Lonely Planet review
This superb museum showcases archaeological and artistic treasures from the Topkapı collections. Housed in three buildings, its exhibits include ancient artefacts, classical statuary and an exhibition tracing İstanbul's history. There are many highlights, but the sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon are particularly striking.
The complex has three main parts: the Archaeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi), the Museum of the Ancient Orient (Eski Şark Eserler Müzesi) and the Tiled Pavilion (Çinili Köşk). These museums house the palace collections formed during the late 19th century by museum director, artist and archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey. The complex can be easily reached by walking down the slope from Topkapı's First Court, or by walking up the hill from the main gate of Gülhane Park.
Museum of the Ancient Orient
Located immediately on the left after you enter the complex, this 1883 building has a collection of pre-Islamic items collected from the expanse of the Ottoman Empire. Highlights include a series of large blue-and-yellow glazed-brick panels that once lined the processional street and the Ishtar gate of ancient Babylon. These depict real and mythical animals such as lions, dragons and bulls.
On the opposite side of the courtyard is this imposing neoclassical building housing an extensive collection of classical statuary and sarcophagi plus a sprawling exhibit documenting İstanbul's history.
The main draws are two dimly lit rooms where the museum's major treasures – sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon and surrounding area – are displayed. These sarcophagi were unearthed in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey in Sidon (Side in modern-day Lebanon). The Alexander Sarcophagus and Mourning Women Sarcophagus are truly extraordinary works of art.
In the next room is an impressive collection of ancient grave-cult sarcophagi from Syria, Lebanon, Thessalonica and Ephesus. Beyond that is a room called The Columned Sarcophagi of Anatolia , filled with amazingly detailed sarcophagi dating from between 140 and 270 AD. Many of these look like tiny temples or residential buildings; don't miss the Sidamara Sarcophagus from Konya.
Further rooms contain Lycian monuments and examples of Anatolian architecture from antiquity.
The museum's 'Anatolia and Troy Through the Ages' and 'Neighbouring Cultures of Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria and Palestine' exhibitions are upstairs, as is a fascinating albeit dusty exhibition called İstanbul Through the Ages that traces the city's history through its neighbourhoods during different periods: Archaic, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. It is likely that these exhibitions will be overhauled in the near future.
The museum's famed Statuary Galleries had been closed for renovation for a number of years when this book went to print and a completion date was not available. A downstairs gallery showcasing Byzantine artefacts was also closed.
The last of the complex's museum buildings is this handsome pavilion, constructed in 1472 by order of Mehmet the Conqueror. The portico, with its 14 marble columns, was constructed during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid I (1774–89) after the original one burned down in 1737.
On display here are Seljuk, Anatolian and Ottoman tiles and ceramics dating from the end of the 12th century to the beginning of the 20th century. The collection includes İznik tiles from the period between the mid-14th and 17th centuries when that city produced the finest coloured tiles in the world. When you enter the central room you can't miss the stunning mihrab from the İbrahim Bey İmâret in Karaman, built in 1432.