Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture: From Architecture to Cultural Movement


After the victory of the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the republic, the young nation entered the process of reconstruction in all directions. While there were many pressing issues to be resolved, the citizens of this war-torn country looked forward to building a new nation, marking its existence in the world, and re-establishing and reviving its roots. Giving an identity to this young republic and making inroads in the field of culture and art were as important as the establishment of factories and schools.

First, the Ethnography Museum was built on the Namazgah Hill of Ankara by order of the Turkish founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Then a Turkish Hearth building was to be built on the same hill. A competition was held for the project and the winner of this competition was Arif Hikmet Koyunoğlu, the architect of the Museum of Ethnography. The building, which we know today as the National Museum of Art and Sculpture, was built in 1930 as the seat of the Turkish household by order of President Atatürk. Two important buildings on this hill overlooking Ankara have been added to the city skyline as one of the most important structures of the national architectural movement of the Turkish republic.

Decorated with motifs of traditional Turkish houses, the Turkish Hall of the Turkish Hearth building, where Atatürk welcomed his foreign guests and about which he said “I don’t want to leave this place”, remains well preserved and can still be visited today. Although the Turkish Room was inspired by history and decorated with several traditional designs found on the exterior and interior of Turkish homes, it itself has become a valuable part of history today. .

A view of the Eastern Hall of the Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture.  (Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

The building has hosted meetings and conventions as well as foreign guests. The famous Turkish history convention was held in this building in 1933, and operas were also staged in the great hall in accordance with the new mission of the republic. The first Turkish opera, “Özsoy”, was performed in this building in 1934. The box, where Atatürk and then Prime Minister Ismet Inönü watched the opera, is exactly the same. Its furnishings and interiors offer us a snapshot of the past, taking us on a historical journey. A 400-seat concert hall will serve the same location as this large hall today.

Although the building’s journey had a majestic beginning, it did not always serve an important purpose as it was sometimes overlooked in its century-old adventure reaching the present. In 1975, the Ministry of Culture took over the building for use as a National Museum of Art and Sculpture, and the former Turkish Home building was commissioned in 1980 as a cultural and artistic center with its new face. With lectures and concerts held here, an important contribution to the artistic life of Ankara has started again.

Last restoration

Despite occasional and sometimes even flawed restorations and renovations, the building has never been extensively remodeled. The most complete and faithful restoration of the National Museum of Art and Sculpture was launched in 2019 by the Ministry of Culture, under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Using state-of-the-art technology used in the restoration process, this century-old building has been meticulously restored to retain its original features.

An interior view of the Ankara Art and Sculpture Museum.  (Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

A close up of the entrance to the Ankara National Museum of Art and Sculpture.  (Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

The National Museum of Art and Sculpture houses an invaluable collection. This collection of historic paintings that witnessed the building of the republic and modern Turkey has also been revamped with the tired and aging building.

The Ministry of Culture has installed an electronic storage system equipped with the latest technology which will be activated in the event of disasters such as fires, floods and earthquakes in the building because there was no storage technique professional before. Faulty or inaccurate restorations carried out previously have also been removed and the building has been transformed into its original form. For example, the later additions to the Turkish Hall and the tiled roof, which had replaced the original copper roof, were also removed. The original charm of the building has been restored with the copper roof that was placed during the last restoration. State-of-the-art alarm and camera systems have been installed in the building, which has been made earthquake resistant.

View from the entrance of the Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture.  (Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

View from the entrance of the Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

The museum contains the rarest works of contemporary Turkish painting. These works will now frequently encounter art lovers with the refined curatorial approach of contemporary museology at various exhibitions after receiving the necessary restorations. The inventory work, long dormant, has also been recorded in the digital environment with all the details such as how many works the museum houses and to whom and what period these works belong to.


Although we call the building of the National Museum of Art and Sculpture in Ankara a century-old construction, the contemporary art of Turkish painting dates back to the 19th century. In the later period of the Ottoman Empire, Western-style painting became very common both in the palace and among the surrounding elites. The museum’s collection offers the opportunity to witness the evolution of the understanding of art and the main historical processes in Turkey from the end of the 19th century to the present day. The visual timeline of recent history has been well recorded through these surviving works, in which domestic and street life are depicted.

Osman Hamdi Bey

“Silah Taciri” (“Arms Seller”) by Osman Hamdi Bey from the collection of Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture. (Sabah file photo)

Priceless works of leading figures in the art of painting, from Osman Hamdi Bey to Şeker Ahmet Pasha, from Ibrahim Çallı to Bedri Rahmi Eyüpoğlu, will be exhibited to museum visitors. “Silah Taciri” (“Arms Seller”) by Osman Hamdi Bey, “The Tomb of Tamerlane” by Vasily Vereshchagin, “Portrait of a Young Girl” by Fausto Zonaro and “Türk Çocuğunun Atatürk’e Şükranı” by Emel Cimcoz (“Turkish Child’s Gratitude to Atatürk”) are among the important works in the collection.

The collection of the Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture, which has been one of the most important archives of Turkey’s visual arts history for more than a century, awaits its visitors with 3,632 works, paintings , sculptures, ceramics, original prints, Turkish ornamental art and photography.

A note to future generations

The strength of states and societies is often determined by the depth of their ties to history. It is one of the most fundamental duties of future generations to establish and maintain these links. Beyond the contribution of new works to society, the preservation and keeping alive of existing works is one of the most basic conditions for the continuity of social memory and the bond of belonging that established between generations.

A painting by Ibrahim Çallı from the collection of the Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture.  (Sabah file photo)

A painting by Ibrahim Çallı from the collection of the Ankara Museum of Art and Sculpture. (Sabah file photo)

It is a proud development that one of the most important works of the architectural movement of the republic carried out under the leadership of Atatürk is considered part of the cultural movement that is realized with the opening of libraries, halls of opera and orchestra buildings. under Erdoğan’s leadership. In fact, in recent years, many cultural riches, originating from cemeteries left unused as people tried to dissociate themselves from the Ottoman Empire, have been protected, and these places have been repaired, restored and returned to society.

History must be accepted in all its aspects, without distinctions or exceptions. All the works that have survived so far are our achievements, and societies can only reinforce these achievements by protecting their roots. This article was written one hundred years after the construction of the Turkish hearth. Hopefully, future generations can surround the future with the strength they draw from their roots hundreds of years later and follow in the footsteps of history that have survived.

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