Column: Miniaturk: An empire in an afternoon
Commentary by Don Knebel
People come to Istanbul from all over the world to see the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and other architectural masterpieces. If they have time, they go on to Ephesus and Aspendos to see the ruins of great works from antiquity. On the way home, they might visit Jerusalem and see the Dome of the Rock. All these historic structures, as well as some that no longer exist, can be seen during a pleasant stroll along Istanbul’s Golden Horn.
The Golden Horn is a horn-shaped estuary that flows into the Bosporus Strait separating European and Asian Istanbul. Until recently, the Golden Horn was home to slaughter houses, foundries, factories and shipyards, creating a polluted waterway and an unattractive shoreline. In the late 1980s, the Istanbul government began demolishing the industrial buildings and replacing them with parks and museums. Miniaturk, one of the largest miniature parks in the world, opened on a 15-acre reclamation site in 2003.
Miniaturk includes 1:25 scale models of important architectural works from areas once controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The more than 125 miniature reproductions include about 45 from Istanbul, 45 from the rest of Turkey and the remainder from other areas, including Israel. The most interesting of the miniatures are interpretations of two lost buildings considered in antiquity among the Seven Wonders of the World: The colonnaded temple to Artemis in Ephesus that was demolished by a Christian mob in 401 after Emperor Theodosius I outlawed paganism, and the tomb of Mausolus, the source of the word “mausoleum” and the architectural inspiration for the Indiana War Memorial, which was destroyed by a series of earthquakes in the Middle Ages.
Visiting Miniaturk is not a substitute for actually exploring the historic structures of Istanbul. But as an introduction to Turkey and the glory of the Ottoman Empire, it is worth a couple of hours.