ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM (ISTANBUL ARKEOLOJI MÜZESI)
Petit Futé's opinion on ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM (ISTANBUL ARKEOLOJI MÜZESI)
Located in the palace garden of Topkapı, this museum is highly recommended for archaeology enthusiasts. A number of renovations have been carried out to showcase some of the museum's exhibits. When we learn that the museum was awarded a prize by the Council of Europe in 1991, on the centenary of its foundation, we are hardly surprised. The neo-classical style of the building, begun in 1881 at the request of Osman Hamdi Bey, the father of Turkish museology, is the work of the architect Alexandre Vallauri, son of a French pastry chef. It opened as the "Müze-i Hümayun" (Imperial Museum) in 1891. It is said that the architect was inspired by the sarcophagi of Alexander the Great and the Mourners to give the façade the silhouette we know today. Enlarged several times, it contains a large collection of pieces gathered from the four corners of the empire, more than a million objects representing almost all eras and civilizations.
Main building. It rises on two levels. Impressive, the first level is that of sarcophagi and statues. The first exhibits come from the royal necropolis of Sidon (Lebanon): sarcophagi of the family of King Tabnit, sarcophagus of the Mourners, sarcophagus of Lycian, sarcophagus of the Satrapus, considered to be a masterpiece of Ionian art... the major piece being the sarcophagus known as Alexander's sarcophagus, dating back to the 4th century BCC. Representing battle scenes between Macedonians and Persians, the tomb of Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedonia) was thought to have been found (at last). It turned out that it was in fact that of Abdalonymos, friend and king of Sidon enthroned by Alexander, but the name remained. The sarcophagus of Meleagre is equally impressive. This is followed by sections comprising busts, including those of Hermes, the emperors Constantine I the Great and Marcus Aurelius, statues and statuettes, including those of the emperors Hadrian and Augustus, Alexander the Great, Zeus, Poseidon, Artemis or Apollo, and bas-reliefs. Among the very beautiful sculptures, we can admire that of the ephebe of Tabnit. On the first floor are exhibited works in carved or sculpted stone giving an idea of daily life in Antiquity: Anatolian gourds and jugs from the Ancient Bronze Age, clay statuettes from ancient Ionia, red-figure vases from the 5th and 6th centuries, coins, seals, medals... There is also a library containing more than 70,000 books.
Secondary building. Here, the four levels are reserved for thematic exhibitions. We start with Istanbul through the ages, including a section on Thrace and Bithynia. Then come Anatolia and Troy, Cyprus and the Middle East (Syria-Palestine).
Museum of Ancient Oriental Works (Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi). It is in fact a wing of the museum to which it belongs. Located just to the left, the building was constructed in 1883, also at the initiative of Osman Hamdi Bey to become the School of Fine Arts (Sanayi-ı Nefise). Later transformed into a museum, it was completely renovated in 1974. Works from Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Arabia are on display on the first floor. There are also objects from the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures. The tablets of the Treaty of Kadesh (1269 B.C.), the oldest historical document relating to the sealing of an agreement between Hittites and Egyptians, the colossal statue of a Neo-Hittite king discovered at the Zincirli site, the stele of the king of Akkad, Naram-Sin, are among the unique works in the museum. Also worth seeing are the enamelled brick reliefs depicting bulls and dragons with snake heads, coming from the Gate of Ishtar in Babylon, from where the famous processional way decorated with lions started. The museum also has extensive archives, including more than 75,000 cuneiform tablets.
Earthenware booth (Çinili Köşk). Built in 1472 under Mehmed II the Conqueror, it was originally designed as a pavilion for the sultan's relaxation within the palace grounds of Topkapı. It is one of the earliest examples of Ottoman civil architecture in Istanbul. Mehmed II had three kiosks built in the palace gardens in three different styles - Persian, Greek and Turkish - symbolizing the three universes of which he was now the master. The earthenware kiosk, built in the Persian taste, is the only one that remains today. Its decoration was entrusted to master ceramists from Khorasan, who used monochrome techniques in the Timurid tradition. It was from this pavilion that the sultan watched his pages play djirit, the ancestor of polo. The earthenware kiosk was refurbished and attached to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in 1981, and now displays an exceptional collection of ceramics from Iznik and Çanakkale, as well as Seljuq works. The museum has more than 2,000 pieces. The facade of the pavilion, with its marble portico supported by 14 columns and its gallery covered with ceramic tiles, is worth the detour on its own. But the building itself is interesting.
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Open every day except Monday from 9am to 8pm (4.30pm in winter). Input: 36 TL.
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