An Unfinished Story: Kimyahane (House of Chemistry)

Yarım Kalan Bir Hikâye: Kimyahane


  • Vildan Yarlıgaş
  • Deniz Mazlum



Kimyahane, Chemistry Laboratory, Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Restoration, Conservation


The Istanbul Archaeological Museums, which holds the title of being the first museum of the Ottoman Empire and was called the Imperial Museum at the time, is not only important for archaeology and art history but also significant because of having the information about the conservation and restoration history of cultural assets in this country. The Chemistry Laboratory, established in 1936 as a part of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, known as the Kimyahane, holds great importance as the first conservation laboratory in the history of the Republic of Türkiye for the scientific preservation of cultural assets and their display in the museums.
Research on the conservation and restoration of artefacts unearthed during archaeological excavations and exhibited in museums, including those from the Ottoman period, is quite limited in Türkiye’s heritage conservation literature. This limited research has highlighted the need to investigate the topic and uncover unknown aspects.
Following the establishment of the Republic of Türkiye, museum activities began immediately, and the scientific conservation of museum objects was seen as a parallel issue to be addressed. In this context, places for carrying out conservation-restoration efforts within the museums were established, and the first of these examples was the Kimyahane. Similar steps were undertaken in the Ankara museums as well.
This study presents a chronological narrative of the underlying needs that prompted the establishment of Kimyahane, the selection of its laboratory location, the improvement of the chosen workspaces, and the installation of necessary facilities and equipment. The initial consideration for the location of the chemistry department was a room within the Museum of Ancient Orient building. However, a decision was made to establish a more comprehensive laboratory, and due to the risk of chemicals causing damage to the cultural assets within the museum, it was decided to convert a separate building outside the museum into the laboratory. This structure, located in the first courtyard of the Topkapi Palace, was originally used as an oven during the Ottoman Empire period but has gradually deteriorated into a ruin over time. This study additionally outlines the distinctive features of the selected building which served as the laboratory. Initially, the Kimyahane building functioned as a single-room laboratory; however, with additional funding, it underwent expansion, eventually evolving into a comprehensive conservation center. This expansion included the addition of a sculpture workshop, a photography workshop, a fumigation station, and a mold storage facility. Over the years, the lab’s experts attended various professional courses abroad, enabling them to update the lab’s treatments based on the current methods and materials employed by leading European institutions.
Furthermore, this paper examines the transformations in the administrative structure of Kimyahane as it transitioned into a comprehensive laboratory. It also explores the lab’s relocation to a new building, accompanied by a change in name and organizational structure. According to archival records, there were multiple attempts to separate Kimyahane from the Museum and establish it as an independent institution under the General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. These efforts began to materialize in 1984, culminating in the official establishment of the Central Laboratory for Restoration and Conservation in Istanbul in 1985. The new organization inherited the experienced experts and well-equipped facilities of Kimyahane, and with the technical support of UNESCO and ICCROM, settled in a new location near to the Kimyahane building. This study also provides a concise overview of the changing locations of the lab building and ends with a brief information about the current status of the Kimyahane.
The methodolgy of this study is mainly based on archival research. The Istanbul Archaeological Museums archive, as well as the Koç University, Suna Kıraç Library Hadi Tamer Documents Collection, Boğaziçi University Aziz Ogan Documents Collection, and archives of experts who have previously worked at Kimyahane were utilized to compile this study.
Overall, this study offers valuable insights into the establishment and development of Türkiye’s first conservation laboratory, which has played a significant role in the preservation of the country’s rich cultural heritage. The outcomes of this study are relevant not only for those concerned with the history of conservation and restoration of cultural artefacts in Türkiye, but also for those fascinated in the archival research about the cultural history of the country.





Derived from Postgraduate Studies