Written by Seniha Demir

Among more than 500 pieces exhibited at the Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam, witness firsthand the contributions Muslim scientists made to science through works based on experiment and observation.

Goethe greets us at the entrance to the museum with his words “Whoever knows others as well as himself must also
recognize that East and West are now inseparable.” How truly and beautifully he has summarized the error of all
segregation. Because every experiment and observation, just as inspired by its predecessors, also sets example to its
successors. How about we get to know this important museum?

Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam is located in the Gülhane Park, where used to be one of
Ottoman imperial gardens. It was built in the Imperial Stables Building on the old palace walls, through the efforts
of historian of Islamic science Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin. The 3,500 kilometer museum spreads over two floors. The top
floor comprises a cinema hall to watch various visuals about the museum, and sections for astronomy, clockworks,
maritime, war technologies, and medicine. The ground floor comprises the sections for minerology, physics, mathematics-geometry, city planning and architecture, optics, chemistry, and geography exhibiting map drawings. Models and mock-ups of works put forth by Muslim scientists are on display in all the exhibition halls. The works reflect the scientific and technical advances of the Muslims living between 9th and 17th centuries. The Museum of the History of Science and Technology is the first of its kind in Turkey, and second in the world after Frankfurt. Among more than 500 pieces exhibited at the Museum of the History of Science and Technology in
Islam, witness firsthand the contributions Muslim scientists made to science through works based on experiment and observation.

The museum is important in bringing Islamic history of science to light. The period of time taught to us as the Dark
Ages, even if it were so for Europe, was truly a time of progress for Muslims. In this era, Muslim scientists were
the pioneers laying the foundations of modern science. Scholarly and scientific activities picked up speed starting
from the beginnings of the 8th century. The reason for the progress of the Muslim scientists is their analysis and
development of the teachings of previous civilizations. Between the 9th and 14th centuries, Muslim scientists made very many contributions to the scientific world through their development of the tools they borrowed from Greeks and pre-Islamic Byzantines. In this regard, Islamic sciences have developed as a continuation of Greek sciences. The
Muslim contribution to science increased especially during the Abbasid era. The reason why this is not widely known in the scientific world is that it was ignored and forgotten. European scholars didn’t cite sources until the 17th century. Great discoveries of the Islamic sciences have traveled to Europe through various ways, gained acceptance, and were adapted by being taken. Arabic books were translated into Greek, Spanish, and Latin beginning from the 10th century. Many works were translated, but issued under a European or Greek scholar’s name.

Intensive historical work on Arabic-Islamic manuscripts form the basis of the works exhibited in this museum, making possible the visitors’ unmatched scientific journey. These works remain faithful to their details. Works are exhibited in great order and without a break in continuity in the fields of astronomy, geography, nautics, timekeeping, war technologies, geometry, optics, medicine, chemistry, physics technique and architecture. In the museum you can see many interesting objects developed by Muslim scientists like water clocks, astrolabes, compasses, mural quadrants, sundials, and water pumps. Some of these are Taqi ad-Din’s ‘mechanical clock’ built in 1559, an ‘elephant clock’ based on al- Jazari’s book, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi’s ‘celestial globe’, al-Khazini’s ‘balance clock’, and examples from works developed by many other scientists. Most of these models are built by the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt, based on descriptions and illustrations in written sources, and a very tiny portion is based on the original pieces that survived to the present day.

At the entrance of the museum’s garden rests the terrestrial globe copied from a world map made in the 9th century.
Caliph al-Ma’mum’s world map is noteworthy in its resemblance to our current world map. The Abbasid Caliph
al-Ma’mum supported the translation of Greek philosophical and scientific works, and built the academy Bayt al-
Hikma (House of Wisdom), collecting many important manuscripts from the Byzantines. The first observatories of
the history of the sciences were built in Baghdad and Damascus in the beginning of the 9th century by Caliph al-Ma’mum. The practice of translating old Greek works picked up speed in this period. Many works were translated into Arabic. The length of the Equator was determined to an accurate degree in comparison to today’s numbers. The world map, first drawn at this age, is exhibited in the museum. Additionally, you can examine various astrolabes and samples from observatories in the astronomy section.

Another scientist whose works you will see in the museum is Alhazen, who is considered to be one of the greatest
physicists of the world. You can see a light reflection observation device, a model camera obscura, and detailed
drawings of the human eye by this scientist who made experimental studies of the highest degree in optics. Al-Jazari is a Muslim engineer and scientist who worked in the golden age of Islam. Al-Jazari’s ‘automata’, made by the first scientist to work in what is today considered to be cybernetic and robotic sciences, forms the foundation of today’s mechanics and cybernetics. The ‘elephant clock’ exhibited in the museum is the work of al-Jazari. Additionally,
the first double-action suction pump working with current force of rivers was included first in al-Jazari’s book in the
1200’s, and later in Taqi ad-Din’s book in 1553. The twin pumps, the model of which can be seen in the museum,
operate by wheels and can lift 11 meters of water reciprocally. The model of the water clock of Dar al-Muwaqqit at Al-
Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez is noteworthy for its function as well as aesthetics. The clock with its wood carvings strikes every four minutes and every hour on the hour. Among other must-see devices are the ‘water pump’ and ‘water clock’ by the 16th century founder of the İstanbul Observatory Taqi ad-Din, Biruni’s ‘scale’ and ‘compass’ built on his description, Arabic geographer Ibn Hawqal’s ‘ship’, and Sufi’s famous ‘celestial globe’.

You can go to the museum, located in the Imperial Stables section on the old palace walls in Gülhane Park, through the park’s main gate closest to Hagia Sophia or through the coastal gate on Sahil Yolu (Kennedy Avenue) at Sarayburnu. The museum is open every weekday (during the winter season) between 9 AM – 4 PM. Tickets 10 TRY (free for students under 18). Has Ahırlar Binaları, Gülhane Parkı, Sirkeci, Eminönü-İstanbul.
Contact: +90 212 528 80 65.

About the author

Seniha Demir

Leave a Comment