If you’re walking up the hill from the main gate of Gülhane Park, or down the slope from Topkapi Palace’s First Court, it’s easy to spot the entrance to the museum with artifacts lining the path along the way. As you purchase your ticket, or use your museum card, you’ll find the complex consists of three separate museums (for the price of one): Archaeological Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi), Ancient Orient Museum (Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi), and the Tiled Kiosk Museum (Çinili Köşk Müzesi).
The famous artist, archaeologist, and museologist Osman Hamdi Bey was the first director and curator of the museum. (You might know his most renowned painting, ‘The Tortoise Trainer‘, which is now on display in the Pera Museum). The construction of the main building (The Archaeological Museum) began in 1881, and in 1883, he ordered the construction of the School of Fine Arts, the first school of fine arts opened in the Ottoman Empire. Today, that building is now home to the Ancient Orient Museum.
The Ancient Orient Museum
The first building located immediately on your left upon entering is the Ancient Orient Museum. A collection of artifacts from the cultures of Pre-Greek Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Pre-Islamic Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, featuring ancient artifacts, classical reliefs and statues of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians (Middle East) and Hittites (Turkey).
It’s a small collection, but an impressive one! I’ve highlighted the Ishtar Gate, Treaty of Kadesh and the ancient Sumerian’s Cuneiform Documents, below.
Constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 BCE, the Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate, and the main entrance into the city of Babylon – the most famous city from ancient Mesopotamia (in modern-day Iraq). Decorated with colored brick reliefs, the sacred animals represented on the gate are lions, bulls, and dragons – which are all on display at the museum.
Treaty of Kadesh
The Treaty of Kadesh of 1258 BCE, is the earliest surviving peace treaty, making it the first (and oldest) peace treaty in history. Also referred to as the ‘Egyptian–Hittite Peace Treaty’ because it was concluded between Ramses II, the Egyptian pharaoh and the Emperor Hattusilis III, ending the Egyptian Hittite war that lasted more than 80 years.
Interesting Cuneiform Documents
The ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia developed the first system of writing, called cuneiform, where they pressed pictographs into clay tablets. Here, in the ‘Interesting Cuneiform Documents’ collection (2351-175 B.C.) was a varied of documents from the Neo-Sumerian Period, Assyrian Period, and Babylonian Period. Documents included Medical Prescriptions for Poisoning, A Juridical Decision About A Man Who Breaks Off An Engagement To Be Wed, Full Moon Chart, Charm Amulet, Multiplication Table, and The Oldest Love Poem.
Tiled Kiosk Museum
Built by Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer in 1472 on the outer grounds of Topkapi Palace, the Tiled Kiosk Museum is one of the oldest examples of Ottoman civic architecture (and Seljukian style) in Istanbul. In Turkish, Çinili Köşk Müzesi (Tiled Kiosk Museum), ‘çinili’ referring to China, used for all ceramic and tile works, and the word ‘köşk’ actually means pavilion or kiosk.
The collection displays tiles and ceramics dating between the end of the 12th century to the beginning of the 20th century from the Seljuk (Selçuk) and then the Ottoman era, and from the cities of Iznik, Kütahya, and Çanakkale, showing the evolution of the techniques and styles over the years.
The Anatolian Seljuks
During the time the Seljuks arrived in Anatolia in 1071 and during the 13th century, the art of ceramics developed – it was the first time architecturally that tiles were used in mosques, tombs, palaces, and kiosks. The adaptation of creating mosaics on buildings was an innovation of this period. These tiles are distinct with their star-shape and depicting legendary and mythological creatures.
The city of Iznik was the most important and successful center of ceramic production in Anatolia, and in the 14th-17th century the city produced the finest tiles in the world. Examples of these tiles can be seen when visiting the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) and the Süleymaniye Mosque.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the Iznik ceramic and tile production began to slow down and Kütahya porcelain became popular again. Producing unique and elegant pieces like coffee cups, pitchers, oil lamps, vessels, and dishes in bright colors and depicting human and animal figures in great detail.
Unfortunately when I visited, the main building – The Archaeological Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi) was closed for renovation.