What an amazing day – an assault on all the senses!
After a latish start worrying about rioting in Taksim Square and phone calls to Avis, we headed for the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Apparently not high on the average tourist agenda, the museum was pleasantly uncrowded. Parts of it were closed for restoration work, but there was still a lot to see. The collections are impressive and as good as any museum I’ve been to – in quality and interest, if not volume.
The museum is actually three separate museums – the Museum of Archaeology, the Tiled Kiosk, and the Museum of the Ancient Orient.
The Museum of Archaeology houses an impressive collection of Roman and Greek sculpture, mainly, as well as other items from early civilisations of the region. The highlight is the collection of decorated carved ancient sarcophagi, and in particular the “Alexander Sarcophagus”, which wasn’t Alexander the Great’s final burial place, but it belonged to Abdalonymus, the king of Sidon. The elaborate carvings depict battle and hunting scenes of Alexander. It dates from the 4th century BC, and is not only remarkably well-preserved, but incredibly beautiful. It was just breath-taking, and I struggled to tear myself away. Worth the entry fee just for that one item, but there was plenty more to see, even with half the museum closed for restoration.
Some beautiful pieces. Dad was “museumed out” by then, so he found a comfy spot to sit and I raced through the other two museums. The Tiled Kiosk is about the history of “tiles”, though what the Turkish call tiles includes what we would call ceramics – anything painted and glazed. The Museum of the Ancient Orient is a smallish collection of items from older civilisations of the region – Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Hittites, Egyptians. Their star piece is the Kadesh Treaty – the peace treaty between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II and Hittite King Hattusili III. It is the oldest peace treaty in existence (14th century BC). A small item but very significant. My favourites were the moulded brick tiled wall panels of lions and other animals from the ancient city of Babylon.
We ate lunch at the museum cafetaria. Fairly standard fare (sandwiches) but we sat in a garden surrounded by ancient columns and stone relics.
After lunch we made our first foray into Istanbul’s public transport. There is a very frequent light rail that travels between all the major sites, and we managed to find the station, purchase tokens and even get on the right tram! Our destination was the grand bazaar, an enourmous rabbit warren of (apparently) some 5,000 shops. There has been a trading centre there since the 15th century. The shops seemed to cater more to tourists than locals, but it was fun to wander around and explore the narrow alleys and shops packed full of jewellery, ceramics, carpets, clothes, and so much more. Dad & I both spent a little money, but didn’t get carried away! We then headed for the spice market, which smelled fabulous, and I loved the displays of fresh spices, teas, dried fruit, & Turkish delight, but it was unbearably crowded so we didn’t stay for long. (See the photo)
After recovering in the hotel for a while, we ate our final dinner in Istanbul in a restaurant on a rooftop overlooking the blue mosque. Fabulous view, and the food was great. The dinner was a theatrical experience. We ordered on the waiters recommendation, and dinner came in a ceramic pot sealed with bread dough and cooked over a fire. It was brought to the table on flaming coals, and served up very stylishly. It tasted good too! (Food photos to come)