Istanbul Naval Museum

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — If I was picking a name for this museum, I wouldn’t use the word “naval.” Istanbul Maritime History Museum would be a better fit. Or better yet: Royal Water Taxi Museum. But what impressive water taxis they are!

If I was picking a name for this museum, I wouldn’t use the word “naval.” Istanbul Maritime History Museum would be a better fit. Or better yet: Royal Water Taxi Museum. But what impressive water taxis they are!

While there are exhibits and artifacts related to the history of the Turkish Navy, the star attractions of the museum are 14 imperial caiques (royal barges), most of which date to the 19th century.

The caiques—made of wood and long, thin, and powered by a contingent of rowers—are laid out side by side. They take up the two main floors of the museum. Scattered in amongst them is a small number of other assorted rowing boats such as some used by Ataturk.

Imperial caiques were used by the Sultan and his family for day trips in coastal waters. Designed as much to symbolize power as for their function. Some have a kiosk on the stern, inevitably ornately decorated. Some don’t. Many of them have some kind of bird on the bow, representing the empire. Those decorated with coat-of-arms, crescents, and flags were those used by the Sultan. Those decorated with images of leaves, flowers, and fruits were those used by the Harem.

Ranging from the massive wooden imperial caiques to much smaller but no less impressive for the intricacy of their wood inlay and painted decorations, many of the barges are coated in so much gold that it’s a wonder they stayed afloat.

The museum was established in 1897 but has changed location several times since. Since 2013 it has reopened in an impressive new space overlooking the Bosphorus, with walls lined with copper panels and two-story floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the water.

Downstairs, in a basement area, is a collection of ornate figureheads and ship decorations. Unlike the tradition in most other European maritime forces of the time that often used figureheads of mermaids or women, Turkish figureheads typically featured strong, scary, or speedy animals like lions or eagles.

And a couple of smaller rooms off to the side are some ship models, a few exhibits about maritime history, and a section of the famous chain used to block the Golden Horn during Mehmet the Conqueror’s efforts to invade Constantinople in the mid-15th century (sections of the chain are also on display at several other museums in the city).

Photos of Istanbul’s Naval Museum

Istanbul Naval Museum Imperial caïques
Decorative cladding from the Orhaniye. Constructed in England in 1862, she served in the Turkish Navy from 1866 to 1909. License this image
Istanbul Naval Museum
An imperial caique belonging to the reign of Sultan Resat (1909-1918). License this image
Istanbul Naval Museum Imperial caïques
The Inebolu Caique was a kind of rowboat used to transport ordnance in the Black Sea during the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923). License this image
Istanbul Naval Museum
Inside the imperial caique belonging to the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-1876). License this image
Istanbul Naval Museum Imperial caïques
Depicting the stern of the ship, this model is compiled of original artifacts from a galleon built in the Imperial Dockyard and that served in the Turkish Navy from 1858 to 1903. License this image
Istanbul Naval Museum Imperial caïques
A throne used by Sultans when attending the examinations of naval officers. This throne was used during examinations at the Heybeliada Naval Academy from 1851-1852. [License this image
Istanbul Naval Museum
An imperial caique belonging to the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-1876). License this image

More About the Istanbul Naval Museum

  • The Istanbul Naval Museum is one of the most significant maritime museums in Turkey, located in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul.
  • The museum was originally established in 1897, making it one of the oldest military museums in the country.
  • It has an extensive collection, with over 20,000 items related to Turkish maritime history.
  • Notable exhibits include historic imperial caiques (Ottoman ceremonial boats), a collection of Ottoman naval uniforms, and a gallery of ship models.
  • The museum also houses a significant collection of naval art, including paintings and engravings depicting major naval battles and Ottoman seafaring.
  • The Istanbul Naval Museum is managed by the Turkish Naval Forces, reflecting its status as a national institution of military history.

The Istanbul Naval Museum, located in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkey, is a key institution in the preservation and display of Turkish naval history. With a collection of over 20,000 items, the museum offers insights into centuries of maritime heritage.

Founded in 1897, the museum is one of the oldest military museums in Turkey. It houses a variety of exhibits, including historic Ottoman caiques, naval uniforms, and a comprehensive gallery of ship models. An impressive collection of naval art, showcasing paintings and engravings of significant naval battles and depictions of Ottoman seafaring, is another highlight of the museum.

Managed by the Turkish Naval Forces, the Istanbul Naval Museum is a national institution that plays a crucial role in documenting and interpreting the country’s maritime past. Visitors can explore the extensive collection and gain a deep understanding of Turkey’s naval traditions and achievements.

What’s Nearby to the Istanbul Naval Museum

  • Dolmabahçe Palace: An opulent 19th-century palace that was the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Beşiktaş JK Museum: A sports museum dedicated to Beşiktaş JK, one of the most successful football clubs in Turkey.
  • Yıldız Park: A historical urban park located in the Yıldız neighborhood, offering beautiful views and peaceful green spaces.
  • Ortaköy Mosque: A picturesque mosque situated on the waterside of the Ortaköy pier square, known for its unique neo-Baroque style.

How to Get to the Istanbul Naval Museum

The Istanbul Naval Museum is located in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkey. The nearest major airport is Istanbul Airport (IST). From the airport, you can take a taxi or use the Havaist airport shuttle service, which connects the airport with various locations in Istanbul. The museum is also accessible by public transportation, with Beşiktaş being a major hub for buses and ferries. The nearest ferry terminal is Beşiktaş, which provides regular services across the Bosphorus Strait and to other parts of Istanbul.

What to Know Before You Go

  • The Istanbul Naval Museum is an easy walk along the Bosphorus from the Dolmabahçe Palace.
  • It’s in the Besiktas neighborhood (next to Beyoglu). There’s easy access via tram–catch the T1 to Kabatas and then it’s a short walk past the Dolmabahçe Palace. Or if you prefer to arrive by water–and why not?–it’s next to the ferry stops at Kadikoy Pier, with ferries departing from Eminonu.
  • The museum isn’t huge. Budgeting for an hour or so should be plenty. In terms of location, it makes a good pairing with the Dolmabahçe Palace next door.
  • There’s no cafe on site–there’s a vending machine–but there are basic takeout food options across the street in the area nearby.
  • Entry is TL6 for adults; children and students enter for free. It’s self-guided–you just wander around at your leisure. Exhibit explanations are somewhat sparing but available in Turkish and English.
  • Check the official website for current opening hours, but in general, it’s open from 9 to 5 but closed on Mondays, public holidays, and the first days of religious holidays.

Travel Advice for Turkey (Turkiye)

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Turkey (Turkiye) (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Turkey (Turkiye) here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Turkey (Turkiye) here.

General Information on Turkey (Turkiye)

The CIA's World Factbook contains a lot of good factual information Turkey (Turkiye) and is updated frequently.

  • Official Name: Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti)
  • Location: Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia (the Anatolian Peninsula), bordered by eight countries: Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest, Georgia to the northeast, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Iraq and Syria to the south
  • Coastline: Mediterranean Sea to the south, Aegean Sea to the west, and Black Sea to the north
  • Capital: Ankara
  • Largest City: Istanbul
  • Population (2021 estimate): 85 million
  • Ethnic Groups: Predominantly Turkish (70-75%), Kurds (19%), and other minorities (including Arabs, Circassians, and Laz)
  • Official Language: Turkish
  • Religions: Islam (predominantly Sunni), with small Christian and Jewish communities
  • Government: Unitary parliamentary republic
  • President (as of 2021): Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
  • Prime Minister (as of 2021): Not applicable (the position was abolished in 2018)
  • Area: 783,356 square kilometers (302,455 square miles)
  • GDP (2021 estimate): $771 billion (nominal)
  • GDP per capita (2021 estimate): $9,042 (nominal)
  • Currency: Turkish Lira (TRY)
  • Time Zone: GMT+3 (Turkey Time)
  • Internet TLD: .tr
  • Calling Code: +90
  • Major Industries: Textiles, food processing, automotive, electronics, tourism, mining, steel, petroleum, construction, lumber, paper
  • Natural Resources: Coal, iron ore, copper, chromium, antimony, mercury, gold, barite, borate, celestite, emery, feldspar, limestone, magnesite, marble, perlite, pumice, pyrites, clay, hydropower, arable land

Turkey vs Turkiye vs Türkiye

The country's name has traditionally been Anglicized as Turkey, and that's how most of us have always known it. But the country's government has been pushing for adoption of the Turkish-language name, Türkiye. Since that doesn't always work well on Anglicized keyboards, you also often see it rendered as Turkiye. You can find more information on this here.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »