The sarcophagi never failed to amaze me. We visited four archaeology museums in Turkey and the sarcophagi always blew me away. Remarkably preserved and covered on all sides with the most intricate carvings, including the lid, they’re extraordinary works of art.
The Istanbul Archaeology Museums houses many interesting pieces from the Topkapi collection but these sarcophagi, for me, are the highlights. You shouldn’t miss them.
Entrance to the complex. The Istanbul Archaeology Museums is comprised of three museums — The Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Tiled Pavilion, and the Archaeological Museum. Entrance is included in the 5-day Istanbul Museum Pass but if you don’t have one, then admission is 15TL. A nominal fee I think considering you get access to three museums.
Museum of the Ancient Orient
Housing a collection of pre-Islamic items collected by the Ottoman Empire, this is the first museum you’ll see upon entering the complex.
The most striking pieces in this building, you’ll find a few of these glazed-brick panels that once lined the processional street and Ishtar gate of ancient Babylon.
Some of the world’s oldest books — ancient cuneiform tablets dating back to 2300 BC.
Pins and ornaments
One of the oldest Turkish secular buildings in Istanbul, the Tiled Pavilion (or Tiled Kiosk) was constructed in 1472 by Mehmet the Conqueror.
Tiles adorning the portico
Home to the Museum of Islamic Art, on display at the Tiled Pavilion are Seljuk, Anatolian, and Ottoman tiles and ceramics.
The oldest pieces on display here date back to the end of the 12th century.
The biggest of the three, the Archaeological Museum houses a large collection of classical statues and spectacular sarcophagi.
Some of them were massive. The more important the deceased, the more grand and elaborate the sarcophagus.
Remarkably detailed, I don’t know much about these sarcophagi but I presume each one depicted the deceased’s life or occupation to some degree. With enough time and imagination, looking at them was like reading storybooks carved in stone.
Statues and busts
The upper floors contain exhibits of artifacts from different periods and regions.
The exhibits were interesting enough but the building itself felt pretty dated. Some parts were closed for renovation so the museum may be undergoing a facelift.
Outside is a tree-lined courtyard with lots of columns and statues. Recognize the Medusa head? It’s similar to the pair at the Basilica Cistern.
On a nice day, this is a great place to just sit and while away the time. Ren was all museum-ed out so she waited for me at the museum cafe which is at the other end of the courtyard.
Depending on your level of interest, you can spend as little as an hour or the entire afternoon here. The exhibits are interesting but it can get a little tiring going through the entire complex. Like Ren, I was pretty museum-ed out after the first two buildings. If you’re pressed for time or don’t want to go through every exhibit, then the sarcophagi in the Archaeological Museum is a great place to start.
Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Istanbul, Turkey
Alemdar Cad. Osman Hamdi Bey Yokuşu Sk, 34122, Sultanahmet / Fatih, İstanbul, Turkey
Tel: +90 212 520 7740 (to 42)
Fax: +90 212 527 4300
Operating Hours: Tue-Sun, 9AM-5PM (Winter) / 9AM-7PM (Summer), closed Mon
Included in 5-day Istanbul Museum Pass: Yes
HOW TO GET THERE:
The museum complex is just a short walk from Topkapi Palace. You’ll see the entrance to your right when walking towards Ayasofya from the Palace.
For more Istanbul travel tips, check out our First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Istanbul, Turkey
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