- Mika Vepsalainen
Istanbul Archaeological Museum - a Wonderful Look into Turkish History
Updated: Feb 25
Join us for a visit to the Istanbul Archaeological Museums to have a look at the thousands of years of history in the area of present day Turkey and its forerunner, the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz was so impressed by the archaeological museums in London, Paris and Vienna that he had visited in 1867 that he commissioned one to be built in Istanbul, too. Commissioned in 1869, the museum was opened in 1891 to display, among others, the Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great and King Tabnit, both unearthed at the Royal Necropolis of Sidon (current day Saida in Lebanon) that was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the time.
The renowned French-Turkish architect Alexandre Vallaury designed the main building of the museum and the auxiliaries that were added in 1903 and 1907. (Vallaury also designed the Pera hotel, a great idea for a romantic dinner at the Bosphorus after your museu visit!)
The museum consists of three units: the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, the Ancient Orient Museum and the Tiled Kiosk Museum, all in the same garden. The Archaeological Museum was the first museum in Turkey and it houses over one million objects representing various cultures in the imperial territories while the oldest building in the compound is the Tiled Kiosk dating back to 1472 CE.
The museum collections cover Anatolian (including the Early Bronze Age, the Assyrian Colony, Hittite, Neo-Hittite, Urartian and Aramean periods), Mesopotamian, Egyptian, İran, and Ancient Arabian cultures and history. The permanent collection covers a timeframe from the archaic period until the Late-Roman period featuring among others the Mourning Women Sarcophagus, the Tabnit Sarcophagus, and the Brankhit Sculptures of the Didim-Miletos Sacred Way. There are also the Greek Kore and Kouros (young girl and boy) statues, the bust of Aphrodite from the famous Zeus Altar in Bergama, a portrait of Alexander the Great and a lion-headed statue which is the only piece saved in Turkey from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (some of the stones from the Mausoleum were also used for building the Bodrum Castle, please see our separate reviews of the two!).
The Tiled Kiosk Museum was originally built in the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror and was converted into a museum as one of the earliest displays of Ottoman civil architecture in Istanbul. It is the oldest non-religious Ottoman structure in Istanbul housing today a fantastic variety of Turkish tiles and ceramics. The Museum of Ancient Oriental Works exhibits finds from the archaeological excavations of Osman Hamdi Bey, an ottoman intellectual, art expert and accomplished archaeologist.
Upon its 100th anniversary in 1991, the museum received the European Council Museum Award, particularly for the renovations made to the lower floor halls in the main building and the new displays in the other buildings.
The museum is located in Sultanahmet, the historical peninsula connecting to the Topkapı Palace Museum. It is easy to come there by tram: there is a stop right in front of the main gate. It is not very good for persons in a wheel chair of with a pram as there are no lifts to access the upper floors but you might wish to give a try as the site is wonderful and you can spend some very good time admiring the treasures before some refreshments in the lovely garden café.
There is a loo in the first floor of the museum, and a separate, easy access one, in the ground floor of the building across the entry gate.
The main museum shop in the ground floor is very imporessive. In addition, there is a small museum shop in the inner yard of the museum compound at the lovely café where you can sip your drink in the park surrounded with ancient statues.
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu Sokak, Gülhane, 34122 Fatih, Istanbul