The seeds for the Istanbul Modern project were sown in 1987, during the 1st International Contemporary Art Exhibition, known today as the International Istanbul Biennial. Motivated by the interest shown in the event and the dynamism it contributed to the Istanbul art scene, Dr. Nejat F. Eczacıbaşı embarked on the project to endow Istanbul with a permanent Museum of Contemporary Art.
After a long quest, the Feshane, a former 19th century textile manufacturing plant on the Golden Horn, was converted into a Museum of Contemporary Art. Although the building housed the 3rd International Istanbul Biennial in 1991, the Project never reached its long term goal.
From then on, various institutions and individuals sought to establish a Museum of Modern Art in Istanbul. Unfortunately, these initiatives failed for lack of suitable space or due to difficulties in obtaining artworks to form the core of the permanent collection.
The fate of the Project changed once again in 2003, when the fourth warehouse on the Galata pier, near the Mimar Sinan Academy of Fine Arts, served as the main venue for the 8th Istanbul Biennial. After Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the then Prime Minister, gave his approval for the permanent use of the site, the Project’s main obstacle was removed. The 8,000 square meter dry cargo warehouse, owned by the Turkish Maritime Organization, was transformed into a modern museum building with all corresponding functions.
For thousands of years, the Golden Horn area served as an inlet port of the Bosphorus and this natural port united Istanbul with other centres of commerce and culture around the world.
In the 13th century, various Italian trading colonies located in Istanbul began to build harbours in the region. One of these was the Genoese port built in the Tophane district, which would later be known as Galata. By the 17th century, the Karaköy- Tophane waterfront had become the main arrival point for ships coming in from Europe.
At first, each shipping company had its own floating dock/specific anchorage location where it positioned its vessels, and provided a separate rowing team to bring goods and passengers ashore. With the increase in the maritime transportation traffic and the corresponding increase in the number of passengers, this system became inadequate. In 1879, the construction of piers began, all along the shore.
In 1910, warehouses and hangars were built on the piers. With the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the piers were turned over to the Maritime Lines and Docks Administration, which would become the Turkish Maritime Administration in 1984.
The current building was constructed as a warehouse during the realization of the 1957-58 Project, which was designed for Tophane Square by the eminent architect Sedad Hakkı Eldem. Until 1990, the pier served as Istanbul’s main port and today continues to accommodate a great many passenger and freight vessels.