Istanbul Archaeology Museum: Of Dead Kings and Weeping Women

istanbul archaeology museums
Posted by on June 13, 2014

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

I’ve probably walked past one of the best museums in Istanbul over a hundred times without going in. Right in the heart of Sultanahmet, ticked between the Topkapi Palace and Gulhane Park, is the Istanbul Archeology Museum.

sarcophagus of the crying women

Actually, thats a misnomer. This is actually the Istanbul Archeology MusuemS, three brilliant collection in one. The first, oldest, and most famous is the Istanbul Archeological Museum. Founded in 1891 by Ottoman Imperial Decree, this is one of the best Archaeology museums anywhere in Europe (but don’t tell the Greeks I said that). By the time I finally did visit (on my 11th visit to Istanbul!) I was amazed that I had skipped over this place so many times.

istanbul archaeology museum

Less famous, though certainly still worth a trip through, are the Museum of the Ancient Orient and Museum of Islamic Art. The latter especially is worth walking through for a look at the building itself. The Tiled Kiosk (shown on the left above), built in 1472 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, draws its architectural inspiration from a mosque of the same era in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The exhibits inside are primarily tiles and pottery from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods of Turkish history.

pottery at istanbul museum

For the majority of visitors, the major draw of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum is the Alexander Sarcophagus. Although archaeologists now know that the 4th Century B.C. sarcophagus was never actually intended for Alexander the Great, it is decorated all the way around with scenes from the battles of he and his Macedonian forces.

alexander sarcophagus at the istanbul archaeology museum

Also of note is the reconstruction of the facades of the Temple of Athena at Assos. Buried a bit further in the same wing of the museum, this somehow attracts much less attention. The carvings are recreated and positioned to actual size of the original temple, and that combined with the lighting makes it actually a fairly interesting presentation.

istanbul archaeological museum temple of athena at assos
Some of the rest of the museum can be hit or miss. The preserved skeleton of King Tabnit II of Sidonia (one of the most powerful city-states of the Phonecian Empire) also dates to around the 4th century B.C. and the exhibition of artifacts found during the excavation of Yenikapi for the construction of the new Marmaray Metro under the Bosphorus were both really engaging. The ‘Istanbul Through the Ages’ exhibit in the new wing of the building, less so.

King Tabnit II of Sidon. 4th century B.C.

If you have any interest in Archaeology, these museums are definitely worth a visit. You could probably run through in about an hour and catch all the most interesting highlights, but to really read the history and see everything plan on more like 4 or 5. Not to worry… if you find yourself dragging after that long there’s a cafe in the courtyard between the museums!

Things to Know
* The Istanbul Archeology Museums are open Tuesday-Sunday from 9:00 – 19:00.
* The price of admission is 15TL.
* Entrance is free with the MuseumPass. The card is 85 TL for a three-day pass, and represents a great value IF you’re already excited about visiting all the museums included.


Are you traveling through Istanbul soon? When I’m in town I generally stay at the Agora Guesthouse in the Sultanahmet area, but there are plenty of hotels in Istanbul to choose from. The Istanbul Archeological Museums are fairly easy to visit on your own, but if you’re worried about being overwhelmed by the city there are tons of  tours in town that you can check into as well. 

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3 Responses to Istanbul Archaeology Museum: Of Dead Kings and Weeping Women

  1. Jonny Duncan

    I must admit to not being much of a museum person, but I do love some archaeology. I found the museum in Cairo great.

    • Stephen

      Agreed. I sort of rushed through there in order to get out before protests picked up, but would love to go back and spend more time in that one.

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