I’m sure a visit to Istanbul’s Archaeology Museums (Arkeoloji Müzeleri) is not exactly what you have in mind while planning your city trip. But you should definitely consider adding this stunning complex of museums to your to-do list. For two reasons: its overwhelming state of the art antiquities collection spanning over 5000 years, and the fact that the items for once are well-lit and well-labeled.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums actually consists of three museums in one complex: the Museum of Ancient Orient (Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi), the Tiled Pavilion Museum (Çinili Köşk Müzesi) and the Archaeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi) itself residing in the main building.
The main building was commissioned by archaeologist and painter Osman Hamdi (1881-1910). Late 19th century, the museum was founded to stop the flow of artifacts from the empire to Europe and house his discoveries. Osman Hamdi became the museum director. Soon after the inauguration, local governors spread out over the Ottoman Empire sent in a huge amount of objects. Today the museums have one of the world’s richest collections of classical artifacts on display.
Museum of the Ancient Orient
The Museum of the Ancient Orient is the first building on your left upon entering the museum complex. The building, built in 1883, houses pieces from the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula, Mesopotamia (currently Iraq), Egypt and Anatolia (mainly Hittite empires). Don’t miss:
- a Hittite copy of the famous Treaty of Kadesh (1269) between the Egyptian and the Hittite empires
- the Ishtar gate of ancient Babylon, dating back to reign of Nebuchadnezzar II
- the glazed brick panels depicting various animals
The Archaeology Museum is located in the biggest building in the complex and consists of four floors:
- ground floor: (of the old building) classical archaeology, featuring a collection of Hellenic, Hellenistic and Roman statuary and sarcophagi (in the old building). Don’t miss:
- a Roman statue of Bes, half-god of inexhaustible power and strength and the protector against evil.
- a group of sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon, unearthed in 1887
- the Alexander Sarcophagus (4th century B.C.), depicting him battling the Persians as well as a hunting scene
- the Sarcophagus of the Mourning Women
- ground floor: Thracian, Bithynian and Byzantine collections and the children’s museum, containing a huge Trojan Horse they can climb into
- first floor: Istanbul through the ages. A nice chronological overview of Istanbul’s archaeological past. Don’t miss:
- one of the three bronze snake heads from the now headless Serpentine Column at the Hippodrome
- a part of the iron chain hung across the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn during the Byzantine Empire to stop hostile ships form entering
- a bell (14th century) from the Galata Tower
- second floor: collections from Anatolia and Troy
- third floor: Anatolia’s neighboring cultures, a gallery devoted to Cyprus and Syria-Palestine
Tiled Pavilion Museum
The third and last building in the complex is the tiled kiosk of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. The kiosk was built in 1472 and is one of the oldest examples of Ottoman civil architecture in Istanbul. The collection, on display in the six rooms and saloon, consists of various chinaware and ceramics from the Seljuk and Ottoman period.
Help, I’m on a Tight Schedule
If you want to see every item on display and read the excellent accompanying explanatory labels in both English and Turkish, you’ll need more than one day. So if you’re pressed for time, make sure you at least visit the breathtaking sarcophagi and Istanbul through the ages. If you have young children, also make a brief stop at their museum.