Skip to Content

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul – Soup Kitchen to Reading Paradise (2024)! 

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

I always love to visit beautiful libraries when I travel and I’ve had the Beyazıt State Library on my literary bucket list for some time.

It was originally a mosque soup kitchen but was transformed into a library during the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Abdülhamid II.

Today, it’s one of the oldest and largest libraries in Turkey and has 1.5 million published items in its archives.

It has recently undergone a huge renovation project and the stunning reading hall will take your breath away with its domed ceilings and ornate paintwork.

However, you may struggle to find any books here unless you have prior permission!

Here is how to visit the beautiful Beyazıt State Library in Istanbul with some useful travel tips. 

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

What is the Beyazıt State Library?

The Beyazıt State Library is one of the oldest libraries in Turkey that was founded in the 19th century during the Ottoman Empire.

It’s located in Beyazıt Square which used to be the Forum of Theodosius in Byzantine Constantinople.

It’s also one of the largest libraries in the country that holds 1.5 million published items including almost 1 million books.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Their most precious items include an early Qur’an manuscript on gold leaf and an Arabic grammar book called ‘Kitabü’l-Me’sur’ from 893 AD. 

There are also postcards, maps, cinema posters, historical items, magazines and, more recently, audiobooks for the visually impaired. 

Much of the library has now been digitalised to make the reading materials more accessible. But, it’s still a popular study resource, shared workspace and reading hall in the city today.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Beyazıt State Library history 

In 1884, Sultan Abdülhamid II ordered the soup kitchens of Beyazıt Mosque to be converted into a public library.

Back then, it was called Kütüphane-i Umumi-i Osmani and it became the first national library of Ottoman manuscripts. 

He took great care with building the library and even designed many of the intricately carved wooden bookshelves during its construction. 

After Turkey became a republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ordered that a copy of every published item in the country should be stored in the state library. 

So, many universities and mosques donated books for the archives and the building had to be expanded. It later became a faculty of Istanbul University.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

In 1999, the Izmir earthquake damaged the building and cracks started to form in the foundations. It desperately needed repairs and so underwent a huge multi-million dollar restoration. 

It’s now been beautifully restored with ‘minimalist intervention’ so many of the original Ottoman features have been retained. 

The innovative architecture and design has been nominated for several prestigious awards and it has also been voted as one of the world’s most beautiful libraries. 

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Can you visit Beyazıt State Library?

Yes, you can! Although the library and archives are usually reserved for students, anyone is permitted to visit the state library.

I had read some worrying experiences online about rude staff and visitors not being allowed inside due to them not being students. However, I’m pleased to say I didn’t have any issues.

Once you’re inside, just politely ask the staff at the desk if you can visit the library and (hopefully) they will say yes and scan you in with their keycard.

The reading room is located on the bottom floor and this is where they will direct you. They have WiFi codes inside you can use whilst you’re here.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Exploring Beyazıt State Library 

The historic reading hall was absolutely breathtaking. I had seen photos online before my visit but to see it with my own eyes was simply amazing.

It was very bright and beautifully lit. There were arched windows and skylights that let in natural sunlight but there were also circular hanging lights overhead. 

There were rows of clinical white study tables and glass cabinets but the exposed brick walls and wooden book catalogues provided a beautiful contrast.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

The most impressive part of the reading room had to be the domed Ottoman ceilings with gorgeous paintwork. The patterns were stunning.

I think this is what truly makes the room a gorgeous study space. If I lived in the city, this would be the place I would choose to work or study. It was a reader’s paradise.

Compared to the bustling streets outside, this library was an oasis where you could only hear the turning of pages and tapping of keyboards! 

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Beyazıt State Library

Where are all the books?!

The one thing I was disappointed about when visiting the Beyazıt State Library was the lack of books you could see. 

There are meant to be 1.5 million published items in this library and you couldn’t see any!

As one of the oldest libraries in Turkey, I expected to see shelves of books or at least some of the older books in display cases.

But, I was told that most of the books are kept in an archive which isn’t open to the public.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

The library is now largely digitalised and so most of the readers use copies of the original books to study online.

There were some display cases in the reading room which I believe were meant to hold exhibition items but were empty on my visit. 

I did see an old writing desk of Hakkı Tarık Us, a Turkish writer, and some very cool vintage book catalogue drawers. But, you couldn’t browse any books which was a shame.

I still thought it was worth visiting for the breathtaking reading room and you’re free to stay and use the WiFi. 

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul
Beyazıt State Library Istanbul Hakkı Tarık Us Desk

How to get to Beyazıt State Library in Istanbul 

Beyazıt Library can be found in Beyazıt Square which is in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul.

This area is home to many of Istanbul’s important buildings such as Istanbul University and the Sultan Bayezid II mosque.

This is very close to the historic Grand Bazaar and the famous Suleymaniye Mosque with views over the Golden Horn. Also, it’s just a 15-minute walk from the tourist hub of Sultanahmet Square.

The entrance of the building is located opposite Beyazıt mosque as it used to be the old soup kitchens.

On the first appearance, the library often looks closed as the windows are darkened. But, you just need to push the door with some force during opening hours.

I was just about to turn away when someone else walked through! Luckily they did or I would have missed out.

Click here to get a Google Pin

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Opening hours and ticket prices

The library is normally open from 9 am until 11 pm so there’s lots of time to visit during your trip to Istanbul. Hours may differ during religious holidays.

Visiting Beyazıt State Library is also completely free. You can visit to study and they provide free WiFi for you to use.

Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

My top tips for visiting

  • You may not be allowed inside – it really depends on the day and who is on the desk. I went on a weekend and it was very quiet. I found the staff were friendly and had no trouble getting inside but I was alone. Larger groups may not be allowed in or may have to provide 24 hours’ notice.
  • You won’t see many (if any) books – the library stores many of its books in an archive that is not open to the public. There are a few display cases. The gorgeous study room is still worth seeing. 
  • Remember to be respectful – this is a study space so make sure to respect those inside by not talking. 
Beyazıt State Library Istanbul

Things to do nearby 

Once you’ve finished your tour of Beyazıt State Library there are plenty of amazing things to do nearby.

You’ll find bustling markets, peaceful mosques and relaxing cafés around Beyazıt Square.

Beyazıt Square

Beyazıt Square is a large public square in Istanbul that is located outside of the main gate to Istanbul University. 

It stands on the ruins of the old Forum of Theodosius of Constantinople which was built during the Byzantine era.

Here, you’ll find gorgeous Renaissance archways that were designed by the French architect Marie-Auguste Antoine Bourgeois.

You’ll also notice the Beyazıt Tower which used to be a fire warning tower in the 19th century. As most of the city was built with timber back then, fire was a huge threat!

It’s still in use today as a watch tower for the Golden Horn, providing weather forecasts and navigation for ships on the Bosphorus. 

Beyazıt Square Istanbul

Beyazıt Mosque

Nearby the library you will find the Beyazıt Mosque which is another peaceful respite in the city.

It’s an early 16th-century mosque built during the Ottoman Empire and was commissioned by Sultan Bayezid II. You’ll find his tomb just outside. 

The large courtyard is similar to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet Square but sees a fraction of visitors so there is rarely a queue and it’s a relaxing area.

Beyazıt Mosque

The interiors of this mosque are equally as spectacular and well worth seeing. Entry is free.

As an active place of worship, you must take your shoes off to go inside. Also, women must cover their heads and bare legs to enter.

Inside Beyazit Mosque Istanbul
Inside Beyazit Mosque

Istanbul Book Bazaar 

Most tourists make a beeline into the bustling Grand Bazaar which can be a sensory overload. But, did you know there is a Book Bazaar as well?

This literary oasis has been here for centuries and is the perfect place to explore if you love reading. Traditionally, it was established to sell books to students who studied in the university nearby.

Today, the book bazaar sells all sorts of books and anyone can get lost here for a spell. Although most books are in Turkish, they also sell Arabic, French and English books.

You can also find calligraphy, artwork, notebooks, stationery and stunning versions of the Qur’an.

Just remember to bring cash with you and be prepared to chat with sellers whilst negotiating prices.

Istanbul Book Bazaar

Grand Bazaar / Egyptian Bazaar

If you’re looking for souvenirs or to do some shopping, you must visit the Grand Bazaar! 

It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the entire world and was established in the 15th century.

It has 61 streets and over 4,000 shops inside as well as a book bazaar and antiques section.

It is quite touristy so expect tourist prices but don’t be afraid to barter as they will mark it up a lot! 

Grand Bazaar Istanbul
Grand Bazaar

Also, try not to engage with any stalls you’re not interested in purchasing items from or you could be there all day. The sellers here are relentless!

For a more local experience, I would actually opt for the Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Bazaar.

This area is also lively but they have more authentic Turkish souvenirs and food gifts like baklava, sweets, tea, coffee etc. 

Egyptian Bazaar istanbul
Egyptian Bazaar

Sultanahmet Square

You’re only a fifteen-minute walk away from Sultanahmet Square after you visit the library.

This is the tourist hub of the city for good reason as you’ll find many of the most famous historic attractions here.

To get a great view of the area, I would recommend breakfast at the incredible Seven Hills Restaurant which has one of the best rooftops in Istanbul. 

Seven Hills Restaurant Rooftop Istanbul
Seven Hills Restaurant

The most important place to visit has to be the Hagia Sophia also known as the Grand Mosque today. 

Created in the 6th century during the Byzantine period it’s had a history as a church, mosque, museum and now mosque again.

You now have to pay to go inside and queues can be quite lengthy but it’s always worth it!

Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Inside Hagia Sophia
Topkapi Palace Harem
Topkapi Palace Harem

Next door, you can visit the majestic Topkapi Palace which was the seat of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century. It has four courtyards, 400 rooms, a library and a mosque containing holy relics. 

Don’t skip the Harem which is the prettiest part of the palace with ornate rooms adorned in blue tiles.

The Blue Mosque is also worth checking out which is free to visit and was built during the Ottoman era in the 16th century and is still a working mosque today.

Inside Blue Mosque Istanbul
Inside the Blue Mosque

Or, why not visit the sunken palace of Basilica Cistern? It dates back to the 6th century and this huge space was used to store water from Valens Aqueduct for the Imperial and Ottoman palaces!

The most intriguing part is the pair of Medusa heads you can see here. Their origins and purpose remain a mystery but it definitely adds a touch of magic to the place.

Basilica Cistern Istanbul
Basilica Cistern Medusa Head

Read more of my Istanbul travel guides

The most Instagrammable places in Istanbul 

Things to do in Balat – Istanbul’s most colourful area

Basilica Cistern – visit a sunken palace in Istanbul

The top places to visit in Istanbul

How to spend the perfect weekend in Istanbul

Where to find the best Baklava in Istanbul

Save how to visit Beyazıt State Library for later! 

How to Visit Beyazıt State Library Istanbul