Thursday, May 20, 2004

İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi

This morning I mailed my postcards and wandered about looking for souvenirs. After completely striking out, I flipped through my trusty Lonely Planet guide (everyone has one). In it, I saw a paragraph about the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, which, according to the guide, houses Greek and Roman statuary in one buildlng along with sarcophagi from Sidon. In the other are "Hittite and other archeological finds." After some directions like "Turn left at the tree in the middle of the road," I finally found it tucked in an obscure corner of the city not too far from the cistern. The Graeco-Roman side was pretty nice, lots of statues of classical figures, a few gods, aristocrat-types whose names are long forgotten, and the mummified skeleton of a king of Sidon from 500 B.C. He still had some hair on his head. Then I walked over to the other building with the Hittite and "other" section. Paydirt.

Inside they house some of the most amazing exhibits in the world. They had statuary from Sumer and numerous cuneiform tablets at every level of development, from early pictograms through classical Babylonian. Pre-Islamic carvings from Yemen. Egyptian sarcophagi, ushabti and canopic jars. Hittite gods. I was absolutely shocked to turn a corner and face the lions and dragons of the Ishtar Gate. Not photos, mind you. The real deal, built by Nebuchadnezzar II, in all its glazed-brick, Babylonian glory. It wasn't even roped off!

So this afternoon, wandering the back streets of Istanbul, I gazed upon stelae and statuary seen and perhaps touched by kings of ancient Babylon and Assyria, including Nebuchadnezzar and Tiglath-Pileser III. The ancient world feels so close.

Maddeningly, there is no gift shop. If there were I would clean them out. I even asked around, incredulous. You have all these amazing things in the museum and I can't even buy one replica? Nothing? Am I now to content myself with bronze pepper-grinders and Turkish delight? I wish I knew how to curse in Turkish.


At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds intriguing! Lonely Planet is great for all the out-of-way places. At least with your hitory knowledge, you were able to fully appreciate these marvelous atrifacts more so than "Um, I guess that's sort of old, huh?" Hope they allowed you to at least take pictures. So glad you didn't miss this one!


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