Rahmi Koc Museum: Mirror of Industrial Legacy

It is the first major museum in Turkey dedicated to the history of Transport, Industry and Communications

It is the first major museum in Turkey dedicated to the history of Transport, Industry and Communications

by Nilay Kar

ISTANBUL - Turkish tycoon Rahmi Koc's passion for toys, mechanical and industrial objects collection started when his father brought him an electrical toy train as a present from Germany in his childhood.

With time, his passion grew so much that his houses, offices and warehouses were not enough to contain them: models, scientific instruments, engines, boats, cars and other objects were looking for a new home.

"Then, after a visit to the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I decided to put all my collectibles together under a single roof," he said.

The idea of opening a museum took root after his visit, and Rahmi Koc Museum was created in 1994. It is located in Haskoy, on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus separating the oldest part of the city from the Galata district.

The museum is the first major one dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications. Housed in magnificent buildings - the museum contains thousands of items from gramophone needles to full size ships and aircraft.

The museum is divided in two main areas, called Lengerhane, “House of the anchors” and Tersane, “Shipyard”. The first area is formed by a Byzantine building, which was used as an anchors foundry during the Ottoman period.

Hundreds of scientific instruments are exhibited, among which is a 13th-century astrolabe [the oldest item on display]. Other items include optical instruments, full-scale steam engines, toys, electric trains, dioramas, rotary dial telephone, marine chronometer and much more.

The second area, the Tersane, houses an Ottoman steamer company since 1861, the dockyards of the Sirket-i Hayriye. This spectacular part of the museum has a horseshoe plan, with the basin and the slipway in the middle, the latter equipped with a steam capstan.

The Koc collection, enlarged by many loans and donations, has approximately 13,500 pieces ranging from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's razor [founder of modern Turkey] to the TCG Ulucalireis submarine [named after an Italian renegade], which is the largest object of the collection. This giant, built in the United States measures 94 metres.

With Rahmi Koc being a tycoon of the car industry, the museum would not be complete without a collection of cars and other vehicles: working vehicles, full-scale trains, classic motorcycles, bicycles, carriages etc.

A very notable newcomer is a Prussian coach that is currently used as a top-class restaurant. This is not the only wagon of noble origins at the museum: a coach donated by Great Britain to the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz in 1867 is one of the most valuable pieces in the collection.

Amongst the extensive collection of cars from different eras, a few here are exceptional; a 1898 steam Malden. The ever-present T Ford [the first car to be built on a large scale], some Rolls-Royce models, a Bentley and a convertible 1940s Mercedes, that once belonged to the famous Albanian spy known as “Cicero”.

The collection of working vehicles is memorable, all very well preserved and restored by the dedicated museum staff. There are also numerous commercial and cruising boats; of which the diesel steamer Fenerbahce is the second largest “item” of the museum.

The Kont Ostrorog fishing boat and two tugboats are moored here: the Liman 2 and the Vernicos Irini, both restored at the RMK Marine shipyard, owned by Rahmi Koc himself.

Launched in Holland in 1935, the first one worked for decades in the Istanbul port. It has a triple expansion steam engine in perfect conditions which requires a number of hours to get started: that’s why its funnel starts puffing early in the morning.

The Vernicos Irini is a diesel towboat, made in the USA in the 1940s, also in working condition. The steam tugboat Rosalie, built in 1873 and recently purchased in Holland, will join the museum collection soon together with the wooden commuter Hiawatha, loaned from the U.S. government.

A dedicated pavilion exhibits many other sea-going crafts: rowing, sailing and working boats, three Riva runabouts, a Chris-Craft and other masterpieces. Outside, around the basin and the port workshops in Mystic Seaport style, it is possible to view other boats: among these is Kismet, the boat the Turkish sailor Sadun Boro who sailed around the globe in the 1960s.

Other attractions at the museum are a planetarium, outdoor shops, a former Izmir-based olive oil factory and a workshop where kids can discover the principles of physics and how household appliances work.

The Museum has branches in other cities such as Ankara and Ayvalik. As part of Rahmi Koc's commitment to education, the transportation of teachers to the remotest part of Turkey for educational purposes and activities by Koc's corporate vans has become a familiar site.

At the weekends during Spring and Summer, visitors to the Istanbul museum can experience a brief boat tour on the Golden Horn on board the Liman 2, Kont Ostrorog and, in the near future, the Rosalie.

The visitor can take a step back in time on board a small steam train on a narrow-gauge railroad : a nice way to end a special day, with a return to Koc's original source of inspiration for the museum. After all, it all started from a toy train a long time ago.

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