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This tradition was continued after the death of the Conqueror, and St Irene gradually became a storehouse of weapons captured from the enemy in the wars waged by successive Ottoman sultans.
With the orientation towards the West during the reign of Ahmet III at the beginning of the 18th century there emerged the desire to set up a museum on the European model. This project was realised in 1726 by making a number of modifications in the collection already in existence in St Irene, and references to this first Military Museum (known as the Dar-ul Esliha) can be found in the memoirs of Baron de Tott, the French military expert invited to Istanbul in the reign of Abdulhamit I to advise on the modernisation of the Ottoman artillery.
The Dar-ul Esliha proved to be short-lived, being closed down after the looting and pillaging that occurred during the Janissary mutinies in the reigns of Selim III and Mahmut II. Finally, with the abolition of the Corps of Janissaries in 1826, a number of valuable objects stored here were destroyed because of their association with the Corps.
In the reign of Abdulmecit, the St Irene collection was re-arranged to form a new Museum, at first known as the Muze-i Askeri (Military Museum) and later as the Asar-i Atika-i Muze-i Humayun (The Imperial Museum of Antiquities). After repairs and alterations carried out in the building the collection was divided into two, one part forming the Mecma-i Esliha-i Atika (Collection of Antique Weapons) and the other the Mecma-i Asar-i Atika (Archaeological Museum). The latter collection was transferred to the Çinili Köşk (Tiled Pavilion) and was to form the nucleus of the Archaeological Museum founded in the second half of the nineteenth century by Osman Hamdi Bey. On his visit to the museum Abdulmecit was particularly impressed by the costumes belonging to the Janissaries and to various notables of the past, but during the reign of Abdulaziz St Irene began to lose its importance as a museum and became a mere storehouse for weapons, the collection of costumes being transferred to another building known as the Janissary Museum.
Plans were drawn up during the reign of Abdulhamit II at the end of the nineteenth century for a small museum of arms and weapons to be established in the ground of the Yıldız Palace, but although this museum was actually opened it was very quickly closed by the Sultan, who feared for his personal safety.
After the Declaration of the Constitution in 1908, Ali Rıza Paşa who had prepared the plans for the museum, obtained a ferman (Sultan’s Order) from the Sultan authorising the foundation of a museum of arms and weapons. A commission was formed to supervise the acquisition of the weapons from Istanbul and other parts of the Empire, but as no suitable building could be found ihe exhibits had to be temporarily housed in the museum building of St Irene. Plans for a new museum were shelved during the eventful period that followed but when the Minister of War, Mahmut Şevket Paşa, returned from a visit to Germany in the course of which he had observed the very great importance given there to the establishment of Military Museums, one of the first things he did was to ask Ahmet Muhtar Pasha to set up a Militaty Museum (Esliha-i Askeriye Muzesi) and to appoint him as the new museum’s first director.
Following a great deal of intensive and arduous work Ahmet Muhtar Paşa ñnally succeedled in opening the new museum, which he renamed the Muze-i Askeri-i Humayun (Imperial Military Museum). Besides its collection of weapons the museum contained a library, a shooting range and, a remarkable innovation for that period, a museum cinema. Later he added a Mehterhane, the old type of Janissary military band composed of wind and percussion. Ahmet Muhtar Paşa continued as director of the museum from 1908 to 1925, and through out these years of world-shaking events at home and abroad the museum remained as one of the most important cultural centres of the time, offering an interesting programme of documentary films, music and Janissary band displays.
Another interesting new venture was the publication in French and Turkish of a three volume Museum Guide prepared by Ahmet Muhtar Paşa’s son Sermet Muhtar, together with the scores of Janissary military band music (Mehterhane-i Hakani) and concert and museum posters.
This continued until 1940, when it was decided that in view of the danger that Turkey might become involved in the war the museum should be closed down and the most valuable of the exhibits sent to Ankara for safe-keeping, the others being retained for the time being at Sultanahmet. Later all the exhibits were transferred to Nigde, in Central Anatolia, whence they were brought back at the end of the war in 1945 and housed in the Maçka barracks in Istanbul. When it was decided that this building should be handed over to the Technical University the weapons collection was transferred to the Military Gynmasium at Harbiye. Work on converting this building into a proper museum was finally completed on 31 August 1959 and the exhibits are now displayed in four spacious rooms. As a result of continual additions to the museum collection the building at Harbiye soon became totally indequate, and a search began for a more suitable building. It was finally decided that the site of the old Militaty School at Harbiye should be used for the construction of a completely new building to house the Military Museum and Culture Centre. On completion, this building now allows the exhibits to be displayed in conformity with the most advanced ideas of museum arrangement, and thus to present in the most effective fashion a truly comprehensive survey of Turkish military history.
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