Odunpazari Modern Museum, Turkey: The 'Venice of Turkey' is well worth leaving Istanbul for

At the end of a narrow lane, in an historic neighbourhood two-and-a-half hours by high-speed train from Istanbul, something catches my eye, something that doesn't seem to belong.

Unlike the charmingly crooked Ottoman-era houses painted lolly pink, safety yellow, even purple, the building I see is all arrow-straight horizontal beams of blonde wood, contemporary and intriguing.

I walk towards it, lured by its clean lines, until I'm standing right in front of it: Odunpazari Modern Museum, aka OMM, which opened in September and was designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA), the Japanese architectural rock stars best-known for designing Tokyo's new national stadium ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

It's a startling juxtaposition, this monument to modernity in Odunpazari, the oldest part of Eskisehir, an "old city" (in Turkish) that has been inhabited since 3000 BCE.

Why isn't OMM in Istanbul or Ankara, Turkey's capital? Partly because Eskisehir-born architect and art collector Erol Tabanca commissioned the museum as an opportunity to put his vast collection of more than 1000 artworks on public display for the first time.

OMM also aligns with Eskisehir's reputation, despite its historic pedigree, as one of Turkey's most liveable and progressive cities. A university town, it's full of students on bikes, hip cafes and restaurants flanking the Porsak River and gondolas gliding along canals that have earned Eskisehir the unlikely nickname of "the Venice of Turkey".

The museum's artworks, by Turkish and international artists, do what great modern art does best: makes you stop and stare while upending any ideas you held about how things "should" be. There's delight around every corner: a glass of water sloshing around inside a cabinet, a larger-than-life embroidered portrait of a sleeping man, a stone girl curled up on a stone couch. In one high-ceilinged room an enormous root-like structure created especially for OMM by Japanese bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV seems to grow out of one wall if it were alive.

But it's the space these pieces inhabit that really takes your breath away. KKAA's trademark use of wood makes OMM's boxy façade resemble a stack of lumber, a nod to Odunpazari's past as a timber trading hub (Odunpazari means "wood market").

Inside, more wood and natural light make the museum as warm and inviting as it is sleek and spacious. The centerpiece of the whole structure is a twisted, three- storey wooden shaft, around which each timber-floored level sits. OMM's surroundings are a presence too: not just the old wooden houses but minarets, red-roofed apartment blocks and strips of blue sky between timber slats on the windows; there's even a deck you can wander onto for an unimpeded view.

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Following on from Kuma's belief that "museums can be more than just spaces for art; they can be living rooms for the community" OMM, through the new Odunpazari Modern Art Foundation, runs events and innovative workshops (one teaches children how to make musical instruments from broken toys) to help develop Eskisehir's cultural and artistic side. OMM might have been designed to showcase the work of Turkey's best contemporary artists, but spend a morning there and you can start to believe it was the other way around: that the artworks were created to furnish this extraordinary space.

Either way, there's an architectural symbiosis of the highest order going on, a sharing of creative intent that's inspirational – and well worth leaving Istanbul for.

TRIP NOTES

Louise Southerden travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.

MORE

traveller.com.au/turkey

goturkeytourism.com

FLY

Turkish Airlines, codesharing with Qantas, flies daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Istanbul via Singapore. See turkishairlines.com

Trains from Istanbul to Eskisehir run several times a day and cost about 55 Turkish lira. See virail.com

VISIT

Odunpazari Modern Museum is open every day except Mondays from 10am (11am on Sundays) to 6pm (8pm on Wednesdays). Entry costs 20 Turkish lira,

15 lira for students, teachers or visitors over 65. Guided tours cost 30 lira. See omm.art/en/

STAY

OMM INN, a new boutique hotel right next to OMM, opened in June [2019] and has a café, a vegetarian restaurant, street food stalls and 12 rooms from 570 Turkish lira a night. See omminn.com

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