ANKARA – In the old town of Turkey’s capital city, a one-of-a-kind chess museum offers visitors a journey through time and space with a wide variety of sets representing diverse cultures and traditions from across the world.
The war between Napoleon Bonaparte and the British, renowned battles in the Ottoman period, blockbusters like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and even the iconic cartoon series Smurfs and Asterix — to name a few of the sets on display in the Gokyay Foundation Chess Museum, which houses 727 chess sets collected from 110 countries.
Some sets from China are particularly interesting, such as the chessmen replica of Terracotta Warriors, the life-size statues that guarded the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Its curator and founder Akin Gokyay, 82, is a lawyer by profession. Although his passion for chess game dates back years, he had never expected that his collection would be rich enough to fill a museum and set a Guinness World Record.
“In 1975 when I was traveling in Milan, Italy, I saw and bought a beautiful chess set. I wasn’t intent on starting a collection,” he told Xinhua in an interview.
“It started with one set and grew to 5, 10, and 20 sets over time. Then during every foreign visit, I started looking for different chess sets reflecting the culture, history, and values of the countries where my many travels took me,” said Gokyay.
Eventually, as Gokyay’s collection continued to grow, his wife suggested he should share them with the public, and that became the first step towards the museum.
The museum straddles a 1,000-square-meter area within an old house in Hamamonu, a touristic area of the Turkish capital city. It received a Guinness World Record for the largest chess collection in the world in 2012, and was titled “the best museum of Ankara” in 2017.
Every year, new sets are meticulously chosen for their material and thematic novelty and added to the impressive collection.
One of the more recent ones is a set by a Turkish designer whose idea was to create a piece that might have been played between cavemen tens of thousands of years ago, so it is made simply of pebble stones.
Gokyay said that a chess game can be played between people of all ages and all languages, stimulates analytical thinking and thought in children, and has the unique symbolic meaning of peace.
“You can play chess with someone you don’t know and don’t share the language. You can still play chess for hours. It is a very civilized thing,” the curator stressed.
Gagin Engin, a 23-year-old university student who was visiting the museum, said he was “astonished” to find so many chess boards under the same roof.
“It’s (not only) very interesting for someone like me who loves to play this game, but also for other people who can see the many cultures of the world” in one place, he said.
Chess lessons and workshops are offered in the museum to beginners, intermediates, and also to skilled players of chess. ■