Istanbul Archaeology Museum


Archaeological and Artistic Treasures...

The Directorate of Istanbul Archaeology Museums that is dependent on the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Turkey is on the Osman Hamdi Bey Ascent that opens to the Topkapi Palace Museum from the right of the Gulhane Park Entry which is in the Sultanahmet district.

Istanbul Archaeology Museums consist of three different sections. Those are Archaeology, Old Eastern Works, and Enameled Kiosk.

At the end of the 4th century BC, a sculptor in the city of Sidon in Phoenicia was working day and night to complete an important commission for a royal sarcophagus. He had been instructed to illustrate the Battle of Issus fought between Alexander the Great and the Persians in the year 333, a lion hunt, and important events such as the Battle of Gaza which had affected the dead king's destiny.

Although King Abdalonymos had not fought at Issus, he had taken the part of Alexander, for which he was rewarded by the kingdom of Sidon. The sculptor made masterful work of the battle and hunting scenes, incorporating the figure of Alexander wearing the pelt of the Nemean Lion's head, the symbol of Heracles. The animation which he has lent to the figures dispels the chill of the marble and brings to vivid life the violence of battle and excitement of the hunt. It was also necessary to prepare the dead man for rebirth and protect him, for which purpose the sculptor carved griffons, ferocious lions, eagles carrying his spirit to heaven, and heads of the nature goddess Atargatis. Vine leaves and Atargatis symbolized death and rebirth. When the sculptor had completed the carving, he painted it in brilliant colors, traces of which are still faintly to be seen. We can only guess what the anonymous sculptor would have thought if he had known that the sarcophagus he made for King Abdalonymos would be hailed as one of the greatest archaeological finds in the world and become the most famous exhibit in Istanbul Archaeological Museum, but it is easy to imagine the delight of Osman Hamdi Bey, the Turkish archaeologist who discovered the sarcophagus in its underground burial chamber in 1887.

Main (Old Building)

Known as the Alexander Sarcophagus due to the presence of the conqueror in the battle scene, this extraordinary finding was placed in the Imperial Museum, of which Osman Hamdi had been appointed the director in 1881. With this acquisition, the museum would never look back. Excavations of the royal necropolis at Sidon, today part of Syria, brought to light not only the Alexander Sarcophagus but nearly a score of others, including the Sarcophagus of Mourning Women, the Lycian Sarcophagus, and the Satrap Sarcophagus. All were remarkable works of art that won worldwide renown for the museum. Osman Hamdi Bey launched plans for a new building for the museum, which had outgrown the small palace building in which the collection was then housed. When public funds for the project ran short, Osman Hamdi donated his entire year's salary so that this building could be completed.

Additional Building (New Building)

The new building, which opened in 1891, was designed in the neo-classical style by Alexandre Vallaury and inspired by the Sarcophagus of Mourning Women. A new wing was added in 1908. Another of Osman Hamdi Bey's contributions to Turkish archaeology was an amendment to the Antiquities Act 1884 prohibiting the removal of antiquities from the country.

Today, Istanbul Archaeological Museum is a complex encompassing the main building housing classical works of art, the 15th-century Cinili Kiosk (Tiled Pavilion) original home to the museum and today containing Turkish ceramics, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Tablet Archive, the Numismatic Collection, library, annex, and laboratories. The Sidon sarcophagi remain among the most precious of the museum's collections and still stand where they were placed by Osman Hamdi. New lighting effects recreate the atmosphere of the underground chamber where they remained forgotten for over two thousand years before being discovered a century ago.

Old Eastern Works Museum

The archaic sculpture section includes a 6th century BC marble head with the 'archaic smile' and stylised hair in the form of beaded plaits typical of the early Ionian art of western Turkey. This was a period characterized by rigid convention and tradition, under the influence of oriental and particularly Egyptian sculpture. Passing into the next room, the change in style in the sculpture of Anatolia under Persian rule is immediately noticeable. After the Persian conquest of 546 BC, east and west combined in Greco-Persian culture, as illustrated by a stele found at Dorylaion (the modern Eskisehir) depicting the Anatolian goddess Cybele with the wings so beloved of oriental culture. Other Greco-Persian exhibits include relief steles found at Daskylaion (the modern Ergili) on the shores of Lake Manyas. The scenes of farewell depicted on these steles are exceptional examples of folk art. Sculpture of the classical age transformed living flesh into marble. Works of unequaled exuberance and animation, with faces expressing joy, grief and pain, carved by the Hellenistic sculptors of Pergamum lent their stamp to the new age.

One of the most outstanding exhibits in this section is a head sculpture of Alexander by a sculptor of the Pergamum school, and another is the statue of Marsyas hanging from a tree by his arms. The latter has an expression of such pain that our sympathy goes out to this mythological figure. Marsyas was tortured to death for playing lovelier music on his flute than Apollo could play on his lyre. Another famous statue in this room, which includes sculpture from Magnesia ad Meandrum (Manisa) and Tralles (Aydin), is that of an ephebe or young athlete. The boy is depicted leaning against a pillar, tired and relaxed after a training session. The Roman period sculpture reflects the magnificence of the Roman Empire, as in busts of the emperors, the wise satyr Silenus in a state of drunkenness, and the monumental Tykhe.

Sections In Brief

The Archaeological (Arkeoloji Muzesi): displaying unique artifacts chronologically from ancient to Roman Era including the Alexander Sarcophagus with an upstairs of where Treasury is displayed and the base floor is a new section for children.

The Ancient Orient (Eski Sark Eserleri Muzesi): displaying artifacts from Pre-Islamic Arabian Art, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Anatolian, Urartian and more than 74,000 cuneiform documents including the Treaty of Kadesh.

Tiled Kiosk (Cinili Kosk Muzesi): displaying tiles and pottery art of Seljuk and Ottoman Era. Spending some time at Iznik section in the middle of the building and Kutahya tiles are highly recommended.

During your visit to the museum, you will also enjoy the extraordinarily beautiful garden of the three different buildings housing various artifacts from different civilizations. It is one of the 10 most important world-class museums of which building was designed and used for just this purpose.

Besides its spectacular collections, the taste of archaeology, the architectural aspects of its buildings and its garden are of historical and natural importance. definitely, Istanbul Archeology Museum is one of the must-do visits while in Istanbul if you do have limited time.

Open every day except for Monday.

Museum Hours:

High Season (Apr. 15th -Oct. 30th) Open: 09:00 / Close: 18:45
Low Season (Oct. 30th - Apr. 15th) Open: 09:00 / Close: 16:45