Great for: Islamic Art, Calligraphy, Tesbih, Subha, Rosary
Not far from the bustling Egyptian Spice Market, just below the grand domes of Süleymaniye Mosque is a small museum dedicated to two types of Islamic art: prayer beads and Hilya-i Sherif. The surprising collection is housed in a small but beautifully restored 16th century madrasah.
Prayer beads, or ‘tesbih’, are a set of either 33 or 99 beads in loop and are used to repeat the 99 names of Allah or other phrases of praise. While tesbih can be seen regularly in Turkey, they won’t be anything like the ones seen in this collection. Normally they are made of amber, wood, or plastic but in the museum’s collection you can see some made from mammoth tusk, others set with jewels, and some painted with miniature portraits of the Ottoman Sultans.
Hilya-i Sherif is a calligraphy-based art form where descriptions of Muhammed (and less frequently the first four Caliphs) are written to describe his appearance and praise his piety. As any sort of picture of him is forbidden this became a popular artform, especially in the Ottoman Empire. While it’s not uncommon to see these and similar looking prayers hanging in homes or shops, the ones housed here are both huge and of very high quality.
This museum doesn’t take long to see but the incredible level of craftsmanship and calligraphy work makes this little, tucked-away museum a one of a kind opportunity to see these unique art forms at their best.
How To Get There
The Hilya-i Sherif and Prayer Bead Museum is tucked away in a pretty awkward spot. Walking from Eminönü or Süleymaniye Mosque is your best bet as there is no public transit that gets very close, and it’s a hard place for even the most ambitious taxi drivers to get to.
The Museum is below Süleymaniye Mosque down Dökmeciler Hamam Street (you’ll pass a hamam on your right) and onto Yüksekler Street.
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