The handwritten books that arrived at the Palace Treasury from all over the globe when the Ottoman Empire ruled the four corners of the earth are among the most valuable items in the Topkapi Palace Museum today.

The Library of Topkapi Palace Museum contains thousands of such manuscripts, in a building called Yeni Kutuphane or New Library. Manuscripts acquired by purchase and donation after the conversion to a museum are entered in the register as ‘Newly Arrived Manuscripts’. The library also has a section of calligraphic specimens by Turkish calligraphers. Also exhibited here are the tools of the calligraphic trade.

There are about 14,000 manuscripts in the library. There are close to 18,000 miniatures, most of which are in the Treasury Library, which exhibit the characteristics of the various schools and styles, spread over a broad geography, of Islamic representational art. Albums and books of miniatures representing the finest work of Arabic, Seljuk, Mongol (Ilkhanid), Timurid, Uzbek, Karakoyunlu and Akkoyunlu Turkmen, Safavid, Mamluk and Ottoman palace calligraphers make up the most valuable section of the palace library. With miniatures in some 600 albums and books on science, history, religion and literature, the Topkapi Palace Museum Library has one of the richest collections in the world. The palace collection of illuminated manuscripts produced for prominent patrons of art throughout the Islamic world during its history through gifts, plunders and purchases, was further enriched by works produced by palace artists, not to mention all the Ottoman sultans who devoted themselves to the art of the book.

It is well known that hundreds of artists were employed by the palace, each with his own style, secrets of color, and views on space and perspective, and that competition was fierce among them. Contemporary historians also write that members of the dynasty and high-ranking palace officials bought and collected works of miniatures to present to the sultan as gifts on various occasions. Contemporary histories and albums of wedding and circumcision processions report that the sultans received large numbers of rare books especially on such festive occasions, on holidays and on their return from military campaigns. Most of the manuscript works in the palace library were acquired when valuable items were appropriated by the palace following the deaths of grand vezirs, ministers and other high-ranking men of state who left no heirs or who were dismissed or executed.

As far as the records show, there was no library serving the Enderun, the highest school of public administration of the day, until the period of Ahmed III. From time to time the Ottoman sultans took books from the palace treasury into the Harem and privy chambers of the Enderun to form libraries of illuminated manuscripts, as well as Qurans penned by prominent calligraphers and other works in which they had a personal interest, but when they died such works reverted to the palace treasury. Ahmed III was first sultan who founded the first library and endowed it with books. This library, construction of which he commissioned to enable the eunuchs of the Enderun, to avail themselves of the books in the palace treasury, was opened in 1718. Later, with the development of the concept of librarianship, certain books from the Treasury were bequeathed to the pavilions that surrounded the palace Privy Chamber. Such libraries were set up in the Revan and Baghdad Pavilions during the reign of Murad IV in the 18th century.

Besides works in Turkish, Persian and Arabic, the palace library also has manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Armenian, Serbian, Hebrew and Assyrian, some of which contain miniatures. These books are exhibited from time to time. Scholars may obtain an appointment to use this priceless library by submitting an application describing their field of work to the General Directorate of Museums and Cultural Assets. Comprehensive catalogues, of Islamic manuscripts by Fehmi Ethem Karatay and of non-Islamic works by D. Adolf Deissman, are also available.

Reference: Zeynep Celik,Ali Konyali / SKYLIFE

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