Istanbul, Part Three: Sakıp Sabancı

I apologize for my long absence from this blog. Time to get back to it!

While I was in Istanbul this past March, I had the great fortune to be able to visit the Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi (Museum) in Emirgan, on the European side of the Bosphorus. If you’re ever in Istanbul and interested in the history of calligraphy, this is the place to go.

Though there aren’t an extraordinary number of pieces at the Sakıp Sabancı museum, each one is particularly well chosen, giving the visitor a cohesive overview of calligraphy during the Ottoman empire. The Collection is displayed in the upper storey of the Atlı Köşk mansion, and is part of the permanent collection. Visit the museum’s website for more details about the collection and how to get there. You can also view pieces from their collection on this website’s gallery page; search for “Sakıp Sabancı” to find items from the collection.


You can also view pieces from their collection on this website’s gallery page; search for “Sakıp Sabancı” to find items from the collection.

Istanbul, Part Two: IRCICA

During my trip to Istanbul in March, I had the pleasure of visiting IRCICA, the Research Center For Islamic History, Art and Culture. Among the many activities that IRCICA sponsors is a prestigious calligraphy competition held every other year.

IRCICA is located in the Beşiktaş neighborhood, which is easy to get to by ferry from Eminönü or Uskidar. From the ferry port, you walk up Barbaros Boulevard until you see a large park on your right; you can veer to the right through the park (but still going up the hill) until you hit Yıldız Caddesi. Turn right, and the Yıldız Sarayı (where IRCICA is located) will be at the top of the hill. Bring your passport or some sort of ID, because it is required to sign in.

The staff at IRCICA is very friendly, although very little English is spoken. They served us tea and brought out their assortment of calligraphy books upon request.

IRCICA sells a wide variety of calligraphy books, most of which cannot be found anywhere else. These include catalogues of winners plates from their calligraphy competitions, the meshk curriculum books for Thuluth & Naskh and Divani & Riq’a, and classics like The Art of Calligraphy in Islamic Heritage, 1990-1996, which is full of amazing work and sells for over $100 US.

One of the things Aishah and I discovered on our visit is that IRCICA has a new research library. The facility is beautiful and would serve as a wonderful base for visiting scholars. The calligraphy section is fantastic.

The library includes a full archive of all the original calligraphy competition entries, which are such fun to look through. I definitely recommend visiting IRCICA if you’re interested in calligraphy and happen to be in Istanbul.

Symposium\Exhibition\Workshop on Female Calligraphers

This looks like it will be a great event, sponsored by IRCICA:

5-20 June 2010
Cemal Resit Rey Cultural Center, Istanbul

This event combines the first international female calligraphers’ symposium with a diploma (icazet) ceremony, a calligraphy exhibition, and a workshop. 45 female calligraphers from Turkey, Iran, Spain, England, Syria and the UAE will participate; 26 female calligraphers will receive their icazet during the event.

The book ‘Dünden Bugüne Kad?n Hattatlar / Female Calligraphers Past and Present’ (in both Turkish and English), authored by Dr. Hilal Kazan, will also go on sale at the opening. The volume contains not only images of the works of 163 female calligraphers whose work spans from the first years of Islam to today, but also their biographies, where available their photographs, and images of their gravestones and relevant archival documents.

The event is sponsored by the Turkish Prime Ministry, IRCICA (Research Center for Islamic History Art and Culture), and the Greater Municipality of Istanbul.

Project + Project Coordination: Dr. Hilal Kazan (Calligrapher & Art Historian)

For more information please contact: or

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul, Part One

Last month I had the great privilege of visiting Istanbul for a week. This post is the first in a series about the calligraphy organizations and resources I discovered on my trip.

The purpose of my trip was to learn more about Arabic and Ottoman calligraphy, since Istanbul is the center for this art form. The timing of my visit coincided with that of my mentor Elinor Aishah Holland; together we spent time with fellow calligraphers, visiting museums and organizations with links to calligraphy (or hat, as it’s called in Turkish), and practicing calligraphy.

One of the most wonderful things about Istanbul is that there is calligraphy everywhere you turn. Mosques, municipal buildings, homes, water fountains—you name it, there’s calligraphy on it. And many of these works were created by Ottoman master calligraphers, so it’s good calligraphy. In this first post, I’m going to share photos of some of the calligraphy I encountered while walking around the city and visiting mosques and museums.

Obama in Istanbul

Calligraphy was in the news this week when President Obama visited Istanbul. The New York Times reported on April 7th, “Mr. Obama spent the morning meeting with religious leaders, and then went on a tour of Hagia Sophia, once the biggest church in Christendom and now a museum, and the famed 17th-century Blue Mosque.”

President Obama, second from right, toured the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Obama at the Blue Mosque. Calligrapher Hasan Celebi was responsible for restoring the calligraphy inscriptions in this magnificent mosque.

President Obama, second from right, toured the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Obama at the Hagia Sophia. The circular calligraphy panels in this museum were created by calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi in the 19th century.