Diggin’ the Archeological Museum in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Archeology Museum ranks as one of the best in the world. On our last day in Istanbul, Turkiy, travel buddy Judy and I intended to spend a few hours there but ended up browsing around most of the day.

Sign at Archeology Museum Entrance in Istanbul, Turkiye.
Sign at Archeology Museum Entrance, Istanbul, Turkiye.
Exterior of the Museum
Exterior of the Museum

The museum rests down the hill from the Topkapi Palacehttps://muze.gen.tr/muze-detay/topkapi. The complex has three main parts: the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Pavilion. In addition, we found lovely statue gardens where you could sip a cup of coffee and have lunch with a multitudes of cats. There is a glassed-in pavilion in case the cats or cold weather intervene.

A statue within the lovely gardens at the Archeological Museum, Istanbul.
Statuary Garden, Istanbul, Turkiye

Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

After purchasing your ticket and entering the compound head to the left to enter the Ancient Orient Museum. The 1883 building holds a collection of pre-Islamic items from the Ottoman Empire. My personal highlight and certainly one of the museum’s priceless treasures are the pristine series of large blue-and-yellow glazed-brick panels from ancient Babylon. In ancient times, they lined the processional streets of Babylon. How extraordinary – Babylon! I never thought I’d see anything from ancient Babylon.

Priceless glazed brick tiles from a wall in ancient Babylon.
Tiles from a wall in Babylon.

The museum also houses a mummy collection including a few sarcophagi and these neat little mini-mummies (like dolls) that are regarded as servant figures. According to a sign, “They were intended to do heavy work in the deceased place, should he/she be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife.” How cool is that!

Box of mimi-mummies or servant figures.
Box of mimi-mummies or servant figures.
 Mimi-Mummies or Servant Figures.
Mimi-Mummies or Servant Figures.

We also admired the statues of lions and bulls and some mythical creatures before leaving the building.

Sculpture of a two-headed sphinx in the Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul, Turkiye
Two-headed Sphinx in the Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

Tiled Pavillion

Next, we visited the Tiled Pavilion, constructed in 1472 by order of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. The exterior features 14 marble columns, and the interior includes a main hall or lobby with small rooms on either side.  Each room holds selected Seljuk, Anatolian or Ottoman tiles and ceramics, some dating back to the 12th-century. We had to read labels to know what we were looking at since our knowledge of ceramics is limited. We generally  just glanced at the tiles and enjoyed the designs and colors.

Ancient Tile Work.
Ancient Tile Work.

Archeology Museum

We saved the main museum building for last. It houses an extensive collection of classical statuary and sarcophagi, plus displays that help explain  Istanbul’s history.

Sarcophagus with detailed sculpture in the Museum of Ancient Orient, Istanbul.
Detailed sculpture on a sarcophagus in Istanbul, Turkiye

We entered a dimly lit room holding the museum’s major treasures: sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon (Lebanon).  According to my guidebook, “These sarcophagi were unearthed in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey in Sidon.” The detail and beauty in the Alexander Sarcophagus and Mourning Women Sarcophagus are exquisite,  as poignant today as ever.

View of sculpture carved into a sarcophagus in the Archeology Museum, Istanbul.
Amazing detail on a sarcophagus in he Archeology Museum, Istanbul.

Amongst the historical collections from Istanbul, we saw the missing snake’s head from the Serpentine Column we’d seen earlier in the Hippodrome. We also browsed lots of cooking and eating utensils, coins, medals, pottery and other tools.  One hall displayed statues and busts, some from Ephesus and Afrodisias that we would be visiting in a week.

Head of Alexander the Great from a statue, on display at Istanbul's Archeological Museum.
Bust of Alexander the Great
Ancient Statue-1

Gulhane Park

We eventually left the museum and were delighted to encounter Gülhane Park bursting with magnificent blooms.  The park features a statue of Ataturk and an evil eye garden amongst its swirling designs.

Evil Eye Garden
Evil Eye Garden
Spring Blooms

Our days in Istanbul were ending, but couldn’t have been more rewarding. We were now looking forward to visiting Cappadocia.

Bylandersea Travel Tips

Plan to spend an entire day at the three museum complex.


All photo copyright Debi Lander@bylandersea.com

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