The Istanbul Archaeology Museum is housed in three buildings just inside the first court of Topkapi Palace and includes the Museum of the Ancient Orient (first building on your left) and the Çinili Kösk (opposite the entrance to the main building). These museums, opened officially in 1891, owe their very existence to Osman Hamdi Bey, a 19th-century Turkish painter, archaeologist, curator, and diplomat, who fought for the Antiquities Conservation Act to combat the rampant smuggling of antiquities out of Turkey.
The Istanbul Archaeology Museum houses over one million objects, the most extraordinary of which are the sarcophagi that date back as far as the 4th century B.C. The museum excels, however, in its rich chronological collection of locally found artifacts that shed light on the origins and history of the city.
Near the entrance is a statue of a lion representing the only piece saved from the clutches of British archaeologists from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. In the halls to the left is a collection of sarcophagi found at Sidon (ancient Syria), representing various architectural styles influenced by outside cultures including Egypt, Phoenicia, and Lycia. The most famous is the Alexander Sarcophagus, covered with astonishingly advanced carvings of battles and the life of Alexander the Great, discovered in 1887 and once believed to have been that of the emperor himself. The discovery that the occupant was in fact Sidonian King Abdalonymos may have initially been disappointing, but it hasn't diminished the impact of this great ancient work of art. Found in the same necropolis at Sidon is the stunningly preserved Sarcophagus of the Crying Women, with 18 intricately carved panels showing figures of women in extreme states of mourning. Don't miss the monumental Lycian tomb, carved in a style befitting a great king and just as impressive in this exhibit as on the hills of Lycia. Farther on is the recently inaugurated Northern Wing, which rescues from storage a stunning collection of monumental sarcophagi and partially reconstructed temple freizes.
On the mezzanine level is the exhibit Istanbul Through the Ages, a rich and well-presented exhibit that won the museum the Council of Europe Museum Award in 1993. To put the exhibit into perspective, the curators have provided maps, plans, and drawings to illustrate the archaeological findings, displayed thematically, which range from prehistoric artifacts found west of Istanbul to 15th-century Byzantine works of art. The recovered snake's head from the Serpentine Column in the Hippodrome is on display, as is the 14th-century bell from the Galata Tower. The upper two levels house the Troy exhibit and displays on the evolution of Anatolia over the centuries, as well as sculptures from Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine.
The newly renovated and reopened Museum of the Ancient Orient is an exceptionally rich collection of artifacts from the earliest civilizations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Arab continent. The tour begins with pre-Islamic divinities and idols taken from the courtyard of the Al-Ula temple, along with artifacts showing ancient Aramaic inscriptions and a small collection of Egyptian antiquities. Although the individual exhibits are modest in size, the recent upgrade rivals Ankara's archaeological museum for organization and presentation.
Uncovered in the region of Mesopotamia and on display is an obelisk of Adad-Nirari III inscribed with cuneiform characters. Of particular significance is a series of colored mosaic panels showing animal reliefs of bulls and dragons with serpents' heads from the monumental Gate of Ishtar, built by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia. A pictorial representation on a Sumerian devotional basin of girls carrying pitchers of water whose contents are filling an underground source relates to the ancient Mesopotamian belief that the world was surrounded by water, a belief that has provoked questions over the origins of the biblical Great Flood.
With nothing dating more recent than the 1st century A.D., it's a real challenge to find something in this museum that is not of enormous significance. But two of the highlights are easily the fragments of the 13th-century-B.C. sphinx from the Yarkapi Gate at Hattusas (sadly underappreciated in its positioning against a passage wall) and one of the three known tablets of the Treaty of Kadesh, the oldest recorded peace treaty signed between Ramses II and the Hittites in the 13th century B.C., inscribed in Akkadian, the international language of the era. (The Istanbul Archaeology Museum houses two; the third is in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin.)
Across from the Archaeology Museum is the Çinili Kösk, a wonderful pavilion of turquoise ceramic tiles whose facade displays eye-catching blue and white calligraphy. The mansion was originally built by Mehmet the Conqueror as a hunting pavilion, and now more appropriately houses the Museum of Turkish Ceramics. The museum, which is closed more often than not, contains a modest collection of Anatolian and Selçukian tiles, not the least of which is the 14th-century mihrab from the Ibrahim Bey mosque in Karaman in central Anatolia. Other highlights include some fine samples from Iznik and Kütahya, the two most important production centers for pottery, porcelain, and ceramics during the Ottoman period.
- © Frommer's 2013
Ask a local about Istanbul Archaeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi)Locals have answered 167 questions about Istanbul.
Ask Istanbul Locals about Istanbul Archaeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi)
- Highly Recommended 2010
- tel: 0212/520-7740
- Rahmi M Koç Museum, Hasköy Cad. No: 27, Istanbul 34445, Turkey
- Entrance in the first court of Topkapi Palace (second portal on the left after St. Irene) and up hill at the back of Gülhane Park
- Archaeology Museum and Çinili Kösk: Tues-Sun 9am-5pm; Museum of the Ancient Orient: Tues-Sun 9am-1pm
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