Sinop Historical Prison Museum (Sinop, Türkiye)

Samet Çevik (Bandirma Onyedi Eylül Üniversity, Türkiye)

Sinop, situated on a peninsula at the northernmost point of Anatolia, boasts a rich history that traces back to ancient times. Throughout history, Sinop has played a pivotal role under various administrations, including the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Seljuk Empire, Trebizond Empire, and different Anatolian beyliks, until it ultimately came under Ottoman rule in 1461. During the Ottoman era, Sinop emerged as a prominent port and a centre for shipbuilding. Alongside its significance as a bustling harbour and ship construction hub, Sinop also gained attention for its involvement in rowing, garrisoning, and serving as a place of exile (Daşcıoğlu, 2008).

The construction of Sinop Castle is believed to have occurred in the 8th century BC by settlers who migrated from Miletus and established a colony in Sinop. During the rule of IV. Mithridates, one of the Pontus rulers, the castle walls that had been destroyed in the 7th century BC by the Kimmer attacks were restored, and the castle was expanded to its current boundaries (Sinop Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism, n.d.). The section known as the Inner Castle, where the prison is situated, was constructed in 1214. It is documented that the Inner Castle was occasionally utilized as a dungeon starting from 1568. The official designation of the Inner Castle as a prison occurred in 1887. In 1939, a two-story stone building with nine cells was erected as a secondary structure designated as a Juvenile Detention Center. Additionally, a two-story structure is located north of this building that accommodates observation cells. These three buildings collectively exhibit architectural coherence (Yılmaz, 2009).

Sinop Prison is renowned for its extremely harsh conditions, which are primarily attributed to its proximity to the sea, leading to high humidity, the encompassing walls around its outer structure, and the existence of specialised cells such as dungeons that further exacerbate the already challenging living conditions (Nahya, 2014). The site is commonly known as the “Alcatraz of Anatolia”, deriving its inspiration from the Alcatraz Prison, a well-known penitentiary featured in various films, situated on an island near San Francisco in the United States (Yılmaz, 2009). The famous Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi described the challenging conditions of Sinop Prison in the 1640s as follows (Daşçıoğlu, 2008: 61): “It is a large and dreadful fortress. It has 300 iron gates, gigantic guards with their arms chained to iron bars, and many notorious criminals. The guards patrol the towers like dragons. God forbid, not even a bird can fly from there, let alone allowing an inmate to escape.”

Following the relocation of inmates to the newly built E-type prison outside the city of Sinop in 1996, the old prison was shut down and designated as a "historic site" by the Ministry of Culture in 1999 (Nahya, 2014). The reputation of the historical prison, transformed into a museum in 2000, and comprised of 37 regular cells, 21 solitary confinement cells, and 64 observation cells designated for political prisoners, stems from the renowned figures who were incarcerated within its walls (Aliağaoğlu, 2004).

Since the early 1900s, Sinop Prison has functioned as a facility for detaining political prisoners, and it gained recognition as a significant place where numerous influential figures in Turkish literature were incarcerated. Esteemed authors like Sabahattin Ali, Refik Halit Karay, Ahmet Bedevi Kuran, Refi Cevat Ulunay, Burhan Felek, and Kerim Korcan were among the notable individuals who faced imprisonment within its walls. Notably, many of these authors were able to produce significant literary works during their time spent in Sinop Prison (Yılmaz, 2009). Sabahattin Ali, among the mentioned names, holds a prominent place as a significant figure contributing to the dark literary tourism aspect to Sinop Historical Prison Museum, due to his dedicated cell. During his incarceration in Sinop Prison, he penned some of his most acclaimed works, including the poem “Hapishane Şarkısı V (Prison Song V)”, which is also known by its popular title “Aldırma Gönül (Don't Mind Heart)”, and the widely recognized short story titled “Duvar (The Wall)”.

The Sinop Historical Prison Museum, which has remained largely intact and undergone minimal restoration since its time as an active prison, stands today as a prison museum that has persevered through the years. Among the specific areas that visitors experience in the Sinop Historical Prison Museum are the courtyard, unequipped wards, atelier, children's ward, disciplinary cell, film set ward, visiting areas, library, dungeon, and the Sabahattin Ali Ward (Öztürk, 2022). Sabahattin Ali, who was working as a teacher in Konya in 1932, received a sentence for a poem he read and was initially imprisoned in Konya Prison before being transferred to Sinop Prison. Within the confines of ward number 20, where he was held, various items such as a bed, suitcase, saz (a musical instrument), table, and nightstand are exhibited. Adjacent to his photograph, his most renowned poem, “Aldırma Gönül (Don't Mind Heart)” which he penned during his time there, is showcased on the wall. There are display panels near the ward showcasing details about Sabahattin Ali’s life and literary works. Samples from his body of work, particularly his poetry, are on exhibit. Furthermore, a slideshow presentation has been created, incorporating his poems and photographs and songs based on his poetry.

According to a study conducted by Belli and Güneren Özdemir (2018) on the experiences of Sinop Historical Prison Museum visitors, it was concluded that Sabahattin Ali’s Ward had a notable influence on the overall museum experience. The presence of the author’s writings and poems on the ward walls, along with the slideshow presentation held within the ward, had a profound impact on the visitors. Öztürk’s (2022) study similarly revealed that Sabahattin Ali’s Ward positively influenced the museum experience for all visitors. The displayed artefacts within the ward aided visitors in envisioning the author’s life within those confined walls, fostering empathy towards him. The study also emphasised the significant role played by the ward in deepening visitors’ comprehension of the emotions and circumstances that influenced Sabahattin Ali’s creative works during his time there.

Dark literary tourists embark on their journeys with motivations that encompass paying tribute to authors and historical eras, seeking closeness, connection, and communion, delving into the lives of the authors, empathising with their struggles, and immersing themselves in their everyday experiences (Brown, 2016; Çevik, 2022; Xerri, 2018). The findings from previous studies on the Sinop Historical Prison Museum align with dark literary tourism motivations and experiences. As a dark tourism site, Sinop Historical Prison Museum highlights the dark literary tourism aspect through Sabahattin Ali’s Ward.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Çevik, S. (2023). Sinop Historical Prison Museum (Sinop, Türkiye). In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

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