Inside Turkey’s Weirdest Museum, It’s All About Hair

In Turkey, it’s a hairy business, literally.

By now, the appeal of Cappadocia’s hot air balloons is well documented, but what else is there? A lot, as it turns out. Let’s start with the basics: Cappadocia isn’t really a city, contrary to popular belief. It is a historical region located in Central Anatolia and includes five provinces: Aksaray, Nevşehir, Niğde, Kayseri and Kırşehir. Most visitors end up staying in the tourist center of Göreme, a town in Nevşehir, but a day trip to the nearby town of Avanos is highly recommended.

Steeped in the art of pottery, it is located on the aptly named Red River, where the red clay deposits along its banks have been used to make household products since the Hittite period. These origins have translated into a laid-back town that is home to countless pottery shows, galleries and shops. One pottery shop, in particular, Chez Galip, has found fame (infamy, even) because of what lies beneath. Here, stone stairs are hidden behind a hanging kilim rug that is now weathered and leads to one of the weirdest museums in the world. Not for the faint-hearted, the Hair Museum at Avanos was founded by ceramic artist Galip Körükçü virtually by accident.

An intern-turned-friend cut off a lock of her hair as a memento as she was about to leave Avanos, that was in 1979. by,” he recalls. “A client asked me the question, and when I told her the story, she was impressed and did the same. Then two other visitors offered me their hair, and I accepted. And so on. I didn’t expect our museum to grow like this. It also entered the Guinness World Records in 1998.”

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Avanos Hair Museum

Today, the hair of around five million women from around the world (Colombia, Lebanon, Belarus and beyond) adorns every square inch of this underground space, ceilings included. They vary in color, length, brightness and texture, while a handy pair of scissors waits patiently for further donations. And twice a year, in June and December, the first visitor to Chez Galip is invited to go down to the museum to choose ten locks on the walls. The women they belong to are then invited back to Cappadocia for a week of boarding, accommodation and free pottery workshops.

Entry to this crowd-pleasing attraction costs just five Turkish liras ($0.28), but to visitors’ disappointment, photography is not permitted as each “exhibit” is attached to a piece of paper bearing the name, the donor’s address and country of origin. , echoing the strands that started this tradition. As for Galip’s stance on collecting men’s hair? No thanks. Many mistakenly assume that he only collects and displays women’s hair because he has three daughters and no sons. “I started this museum when I was single, then I became the father of three daughters after my marriage,” he says. “My first daughter is older, the other two are identical twins. But I don’t just flaunt women’s hair just because I have daughters.

Interestingly, the symbolism of hair – for all genders – dates back millennia. Pterelaus, the king of Taphos in Greek mythology, was given golden hair which made him immortal and invincible, as long as the hair grew on his head. Siddhartha Gautama (better known as Buddha) cut his long hair when he decided to renounce secular life and attain enlightenment. Devout Amish men grow ZZ Top-esque beards once they marry, mirroring the mention of beards in the Bible. In the Rastafari religion, dreadlocks are believed to resemble the mane of a lion, the mighty animal representing the former Emperor Haile Selassie (whom Rastafarians worship as the Messiah). And in the Himba tribe of Namibia, shiny hair and thick braids are considered a woman’s ability to bear healthy children.

For Galip, hair has come to represent peace. “Cappadocia is a place that welcomes people from all over the world, and most female guests who stop by the museum leave a padlock. With the hair of women from everywhere coexisting here, I think it has become a symbol of peace in the world. It started with a love story, grew with the solidarity of women and now lives together in peace. Incidentally, the Hair Museum of Avanos is the last shrine to human hair. Located in Missouri, the equally unique Leila’s Hair Museum was rooted in celebrating the Victorian obsession with hair art, but closed in 2021.

We couldn’t help but wonder what Galip would do with his ever-growing collection once he retired. “Some of our visitors who donated their hair may be dead, but their hair is still intact,” he muses, casting the braids in a somewhat morbid light. “I have no retirement dreams. I am now approaching 70, but I continue to be active in my professional life. I founded the hair museum, but I want to give it as a gift to humanity in the name of world peace.

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