Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a tour of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s home here in Thessaloniki. For those that might not know, he’s the founder of the modern Turkish state and “kind of a big deal,” as they say. The house sits within the Turkish embassy complex at the corner of Ay. Demetriou and Ap. Paulou St., and it’s open most of the day. Just stand around in front of the place for a few seconds and a guard will let you in.
The house itself is in good shape and is certainly well maintained. One enters through the basement where a large bust of Ataturk greets you:
This floor is full of pictures of Ataturk with leaders from around the world: EleftheriosVenizelos, King Abdullah of Jordan, Shah Reza Pahlavi I, and many others, but also at important moments in Turkish history (e.g., the first parliament in Ankara in 1920, the introduction of the Latin alphabet). There are also some newspaper clippings from Turkish papers–stories about the important state visits of Venizelos in 1930 and I. Metaxas in 1937.
The two upper floors were the living quarters and are currently furnished with replacement furniture from Turkey (a Greek family lived in the house for a time and the originals are lost). Some of his formal attire is on display here, alongside his walking stick, worry beads, a couple of pipes, and some hats (all of which are from his later life, which the pictures make clear). The house had a personal “hammam,” too:
On the whole, I found the visit disappointing. I had hoped to learn something about Mustafa Kemal–the child and young man who grew up in this house. Instead, I found a monument to Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Perhaps part of the reason the house is arranged as such is simply that it is difficult to reconstruct his early years historically or I’m not the intended audience (certainly possible given the nationalities listed in the guest book). But I had in mind my long experience in Virginia, where homes of US presidents abound and one learns quite a bit about their personal lives (good, bad, and everything in between) through the tours and information posted around the sites (e.g., Monticello, Ash-Lawn Highland, and Mount Vernon). Knowledgeable guides also matter, and ours was nothing of the sort. She’s an employee of the embassy, and while she was nice, she obviously didn’t know much about Ataturk or modern Greco-Turkish history (e.g., she had no knowledge of the Istanbul pogrom of 1955 and the house’s role in it). Then again, it was free. And the context is simply so different, and I suppose it was foolish to think it would be anything other than this. The house is within an embassy compound, and this is the Balkans, after all–a place where things are not always as they seem. So, by all means go if you want to meet Ataturk, but don’t expect to meet Mustafa Kemal along the way.