Just behind the Blue Mosque lies the Arasta Bazaar, a street lined with shops selling items similar to the Grand Bazaar without the crowds and chaos. This overlooked street also hides the entrance to The Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi).
The Great Palace of Constantinople
In 330 AD when Constantine I moved the Roman Capitol to Constantinople he created a palace as the main royal residence and the seat of his government for himself and his heirs, located between the Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia. Home to Byzantine Emperors for hundreds of years, the site underwent repeated reconstruction and renovation.
During the Nika riots of 532 much of the complex was destroyed and Emperor Justinian I added the hall floor mosaic which is now on display in this museum today. After Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, the site continued to change and the palace was slowly destroyed. In the 17th century when Sultan Ahmet I built his grand complex* – The Blue Mosque, he continued destroying the original site by building over The Great Palace.
*Built by Ottoman officials as part of the Sultanahmet Mosque compound, the Arasta Bazaar’s shops revenues traditionally supported the upkeep of the mosque.
In the 1930’s based on literary sources and extensive research, archaeologists began excavations at the Arasta Bazaar that led them to discovering parts of The Great Palace. The uncovered mosaics that had once decorated the palace’s floors and walls were left where they were found (and later preserved and put on display in the mosaic museum), as others continue to remain covered as they lie beneath The Blue Mosque. Dated to 450-550 AD, these mosaics show a window into Byzantine royal life portraying scenes of daily life, nature, animals and mythology.
I was surprised by the amount of scenes depicting the animal kingdom, animals fighting, and hunting.
The mosaics are made of millions of many colored lime, terra-cotta and glass cubes.
Note: This museum is included in the museum card (müzekart). And if you’re a fan of mosaics be sure not to miss the Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi), which houses some of the finest and oldest Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul.