The Museum of Innocence: Love and Madness in Istanbul

orhan pamuk the museum of innocence in istanbul

The Museum of Innocence:
Love and Madness in Istanbul

It’s all an elaborate and precisely constructed lie: a museum built to tell the story of a self-referential book created around the contents of the soon-to-finish museum. A tale of love and loss, but mainly madness, which is entirely fictional but in which the very real author plays a central narrative role. It is the Museum of Innocence.

museum of innocence istanbul

The story, in both written and curated form, focuses on the character of Kemal and his attraction turned affair turned spurned love for beautiful shopgirl and distant cousin Fusun. As a background and central element of the story, 1970’s Istanbul and the lives of the increasingly-westernized nouveau rich of the period set the tone for a dark but addictive storyline.

the museum of innocence display cases

The museum follows the narrative of the book precisely, presenting 83 displays that each reflect one of the book’s 83 chapters (though some of the displays are still ‘under construction’) and present objects of interest to accompany the storyline. The whole thing has the atmosphere of a sort of cabinet of curiosities, though of course with the difference that every exhibit purports to be a real-world description of the fantasy world created by the author/narrator/curator.

Through it all exists a certain sense of timelessness; a feeling that no matter where or when the human character is imbued with the need to love and to have and, when those aren’t possible, to seize onto the closest thing we can get. In this case as in many, memories and the detritus that we accumulate in our lives as talismans to help us recall those memories.

a sense of timelessness at the museum of innocence

Kemal’s story is one of lust, obsession, and eventual ruin. Were the character real, I expect that most of us would distance ourselves from him in the same way that Istanbul’s high society do in the novel. Reading through his story of madness and being present in the collection of objects that represent his love and loss, however, it’s hard to not only feel for the poor fake soul but to not empathize somewhat with what has been lost. Like so many all of Orhan Pamuk’s novels that I’ve read, the pace is slow and the atmosphere gloomy yet it paints such a vivid picture that it’s hard to walk away from. Melancholic or not, the voyeuristic look into the depth of a man’s follies is an addictive if ultimately unsatisfying glimpse into human character.

The Museum of Innocence itself, though not particularly noteworthy from the outside, is visually arresting from the first glance inside. Mounted on the ground floor is a display of 4,213 cigarette stubs, each of them smoked by Fusun and each noted with a time or date or comments speaking to the very moment it touched her hands, her lips, and so became a part of her story.

cigarette wall at the museum of innocence in istanbul

Though it’s hard to match the visual appeal of that first display, representing chapter 68 of the book, the combination of sights and sounds throughout the three-story museum evokes the story in a way that reading alone couldn’t hope to do. Similarly, the written narrative of the book offers more detailed insights into the characters and their thoughts than can be conveyed just by viewing the museum. You could surely visit the museum without having read the book or give it a read with no intention to visit the museum but, frankly, you shouldn’t. Pick up a copy a month or two before a trip to Istanbul, and give yourself the pleasure of experiencing the story twice in different forms.

If, like Kemal, you find yourself longing for some tangible physical reminder of the experience? Not to worry, there’s a well-stocked gift shop full of small mementoes and Orhan Pamuk’s other works.

museum of innocence orhan pamuk books

Essential Info

Cost: Adults 25TL, Students 10TL. Admission to the Museum of Innocence is free with a copy of the book, assuming the ticket in the final chapter hasn’t been used before. (You should read the book before you go, but note that for adults it also works out cheaper to do so.)

Audio Guide: 5TL. No matter how closely you read the book, I’d highly recommend the audio guide to hear Pamuk’s take (as Kemal) on the history of his collection.

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 18:00, Thursdays 10:00 – 21:00.

More Information: See the official museum website.

The Museum of Innocence is in Istanbul’s Cukurcuma neighborhood (and about a 5 minute walk from one of the best coffeehouses in the city). To get here, take the T1 Tram to the Tophane stop and then walk uphill on the road beside the old cannon foundry. You’ll start seeing signs quite quickly.

In Istanbul I usually stay in the Sultanahmet district near the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, either at the Agora Guesthouse for comfort or the Antique Hostel for cheap. I noticed the Neverland Hostel in Beyoglu district just down the street from the Museum of Innocence, and while I looked in and it seemed cool I haven’t actually stayed there.

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    Experienced Traveler’s Guide: Skipping Half the Tourist Places in Jaipur

    sightseeing tourist places in jaipur

    Experienced Traveler’s Guide: Skipping Half the Tourist Places in Jaipur

    There are, quite frankly, far too many tourists sites in the world for me to have either the desire or ambition to see them all. Sometimes I make a half-hearted attempt but in a place like India where my stomach was in a constant state of flux I’m definitely willing to make a pared down list of places I either really care to see or really want to photograph; that way I can still reserve some time for random naps on top of city walls or serendipitous wandering through (and above) the Old Towns of the world.

    jaipur sightseeing old city walls

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      Travel Budget: India

      travel budget india

      Travel Budget: India

      A photo posted by Stephen Lioy (@slioy) on


      One of the things I’ve gotten away from in the past year has been publishing my travel budgets in an attempt to help other backpackers get a feel for how much they can expect to spend in a given place. This is something I’m often curious about before visiting a new country, and always wish I could find more info on. As such, I’m going to make an effort to get back into the habit for 2015. For starters, here’s a look a how much I spent over three weeks in India at the end of last year and beginning of this one. This was in by far the most touristy part of the country (Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and Varanasi) and I’d expect prices to be even cheaper in other areas. If you’re looking to travel on a budget India can definitely be a solid choice.

      I spent 29,531 Rupees in 24 days, which at current exchange rates comes out to just under $20 per day. This is actually on the high end for a backpacker budget, however given that prices are so cheap that I didn’t spend much time worrying about cutting costs.
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        MatadorU Photography Course Review

        MatadorU Photography Course Review

        (This review updated January 2015, originally published Dec 2011.)

        There is, I think,  still value to the MatadorU program. However, you should know what you expect to gain from the program before you decide whether the cost is worth it to you and if it will help you accomplish the goals you’ve set. This MatadorU photography course review aims to do just that: give some thoughts on my experience with the program and discuss who else it may be a good fit for.

        I made around $7000 last year (2014) through writing and photography contacts that I attribute to the MatU program, either through postings directly on their Access boards (which I’ll discuss below) or via contacts I made through the Matador University program. So, for me, the $350 course fee was definitely a worthwhile investment. This number doesn’t even include photography work I picked up through other channels, which I undoubtedly owe some competency credit for to the MatadorU photography course but which becomes a lot harder to assign value to.
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          The Year in Photos: 2014

          The Year in Photos: 2014

          I take a lot of photos. I don’t have a firm count on how many I shot in 2014, but I kept around 5000 shots this year and tend to delete the majority of what I take so 10,000 is a conservative estimate. Even with all those to choose from, however, there are still a handful that stand out as the moment that defined a month or an event or some particular experience – the ones I see again and think “Man, that was cool.”

          I only spent 91 days outside of Kyrgyzstan this year, a fact that actually feels really strange after having been on the road so much since I left China some years ago. I only got to seven countries this year (Austria, Czech Republic, France, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey) with two of those (Czech and India) being new to me. If my count is right, I took 17 flights of ~32,000 miles – yet still somehow don’t have status on any major airlines. Better luck next year I suppose.

          More than anything, the year’s pictures tell the story of where I went and who I met and what a weird lifestyle I’ve stumbled into. Most of these pictures are things you’ve seen before, but all of them represent some special moment to me and often highlight the defining feeling of the month they were taken in.


          Galata Bridge Long-Exposure

          Like so many of my trips ‘to’ Istanbul, this shot was from a quick two or three days in between flights. Also like to many of these trips, I spent most of the time visiting some of my favorite delicious restaurants and photogenic viewpoints – including here on the bottom of the Galata Bridge playing with a new tripod and an under-utilized long-exposure function. I don’t remember now which, but I would put good money on the fact that either just before or just after this was taken I was stuffing a fish sandwich and probably some baklava into my face on the Karakoy side of the bridge. Istanbul is like my mini-vacation city, a time out between other trips where I don’t have to accomplish anything – other than maybe take a few more photos of my food.

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            Categories: Austria, France, India, Kyrgyzstan, Photo Blogs, Turkey | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

            On Death and Drowning in Lycia: The Rock Tombs of Myra and Kekova Sunken City

            rock tombs of myra antalya

            On Death and Drowning in Lycia:
            The Rock Tombs of Myra and Kekova Sunken City

            Southern Turkey is hugely popular with travelers on package holidays to Turkey with outfitters like FirstChoice,  but most will stick to the beaches of Antalya or Alanya. What most miss, and perhaps the most interesting part of the province, is the many centuries of Greek and Lycian civilizations and Arab and Italian rule. Indeed, Lycia ruled over a large region of modern-day Turkey and fought with the Persian Empire in the Greco-Persian Wars of ‘300’ fame. This was, for a time, a flourishing civilizaton.

            But now? Now they’re all dead.

            The Rock tombs in Myra.
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              Instagram Update: The Best of November

              instagram november

              I know, I know, I know. Only two posts in November, and both of those fro old trips to Europe! I spent November in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and the beaches of Southern Turkey and online working in Bishkek… and yet somehow didn’t get around to writing about ANY of it. Luckily, though, I did manage to find time to post photos on my Instagram account nearly every day; whether shots from the archives or live from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

              The most popular, this shot from the mountains surrounding the village of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan, is one from way back in the archives yet remains one of my favorite memories and locations in the entire country. You might be amazed just how much time two photographers can spend with a flock of sheep in a picturesque mountain background.

              This one too, is from way back. Since I stayed in Kyrgyzstan for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, I decided to celebrate by heading out to the snowy mountains just to the south of Bishkek for a weekend camping in the snow. This photo, from a trip last year to the same national park, is a good representation of what it felt like: snow, cold, and lots of walking to stay warm thorough an amazing landscape. Check back later for photos from this most recent trip.


              The rest, as you might expect given my travels in November, are all from Turkey. These two, shots from the mosques of Istanbul, represent two of the most colorful parts of one of my favorite cities in the world. The next two, both from Antalya, mark the first time I’ve ever visited Turkey and left the big city… remarkable given that I’ve been there 15 times at this point! Another trip to IST is coming up in mid-December and, true to past form, it’ll be all big city all the time. I do want to get back to Antalya to explore a bit more, though, as well as to eventually see what the rural bits of Turkey look like.


              That was November on my side of the world, and you can follow me on Instagram to see December’s updates and beyond. What was it like in your November, and what big plans do you have for the end of the year? 

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                Paris At Night: 7 Things to Do After Dark in the City of Light

                paris at night

                Paris At Night:
                7 Things to Do After Dark
                in the City of Light

                Paris is one of those world cities so grand that you could stay for years and never run out of new places to go and new things to do during the day. For all the many travel articles I see written about the city’s best museums and restaurants and macaron shops, however, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the options for travelers once the sun goes down. Some are obvious backpacker favorites, others unknown neighborhoods full of Parisians but largely unbothered by the tourist hordes. It isn’t just in the catered chalets France can promise merriment and good times: all of these options will also make for a fun night in the City of Light.


                citroen 2cv and eiffel tower by night


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