It wasn’t my first time visiting the Museum of Innocence in Cukurcuma, a neighborhood in Beyoglu, not too far from the center of Istanbul. Back in 2016, I went there with my then-boyfriend as I brought Orhan Pamuk’s novel with me after I read it in 2012. Though I went there on my last day in Istanbul, it was on Monday, and the museum was closed when we went there. The Museum of Innocence is one of the books that could show you a glimpse of a foreign land, even when you’ve never been there before.
So when I made Yalova my temporary home last year, I knew that I needed to prioritize the Museum of Innocence on top of everything else when I made my way to Istanbul at the time. Because of this, I decided to book an Airbnb in Beyoglu after visiting Ankara beforehand.
In this post, I’m going to focus more on my experience of visiting the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul. But apart from my view as a visitor, I also want to share my two cents from a reader’s point of view as I’ve read the novel long before I made my way to the museum.
So, is the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul worth visiting? Is it better to read the novel before or after visiting the Museum of Innocence? More importantly, is the Museum of Innocence based on a true story? If you haven’t read the novel and you’re planning to, you can skip the part about the synopsis, but here come my thoughts about the Museum of Innocence!
Museum of Innocence: A Novel by Orhan Pamuk
I remember I bought the Museum of Innocence novel when I was in Semarang in 2012 as I used to work at the airport there, and there was an international bookstore where I regularly bought English books after I got my salary deposited.
I picked the novel randomly, as I saw that the setting was in Istanbul and Turkey (currently known as Türkiye) has always had a special place in my heart, so I thought I’d give it a read while reminiscing my good ol’ days in the country.
Back then, I didn’t even know who Orhan Pamuk was because I’m quite an oblivion when it comes to Turkish literature. Apparently, Orhan Pamuk was one of the most well-known Turkish authors, if not actually the most. He won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, and one of his most popular pieces is a novel called “My Name is Red“. I’ve only read the Museum of Innocence for the piece written by Orhan Pamuk, so I can’t comment on him as an author.
As for the Museum of Innocence (Masumiyet Müzesi), it is a romance novel about the forbidden love between Kemal and Fusun, two distant relatives who got reconnected when Kemal bought a handbag as a gift for Sibel, his fiance. Kemal came from a posh Turkish family, while at the time, Fusun was working as a shop assistant at the boutique where he bought the handbag. The setting was in Istanbul, circa the 1970s to 1980s.
Kemal and Fusun got into an affair for quite some time, as they regularly met at Kemal’s family apartment to hang out and eventually have sex. The affair went on until Fusun suddenly disappeared after she came to Kemal and Sibel’s engagement party.
It was only then that he realized that he, in fact, had fallen in love with Fusun, and he couldn’t find a way to contact her. Even when he went to Fusun’s family house, apparently, the family moved elsewhere so they lost contact for quite some time which got Kemal brokenhearted.
This event was the epitome of how all the stuff displayed at the museum was collected. These were the items that Kemal collected as a memento from Fusun ever since they were together for the first time. From something trivial like cigarette butts, to Fusun’s favorite earrings.
He broke off the engagement with Sibel, and a couple of years later he got a letter from Fusun telling him that she was married and she agreed to meet him again. She introduced Kemal as a distant family, and Kemal kept visiting Fusun’s family for dinner for years and collecting mementos from whenever they were together.
It took them around 8 years until Fusun finally got a divorce, and they were planning to get married only for her to die in a car crash. The Museum of Innocence is the museum that displays the objects collected by Kemal over the years. It highlights the moment from when they reconnected at Sanselise Boutique, to the moments after Fusun’s death.
My Verdict: Museum of Innocence Novel
To be fair, the first time I read the Museum of Innocence novel, I didn’t think that the storyline was for my liking since I’m never really into romance in general. However, I noticed at least two things highlighted in this Orhan Pamuk’s novel: sexism and classism.
Kemal comes from an upper-class family who’s got a penthouse in Nisantasi (a posh area in the city, btw!) and several properties in Istanbul; having an affair with Fusun, a girl who’s a distant relative coming from a working-class family. The latter was only 18 when they met again at Sanselize Boutique, while the dude was engaged to a woman from another posh family, thinking that he could get everything with his power: a marriage with the high-class lady while having fun with his side chick who was vulnerable and easily manipulated.
Of course, the novel wants us to believe that Kemal is the protagonist and we’ll sympathize with him, but my stance remains that he’s nothing but a predator.
But apart from that, I think it’s quite obvious that apart from the triangle love story between Fusun, Kemal, and Sibel, the Museum of Innocence was there to highlight the Turkish culture and lifestyle in the 1970s and 1980s era when they were heavily influenced by the West, especially for the people in the higher class.
And now that I’ve visited the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, I think that’s also the reason why Orhan Pamuk created this story to begin with. His main objective is probably to showcase the lifestyle of his youth.
Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, Turkey
To put it simply, the Museum of Innocence is a museum based on a novel that tells a story based on the objects displayed at the museum. It’s basically the brainchild of Orhan Pamuk to put his story into a 4D, which I think is awesome!
Making a visit to the Museum of Innocence made you wonder whether the novel was based on a true story, as all the vintage 70s items were displayed there as if they were the proof of the forbidden love between Kemal and Fusun.
Your next question might be whether it’s worth visiting the Museum of Innocence if you haven’t read the book. While I can’t answer it from a neutral point of view since I’ve read the book, I think this museum can be interesting to stop by, especially if you’re into vintage stuff.
How to Go to the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul
The museum is located in Cukurcuma neighborhood, around 15 minutes walking from the famous Istiklal street. At this point, I’m not even sure if the Museum of Innocence is considered a hidden gem in one of the busiest areas in the city, but there were a lot of visitors when I stopped by so I suppose it was quite popular too.
If you walk from Taksim to the Museum of Innocence, you can also find some art galleries and antique stores, making it probably a nice stroll while window shopping if not actually buying something. Make sure to be prepared with all the hikes since that’s just how the typical roads around the neighborhood are.
The good news is that it’s quite easy to find some small coffee shops that serve some nice coffee, pastries, or desserts if you decide to take a break from walking around the neighborhood.
The Entrance Fee to the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul
One of the advantages of having read this book, especially if you have your own copy, is that you know that you’re eligible for the free entrance to the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul. I came well-prepared and had already bookmarked the page where they could stamp the book in exchange for free entry to the museum.
But even if you don’t have the novel, you can still visit the museum, although you need to pay for the entrance ticket. I checked the price to find out about this information, and the price is split into the following:
|Entrance Fee for Turkish & Resident Permit Holders||Entrance Fee for International Tourists|
|Adult – 40 TL||Adult – 80 TL|
|Student – 25 TL||Student – 50 TL|
|Discounted – 25 TL*||Discounted – 50 TL*|
|Audio Guide – 10 TL||Audio Guide – 10 TL|
Without the free entrance in the novel, I personally found the entrance ticket quite pricey as the price was slightly higher than the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, although it’s still slightly cheaper than Ephesus in Selcuk.
Whether it’s worth visiting, the opinion is totally objective, but I think I’d skip the museum if I didn’t get the entrance ticket from the novel.
My Verdict: Visiting the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, Turkey
The museum building has been portrayed as Fusun’s family home, and since the museum itself isn’t that big, I genuinely thought that the museum was really the house where Fusun grew up. I stopped myself from asking the museum staff whether the story was actually based on a true story before wandering around and seeing the stuff exhibited at the museum for a start.
The museum is a 3-story building, and I didn’t spend more than 2 hours checking out all the mementos displayed on each floor. It began with the famous cigarette butts, which would take you to the first floor, where you could start checking out the stuff related to the events based on each chapter of the novel.
Walking through all these stuffs, including photos and items from the 70s kinda convinced me that the novel itself was actually based on a true story and I was in fact at the house where Fusun stayed growing up.
While you could actually pay for an audio book, I didn’t since I tried to re-read the novel before visiting the actual museum. Well, I didn’t finish it because my attention span is quite short these days, but my mind still remembered some of the events written in the novel to experience it through the actual items displayed at the museum.
There was this scene where Kemal spoke to his dad about his worry about another woman after the engagement. His dad showed him a picture of a woman who had been his side chick years before, and there was actually a picture of a woman there and I started wondering if it was the woman. Because my God, if it was, what happened to keep an old affair a secret? LOL
And then I saw the poster about Prophet Ibrahim, as I remember Kemal had a flashback about the last time he met Fusun when she was just a kid. It was the time they met long before they reconnected at Sanselize Boutique. It was during Kurban Bayram (or Eid al Adha in English/Arabic), and the poster basically portrayed this event.
I think if you visit the Museum of Innocence after reading the novel, it will challenge you to believe that it was actually based on a true story with real people in it. But even if you haven’t read the novel but you want to visit the Museum of Innocence while you’re in Istanbul, I think you’ll also find it fascinating that you can check out some urban life stories around Istanbul between the 1970s to early 2000s.
In fact, since I visited the Museum of Innocence just a few days after I went to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, this came across my mind: what’s so different with the way our parents and grandparents lived in the 1970s that don’t deserve a museum that tells a story about the civilizations in that era?
And for that, I think Orhan Pamuk successfully captured life in Istanbul during that period in this Museum of Innocence. Only to make it even feel more unique and personal, as he delivered the story through the eyes of Kemal with his love for Fusun.
FAQ About the Museum of Innocence
In this section, I’m going to list some of the frequently asked questions that I could find on the internet about the Museum of Innocence so you can go through these questions before visiting the museum. So, here we go!
Can you visit the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul?
Yes. The Museum of Innocence is located in Cukurcuma neighborhood in Beyoglu, Istanbul. It’s not too far from the famous Istiklal street or Tophane, and the best way to get there is by walking from either spot.
The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 AM to 6 PM. And while you can take advantage of the free entrance if you have the novel, you can also purchase the entrance ticket if you want to visit the Museum of Innocence without the novel.
Is the Museum of Innocence based on a true story?
As much as I want to believe that there was actually a real person behind Kemal and Fusun’s characters, unfortunately the Museum of Innocence is not based on a true story, even though visiting the museum itself kinda made me second guess whether it was a full fiction created by Orhan Pamuk as the author.
I literally had to ask one of the museum staff if the Museum of Innocence is based on a true story, and he said no. The story was literally the brainchild of Orhan Pamuk as the author, and you could see it at the museum as the manuscripts of the Museum of Innocence were displayed there sporadically on the third floor of the museum close to the bed exhibition where Kemal was supposed to stay after Fusun’s death.
Is it worth visiting the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul even though I haven’t read the novel?
Yes! The way I see it, the Museum of Innocence basically tells the story of urban life in Istanbul in general, specifically the life between the 1970s to early 2000s as Kemal, the protagonist, passed away in 2007.
I’m not sure what’s the intention behind Orhan Pamuk when he first created the story, but the museum itself is there to showcase the urban civilization in Istanbul during that period. I realized that we often focus more on the distant past that we often forget that the life we live now is actually worth showing as someday the generations after us will look back and learn something from our present life.
If there’s anything that I could take from Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, it is to showcase the most recent history of Istanbul on what happened there 5 decades ago.
The Museum of Innocence is one of the hidden gems that not everyone knows its existence in Istanbul unless they’re familiar with any of Orhan Pamuk’s masterpieces in the past couple of decades.
I personally enjoyed my visit to the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, even though I wouldn’t say that it made it to one of my most favorite novels in my lifetime. If you’re looking into one of the off-the-beaten-path spots in Istanbul, while simultaneously looking back into the trends of the city in the past few decades, Museum of Innocence is probably the best spot for this!
If it’s not enough to get you sold to visit the museum, apparently Museum of Innocence also won the European Museum of the Year Award back in 2014… Which ironically was the exact year when I visited the last time but couldn’t go as the museum was closed on my last day in the city.
So, it’s your call to decide whether the Museum of Innocence is worth visiting, whether you have or have not read the novel by Orhan Pamuk. So, have you heard about the Museum of Innocence before? Have you visited the museum in Cukurcuma? Let me know in the comment, and cheerio! 😉
Marya The BeauTraveler
I am the founder and main editor at The BeauTraveler. I spent 4 years working in the aviation industry, but ironically got to travel more right after quitting the industry in 2015. Born and raised in Indonesia, I started working remotely in 2017 and while I stay at home most of the time, I also regularly spend 2-3 months living a semi-digital nomad life elsewhere every year.
This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.