The Ottoman Bank Museum is in the basement of SALT Galata, an arts center located in the former Ottoman Bank. It’s a destination that will appeal mostly to those interested in the history of the Ottoman Empire in its decline at the end of the 19th century. But doesn’t everyone find the late Ottoman period fascinating? The struggles that characterized the era, with a country torn between its Ottoman past and a desire to both modernize and Westernize, played out at the bank. The institution that would become the state bank of the Ottoman Empire was founded in 1856 as a joint venture of British and French banks and the Ottoman government and was managed by a committee of British and French financiers until it was effectively dissolved during World War I.
The museum includes many surprisingly engaging displays and documents tracing the bank’s history—its commercial ventures, demographic information on investors and employees, charts detailing the economic turmoil of the period. Architectural plans of the headquarters illustrate its unusual design that featured a neo-classical entrance facing the European quarter and an Ottoman-inspired rear elevation, facing Istanbul’s Old City across the Golden Horn.
Deposit slips, photos of employees, and old bank notes in the original vault are on display in almost exhausting, encyclopedic comprehensiveness. If your interest wanes, you don’t need to feel any pressure to linger—entrance is free.