Exploring Istanbul's Archaeological Museum: A Visitor's Guide
Istanbul's Archaeological Museum contains an important and beautifully presented collection of prehistoric, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine antiquities, which all come from the Topkapı Palace collections. Along with the nearby Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, this is the city's top museum attraction and it should be high on the list of things to do for history-loving tourists.
Located in Gülhane Park, just to the south of Topkapı Palace itself, the museum consists of three separate buildings. While the main building, with its imposing Neoclassical facade, houses the major treasures, the Museum of Ancient Oriental Art (Eski Sark Eserleri Müzesi) across the courtyard is devoted to exhibits of pre-Islamic artistry, with pieces from ancient Babylon being a major highlight.
The third building in the museum complex is the graceful Tiled Pavilion (Cinili Kösk), which is one of the oldest surviving Ottoman buildings in Istanbul. Built in 1472, it shows a clear Persian influence in its architecture. It was originally built for Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror as a rather grand spot for the sultan to watch games and sports. The building's gorgeous ceramic work (mainly 16th-century İznik tiles) and 12th- to 19th-century faience decoration have been wonderfully well-preserved.
Sarcophagi of the Kings
Among the principal treasures of the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul are the finds brought back from Lebanon by Ottoman archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey. The rich treasure trove of sarcophagi he unearthed in Sidon (in south Lebanon) is from ancient Sidon's royal necropolis.
In particular the magnificent Alexander Sarcophagus, with its intricate depiction of the Macedonian army battling the Persians, and the Sarcophagus of the Mourners, with 18 figures of mourning women, are gorgeous examples of the rich grave-art of the 4th century BC.
As well as the Sidon cache, the collection includes sarcophagi found throughout the Ottoman Empire. The most exceptionally beautiful examples are the 5th-century BC Sarcophagus of the Satrap, the Lycian Sarcophagus (ca. 400 BC), and the 3rd-century Sidamara Sarcophagus from Konya. There are also some fine funerary stele and inscribed stones.
Istanbul through the Ages Exhibit
For anyone interested in the history of the city of Istanbul, this excellent exhibit does a good job of covering all the bases. The displays convey the story of the city, from the legend of its founding right up to the Ottoman era. It's a good way to wrap your head around the staggering history of this metropolis.
Around the Museum
After your museum visit, take time out to wander through Gülhane Park, which was once the Ottoman Sultan's gardens. The gardens are a peaceful slice of greenery right in the heart of the old city, with manicured rose and tulip beds, shady trees, and great views over the Golden Horn.
Address: Gülhane Park, Sultanahmet