ISTANBUL, Nov 29 — It’s the place in Istanbul where you can meet modern Turkey’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent, then pose next to Julia Roberts, or maybe, Turkish superstar actress Beren Saat.
At the new branch of the iconic waxworks franchise Madame Tussauds, the brand’s famous mix of global celebrities has a special Turkish flavour.
The attraction, which opened yesterday, is situated in the heart of the European side of the city and hopes to help reverse a trend of declining tourism after a spate of terror attacks this year.
The very street where it is located, Istiklal Avenue, was early in the year hit by a suicide bombing blamed on jihadists and has seen numerous businesses close as visitors stayed away.
On entering the museum the model of Ataturk, Turkey’s national hero who founded the modern secular state out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, is the first figure the visitor meets.
Getting Ataturk right was the number one priority, after a previous model on display at Madame Tussauds in London was accused of bearing little resemblance to Turkey’s revered leader and called a “disgrace to the nation”.
“We think it is the best replica ever made so far,” said Sarper Hilmi Suner, a general manager at Merlin Entertainments, the Britain-based company which runs the attraction.
But there is no model of current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — at least for the moment.
Turkish culture to Hollywood
One of Turkey’s most celebrated novelists, Yasar Kemal, who died last year after battling heart problems, is also enshrined in wax.
Wearing his trademark glasses, the white-haired Kemal is seen in his well-known shirt and jacket sitting in an armchair.
“It has taken five months just to catch that pose,” Suner told AFP.
“We asked for help from his family, that grey jacket is the original one donated by his family,” he added.
Turkey’s star midfielder Arda Turan of Barcelona is featured with the Turkish national team’s jersey and running in triumph after scoring.
The waxwork of former basketball star Hidayet Turkoglu, the first player born in Turkey to play in the NBA, is exhibited slam-dunking in a red-and-white Turkish national team vest.
Iconic singer Zeki Muren who adored women’s clothes, excessive makeup and is held up as a gay icon, stands in one corner of the museum in a shiny blouse.
Those less knowledgeable of Turkish culture will also find familiar faces like Hollywood actors Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts or sports figures including tennis champion Rafael Nadal and sprinter Usain Bolt.
But some prominent Turkish soap opera actors and actresses on display like Kivanc Tatlitug and Beren Saat could attract foreign visitors, as Turkish soap operas take Arab and even Latin American countries by storm.
“We created a mixture that could attract foreign and domestic tourists,” said Aydan Alboga Uslu, marketing manager at Merlin Entertainments.
Tourism boost for Istiklal
“Everything is really well done,” said Michelle Petsch, a tourist from Canada who was one of the first visitors yesterday.
“(Jamaican singer) Bob Marley was my favourite. Up close, it is like he is going to open his eyes and talk to you right there,” she added.
Istiklal Avenue’s tourism is poised to get a boost from Madame Tussauds Istanbul following a spate of attacks as well as the July 15 failed coup.
“Turkey is a country of tourism. There could be occasional ups and downs but we trust our Turkey’s stability and that’s why we keep on investing,” said Merlin Entertainments’ Suner.
As well as Madame Tussauds, Merlin runs a host of attractions around the world including Legoland, British theme park Alton Towers and the London Eye.
Istanbul joins a network of two dozen Madame Tussauds museums in the world including London, Berlin, Amsterdam and New York. — AFP