It’s been sometime since we left our last paper museum in Italy (Fabriano). Our cycle route did not uncover a great deal regarding physical paper locations and most of our research was internet based. Cycling through Macedonia we did read about a small paper-making workshop in Ohrid but due to it’s location we decided to by pass this. References to Ancient Greek (of course) with the Greek word pápyros, derived from papyrus plant. Pergamon in Greece became a major centre for the production of parchment, which was made from untanned animal skin. However, these where more historical references and we could not find much else. Due to our change in travel plan we where diverted to Turkey and to our excitement we found the ‘worlds largest paper museum some 100 km from Istanbul.
It was good timing that on the first anniversary of the failed coup attempted 15.7 we were making our way out of the city to a more laid back city of Izmit (by bus). SEKA was the Turkey’s first large scale industrial operation which shaped the city and employees for many decades. The paper production site was enormous and it had houses for employees, holiday outings and many community events like many big industries in the 1960’s/70’s. SEKA was operational from 1936 and ran until 2005. The concept of the museum begun the transformation in 2007 and opened the refurbished doors in 2016.
The museum was like nothing else we had visited and it is at a scale of industrial proportions. It works though, you are in the actual place where the machinery and workers coexisted. It is well curated and you feel as if you are walking amongst the remainder of the factory floor. You don’t have the noise or smells of course which would have been piercing and I’m sure not the healthiest environments then. Within the museum there are references to both global and Turkey’s paper history. We were surprised that Turkey had little success within paper making due to the forces of European paper making. Turkey brought much of their paper from western countries as it was of superior quality and lower costs. However, SEKA produced great quantities of cardboard, tissue paper and other other packaging paper materials during its course.
Within the plant there was an internal print room which produced letter pressed work; notebooks, invitations and envelopes. Displays of the machinery was gathered within the vast room and they also had a British printing press for 5 colour printing.
The museum pays homage to the past workers, machinery and now to the new guard. Whether a paper enthusiast, engineer minded or you have a desire for the industrial past this paper museum is grand in scale but you are able to be part of its workings.
While we were in Istanbul we visited the former book and paper bazaar. It is now taken over with university books, tourist consumables and the odd antique book stall. We were shown one stall owners collection of Islamic calligraphic works. One paper dated back 800 years and a beautiful and fragile 500 year old book. All of these were kept between photocopy paper in envelopes piled up. No acid free paper of preservation taken into account. Unfortunately he was unsure of the paper used or where it may have come from!
Our 6 days in Istanbul are drawing to a close. It has been an intense experience and to be honest not one we have truly relished. Normally when you visit a place you are dropped straight into it via long haul transportation. Cycling you see the outskirts, the worts and the lose threads. It helps you piece things together from the direction you travel in but you can’t gloss over things. We have both found it tough going at times, it feels as our skin is bare. Our resting place in Balat neighbourhood has been interesting as we have lived with a very traditional Muslim community. It’s a poor area but with great character and the cafe/ shop life is lively. The constant call to prayer and the sounds of children reciting prayer has echoed from floor to rooftop.
We have been semi tourists during our stay and done some interesting things here. Our legs have ached from walking and We have missed cycling as it really gives you freedom. The museum of Innocence was great as well as some visits to the Mosques. Istanbul is a city that is bursting at the seams. It feels as if it is either being rebuilt or has never been finished! It is a city full of intrigue and romance when you read about it from a historical perspective but from our experience we didn’t quite get it.
All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2017©