WALK up unannounced to the headquarters of the Turkish First Army in Uskadar and an armed soldier will step out of a glass-sided guardhouse to ask what you want. Tell him that you have come to see the museum honouring Florence Nightingale and he will summon a protocol officer to act as your guide. 'I've never had quite this kind of reception at a museum before,' I said to the officer who emerged from the immense four-towered Selimiye Barracks to shake my hand. The officer laughed and introduced himself as Second Lieutenant Mohammet Dezkaya. The barracks, which the Turks turned over temporarily to their British allies during the Crimean War, were still a Turkish military headquarters, he said, so tourists could not wander around on their own. I followed him past two guards flanking a pillared portico and through a grilled-iron gate into the north wing of the building where a ceremonial guard stood facing us at rigid attention. Turning down a long corridor, we headed for the northwest tower, the former quarters of Miss Nightingale and the 38 nurses she brought from England in 1854 to help care for British casualties. In co-operation with the army, the Turkish Nurses' Association recently turned what is still called the 'Sisters' Tower' into a museum dedicated to the woman who transformed the nursing profession. Although only a HK$2 ferry ride across the Bosphorus from Istanbul, the Nightingale museum remains more a cult attraction for doctors and nurses than a fixture on the city's sightseeing circuit. When Miss Nightingale arrived at Scutari, as Uskadar was then called, almost half of all soldiers who entered the hospital died. Six months later, after she had established proper standards for sanitation and medical care, the death rate had dropped to 2.2 per cent. Sunlight flooded on to polished floors as we walked down the vast, echoing corridor. Through the windows to my left, I could see soldiers digging in the interior courtyard while a detachment of ceremonial guards drilled nearby. Amid the spit-and-polish of a modern military headquarters, it was difficult to imagine the appalling conditions that Miss Nightingale and her nurses faced when they arrived. The huge, gloomy building, overrun with rats and infested with fleas, was a place, one doctor wrote, where 'no gentlemen would allow any horse he cared for to be stabled.' Pressed into service when casualties overflowed the nearby General Hospital, it contained 'not a basin, nor a towel, not a bit of soap, nor a broom,' Miss Nightingale wrote. Neither did it have blankets, pillows, sheets, tables or screens to shield patients from each others' amputations. Stretchers, splints and even linen for making bandages were in short supply. I followed Lieutenant Dezkaya into the tower through a hushed library filled with felt-covered tables. Unlocking the door on the far wall, he ushered me into a smaller room with windows on two sides. 'Miss Nightingale's office,' he said. In front of one set of windows stood the museum's only original furnishings: a slightly battered writing desk and a wood swivel chair. Display cases held copies of books written by Miss Nightingale after she returned to England. Adorning the walls were pictures of the Crimean War as well as bank notes and postage stamps bearing Miss Nightingale's likeness. Among the letters on display was one that she wrote to the War Office on behalf of a corporal's widow attempting to collect the balance of her dead husband's pay. We climbed a spiral staircase to rooms on the second and third floors that Lieutenant Dezkaya said had served as sitting room and bedroom. Both rooms, filled with divans and elaborate draperies, were ringed with windows offering spectacular views across the Bosphorus to Istanbul. The view was about all Miss Nightingale would have recognised in these tidy, well-kept rooms. She had shared this tower apartment with her 38 nurses and two chaperones. Space was so tight that Miss Nightingale slept in a closet. When doctors at Scutari, resentful of the nurses' intrusion into army affairs, at first refused their help, they busied themselves making slings, sheets and pillowcases. Only after the Inkerman casualties swamped the hospital did the doctors relent. Using money donated by the British public, Miss Nightingale quickly began buying stores. Among the first items she ordered were 200 scrub brushes. It was almost sunset when Lieutenant Dezkaya escorted me back down the long corridor and gave me directions to the nearby British cemetery containing the graves of soldiers and nurses who had died at Scutari. Set in a stone wall, the cemetery gate led to a grassy, tree-sheltered terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara. A soaring granite obelisk, erected at Miss Nightingale's suggestion to commemorate those who died in the Crimea, dominated the tranquil spot. A caretaker with a puppy emerged from the shadows, apologised for not spotting me sooner and began brushing pine needles off gravestones. I poked around until it grew too dark to read the inscriptions, half-expecting to turn up Miss Nightingale's name. This peaceful corner of Turkey seemed exactly the right resting place for a woman who had travelled home to England incognito as 'Miss Smith' to avoid brass bands and welcoming committees. She made no public speeches or appearances for the rest of her life and turned down the offer of a stately burial in Westminster Abbey. Only 36 when she left Turkey, Miss Nightingale was eventually buried in a quiet English churchyard.