The Topkapı Collection
In the Islamic world, where reading and literacy have always been highly prized for the access they provide to the word of God and the world of knowledge, books were objects of both utility and beauty. Some of the most beautiful, in their calligraphy, illustration and binding, formed part of great collections assembled by the rich or learned for their own use or as endowments for mosques or religious foundations. Over time, these collections grew or shrank, flourished or were dispersed, but one of the finest and most extensive of them remains a treasure-house today.
The riches of such a great library rouse the “Oh, look!” instinct in most of us: the urge to show and share the visual and intellectual delights we’ve discovered. No doubt that impulse is even stronger for the fortunate few who know the history, the interconnections, and the secret stories of the collection: for them its greatest treasures are not matters of delighted discovery but of daily or weekly rediscovery and steadily deepening understanding.
In this issue of Aramco World, we are lucky to be able to present a few of the jewels of the Topkapı Palace Library in Istanbul , one of the greatest collections of its kind in the world, and to share in the roles of both discoverer and initiated expert. Dr. Filiz Çağman, curator of the Topkapı Palace Library, provides the authoritative historical and background narrative, and selected some of the collection’s greatest treasures for Turkish photographer Ergun Çağatay’s painstaking attention. To these contributions, Barry Hoherman, a student of Islamic and Central Asian history, has added an introductory article on earlier libraries of the Middle East, and contributing editor John Lawton has written about another great collection of Islamic manuscripts and miniatures—in Dublin . That collection provided an exquisite illustrated manuscript for the exhibition “The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent,” which will visit Washington , Chicago and New York during 1987.