the Corum Museum and Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.


At the beginning of the first millennium BC, the Urartus created a unified state whose territory extended from Caucasus to Lake Urmiya, with its capital in the modern day Van. The Urartus were masters in hydraulic works and skilled in irrigation, drainage and the construction of canals and artificial lakes. They were also known for their horse breeding and their formidable cavalry.

The Phrygians

The Phrygians reigned between 750-300 BC. Settling in Central and Western Anatolia, within the Afyon-Ankara-Eskisehir triangle, they declared Gordion on the Sakarya River to be their capital. Their civilisation reached the height of its power in the second half of the 8th century BC under the famous King Midas whom, according to legend, had the power to turn everything he touched into gold.

The Lydians

East of Izmir lived another people, the Lydians, between 800 and 650 BC, who are thought to have invented money. In the 6th century BC, Croeusus, King of Lydia, agreed with the advancing Persians to divide Anatolia along the river Kizilirmak. The Persians, however, did not keep their promise and continued to encroach on Lydian territory. They remained the sovereign power in Anatolia until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333BC.

The Seleucid Period

After the death of Alexander the Great, Anatolia became the hub of the Seleucid Empire. Bergama grew at the expense of its neighbours, and snatched part of Phrygia in 241 BC. The Kingdom became prodigiously rich, the emporium of Anatolia and brilliant intellectual centre.

Roman and Byzantine Era

The Roman period of Anatolia began with the death of the King Attalus III of Bergama who left the country to the Romans because he had no direct heir. This was a period of peace and prosperity in Anatolia, particularly in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

The pax Romana proved to be an extraordinary period of urban development. Ephesus served as the seat of the Roman governor of Asia and as a great commercial and cultural centre.

In 330, Constantine I, the Roman emperor, founded Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) as a second Rome on the site of Byzantium, which became the capital of the Byzantine Empire for over a thousand years. In 395, the Empire was split permanently into Eastern and Western halves and Byzantium became the Eastern Roman Empire; its official religion was proclaimed to be Christianity in 380 and in 392, paganism was banned. In 476, Rome collapsed and Constantinople remained the sole capital of the Empire.

Byzantium was both a state and a civilisation, built along the lines of the Roman state, the Greek culture and the Christian faith. Byzantium experienced its first golden age under Justinian. The Basilica of Haghia Sofia (AD 537-7) was constructed during his reign.

By the 13th century, Byzantium was drawing her final breath. After the mortal wound of 1204, when the crusaders occupied Constantinople, ransacked the city and forced the emperor to leave, a Latin kingdom was established.

Seljuk Turks

In the 11th century, under their leader Tugrul, the Seljuk Turks founded the dynasty of great Seljuks, ruling across present day Iran and Syria. In 1071, his nephew Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantines in Malazgirt, near Lake Van. The doors of the Anatolia were thus opened to the Turks and Anatolia went through a profound period of ethnic transformation, politically, religiously, linguistically and culturally. The Seljuk Sultanate in Anatolia reigned until the beginning of the 14th century. The zenith of the Seljuk civilization was achieved in the 13th century with Konya as its political, economic religious, artistic, and literary centre. The Seljuks created a centralised administration organised around the Sultan, his minister and provincial governors. Science and literature blossomed, as did mystic poetry. Anatolia was an important crossing point, linking the east and west; many of the caravanserais built along these routes still stand today. Agriculture, industry and handicraft production expanded and the country suddenly blossomed with new mosques, religious schools and caravanserais.

Rise of the Ottomans

The Seljuk Sultanate collapsed due to internal dissent and Mongol invasions. Anatolia was again fragmented into rival dependent principalities, one of which came under Ottoman rule. In 1453, under Mehmet the Conqueror, the Ottomans took Constantinople and renamed the city Istanbul, a momentous event for the whole world and a great feat of arms. But the banner of Ottoman success was to be raised much higher and by the late 16th century the Ottomans had progressed into Europe and the Middle East – bringing with them a well-ordered society based on the principles of religious and cultural tolerance. Arts and culture also flourished under the Ottomans, including music therapy and fine arts such as calligraphy and miniature painting. The Ottomans were also great explorers and the oldest surviving map of the Americas in the world dating back to 1513 is attributed to the Ottoman Admiral Piri Reis. In the following centuries, however, the empire lost its momentum and entered a period of stagnation and then gradually a period of decline.

Modern Turkey

The Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on the side of Germany, hence was on the losing side. Thus, Great Britain, together with France, Russia and Italy took steps to dismember the Empire. At the end of the war in 1918, the Ottoman government, under the occupation of allied forces, was in no position to resist a peace treaty embodying the partition of Turkey. In May 1919 the Greeks, who had been promised a part of Anatolia, landed at Izmir and launched an offensive to occupy Western Turkey.

Under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, the Turks resisted partition and in a victory for this revolution, on October 29th1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed and Ataturk was elected president. Secularism was established by separating religious and state affairs. The Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic script and women were given the right to vote and be elected as members of parliament. These reforms, as well as many others across all aspects of social life, put Turkey firmly on the path towards becoming a thoroughly modern country.