Mustafa Kemal’s House, Atatürk’s Monument

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 on Ap. Paulou

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.

Ataturk introducing the new alphabet

Venizelos and Ataturk, 1930

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.

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6 Responses to Mustafa Kemal’s House, Atatürk’s Monument

  1. I think you’d enjoy Orhan Pamuk’s recent obsession with the museum of daily life. His recently translated novel,The Museum of Innocence, is all about 1970s Turkish life, but during the last 3rd of the novel, the narrator becomes totally immersed into house museums. I blogged about it when I read the novel about a year ago. Forgive my ramblings, but you’ll be able to find links to the actual house museum that Pamuk designed in Istanbul. http://kourelis.blogspot.com/2009/10/museum-of-innocence.html

    • Kostis, Thanks for the link–I enjoyed your take on Pamuk and the book. This one has been on my list of books to read for a some time. Hopefully I can get to it sooner rather than later. The last Pamuk novel I read (Istanbul: Memories of a City) produced an odd mixture of total boredom and intense interest for me–a very uneven read.

  2. george karpouzas says:

    Well you should not have been surprized about the emphasis on Attaturk rather than on Mustafa Kemal. Turkey, at least regarding its official icons and founding fathers has not accepted the self-evident notion of the liberal West that national heroes are also human beings as any other and to be honest I think that Greece has not accepted this notion either. Therefore when you visit those countries do not expect them to treat their national icons as normal human beings but expect to be confronted by conceptions of semi-divine status reflected in the museums and locales devoted to those personnages.

    • George,
      Yes, I’m aware of this. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Balkans and I know the nature of the game here. I was certainly prepared for some level of “official” presentation–the man’s public life. But given the nature of the site–a domestic setting, the man’s home when he was a child–I expected there to be something about his childhood, his non-public persona and life–something a bit more humble and human. But this was foolish, as I noted in the post.

  3. morganhannah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    I lived around the corner from here in Saloniki and walked past everyday but never had a chance to look inside.
    Thanks to you now I have🙂

    http://morganhannah.wordpress.com/

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