Turkish PM requests stolen tiles from France

Sarkozy:tiles gift of the sultans to the French government

Published on 4 October 2011

Author(s): World Bulletin/Cihan

Type:  News

Erdoğan officially requested that a set of Ottoman-era tiles, stolen by France in the 1880s and presently in the collections of various French museums, be returned to Turkey by French authorities.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan officially requested that a set of Ottoman-era tiles, stolen by France in the 1880s and presently in the collections of various French museums, be returned to Turkey by French authorities.

The call for the tiles' return follows a similar request made during the February visit of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, when the prime minister rebuffed accusations that the tiles had been a gift of the sultans to the French government. "No Ottoman sultan would sell or give as a gift the tiles from his father's tomb," Erdoğan declared at the time.

The tiles currently in French collections once decorated the tombs of Selim II and Murat III, as well the library of Mahmut I. Turkish authorities allege that the French archaeologists who were tasked with restoring the tiles in the 1880s instead secretly shipped them to France, amassing an extensive tile collection and sending the Ottoman government fake tiles in their place.

Suspicions that the real tiles were held in museums in France were first aroused in 2003 when a number of tiles, which were suppose to have been restored in France, were examined and removed by archaeologists during the restoration of Selim II's tomb.

turkey-ottoman-tile.jpg
Part of an Ottoman tile

"They were made in Paris according to the writing on the back of the tiles," Ministry of Culture and Tourism Cultural Heritage and Museums (KVMGM) General Director Murat Süslü, told Cihan news agency. He added: "An investigation was launched when this was discovered. It was determined that all of the tiles were sent without permission to Paris and fake ones were brought and put in their place."

The prime minister's request for the return of the tiles, which are believed to be among the most well-preserved examples of İznik ceramic art, comes as part of a new Turkish campaign to reclaim many of the country's most treasured artifacts from museums abroad. Officials claim that by promising easier access to Turkey's collections and archeological sites in return for the swift return of illegally confiscated artifacts, they have reclaimed roughly 4,500 artifacts since 2000.

They further assert that 885 of the artifacts have been reclaimed this year alone. According to Süslü, the tiles may be the next objects to return to Turkey. "We have requested the return of [the tiles] many times. Our correspondence is continuing.

Archeologists at the Antalya Museum joined the long-separated halves of the Weary Herakles statue, combining a lower section long in Turkish possession with an upper section that the Turkish government reclaimed earlier this month. The upper section had been in the possession of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts after it was smuggled from a dig site near Antalya in 1980.

On Sept. 25, Weary Herakles returned to Turkey on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's plane, the last chapter in a long dispute between the Boston museum and Turkish authorities over the piece's origins.

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