Best Museums to Visit in Istanbul Old City
List of Best Museums to Visit in Istanbul Old City
Hagia Sophia Museum
Hagia Sophia and How to procounce it?
Although it sounds too hard to pronounce for foreign visitors, it is basically pronounced as Ayasofya. If you ask an ordinary Turkish citizen the question of “Where is Hagia Sophia?” by emphasizing the letter “g”, they will most probably not understand what you are talking about. With a bit of luck, they may understand it by the word “Sophia” though.
Hagia Sophia is built by a Byzantine Emperor Justinian
This incredible temple was begun to be constructed in 532 and was completed in 537. It was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to two of the important architects of the century. Named Anthemios and Isidoros, these architects not only built the biggest structure of humanity but charmed the city folk as well.
Hagia Sophia had been the largest Church in the World for a Millenium
The enthusiasm and curiosity generated by Hagia Sophia went on for centuries and it served as the biggest religious building until the 16th century when St. Peter’s Basilica was built.
New Hagia Sophia Born from a Riot: Nika Revolt
The reason why Hagia Sophia was built as a new and wonderful structure is that the previous church was demolished by people during a riot. The name of the riot which occurred during the reign of the greatest Emperor of Byzantium, Justinian, was Nika.
During the Nika Revolt, the city was razed to the ground by more than 40,000 insurgents and the church named Megale Ekklesia which preceded Hagia Sophia was also damaged.
30.000 were killed by the Byzantine Army led by General Belisarius
The ancient columns and remnants which you can see on your left side when you enter the garden belong to this era. Answering the call of Justinian, the famous general Belisarius occupied Hippodrome and killed 30,000 people ending the riot in a very bloody way. Justinian started to build the city anew and commissioned the magnificent Hagia Sophia which overshadowed even the Temple of Solomon, known as the biggest temple until then.
Private Tour Guide For Fast Track
I definitely advise you to hire a private tour guide for your tour of Hagia Sophia so that you can accurately understand all the details of this great temple which was built over 5 years by 11,000 people who worked day and night. Otherwise you may miss highly important details which even people who visited it many times don’t have an idea of.
Hagia Sophia’ Journey From a Mosque to a Museum
Having served over 900 years as a church, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror after 1453 and it remained as a mosque for 500 years. Currently it is the most important museum of the city.
Best Museum to Visit in Sultanahmet
Topkapi Palace Museum
Fall of Constantinople at the West – Conquest of Constantinople in the East
Mehmet the Conqueror is the Ottoman Sultan who managed to seize Constantinople in 1453, finally fulfilling the lifelong dream for the majority of Muslim and Turkish people. Within the Eastern point of view, the conquest is a great success, even the greatest one of the Islamic history.
Shranking of Byzantine Empire steadily after the rule of Justinian
Within the Western point of view, it is a tragedy and the fall of the last city of the Eastern Roman Empire. When we look at the maps of the time, we see that one of the longest running states, the Byzantine Empire, was diminished to a small city.
Because Byzantine (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire) was separated from the Western Roman Empire in 395 and went on to exist for a thousand years before entering into a period of downfall.
Constantinople when Ottoman Sultan came
It is rumored that Ottoman Sultan felt a great disappointment when he first entered the city. Although severely damaged during the Latin invasion (1204-1261), the city had not been renovated and therefore was in a ramshackle state.
With the occupation and cost of the war, once an advanced and modern city of Constantinople was turned into an ordinary town. Having seen the harrowing state of the world-famous Big Palace and the adjacent Hippodrome, Sultan Mehmed felt grief and decided to order Topkapı Palace to be built. And he chose Seraglio Point as the building site where the Greek Byzas established the first settlement centuries ago.
Sultan Mehmed II decides to build a New Palace
Built on the most beautiful hill of the city and the southern entrance of Bosphorus, this incredible palace served to 25 sultans for about 400 years. These sultans included the most successful ones such as Mehmed the Conqueror, Yavuz Sultan Selim and Suleiman the Magnificent.
If you can imagine this rich empire stretched upon Silk Road and Spice Trade Routes and exporting to Europe from Istanbul harbors, you can guess how gorgeous and monumental structure Topkapı Palace is.
Best Museums to Visit in Istanbul Old City
Kariye Museum (Chora Church)
Best Byzantine Mosaics and Frescoes in the World
The most beautiful Byzantine mosaics of Istanbul, once the capital of Byzantine Empire, and arguably the world can be seen in this small church. Unfortunately many travelers leave Istanbul without visiting this small church. Organized city tours focus on Sultanahmet area and ignore this beautiful place.
Byzantine Palace coups as in Game of Thrones!
However there are great mosaics on the inner and outer halls of the Chora Church telling the story of Mary and Jesus. The story of the church itself is touching. As a matter of fact, the history of Byzantine Empire is similar to Game of Thrones series and includes tons of plots, victories and tragedies.
The Mecenas: Theodore Metokhites (Byzantine Statesman)
Theodore Metokhites the patron of this church and financier of the spectacular mosaics in it, had its share of such games of throne and was sent to an exile while he was a top level bureaucrat.
After many years, he returned to the church, took it as his home, spent his last years there and was buried on the Parekklesion section. This structure is regarded as the second most important Byzantine monument in the city after Hagia Sophia.
Turkish And Islamic Arts Museum
Ottoman Palace and Turkish Game of Thrones
Ottoman history is not different from the Byzantine history in terms of plots and throne disputes. During the history of Ottoman Empire which ruled on three continents, many Sultans fell prey to such disputes.
Grand Viziers as Prime Ministors
However the fate of Grand Viziers were even worse. Some due to military failure, some due to bribe or corruption scandals and most of them due to falling from grace were executed.
Pargalı İbrahim Pasha once a dear friend of Sultan
The building adjacent to the Hippodrome originally belonged to Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, a top level bureaucrat. Once married to the sister of Suleiman the Magnificent and called Makbul (the Favorite) Ibrahim Pasha as a close friend to the Sultan, he suddenly fell from grace and was executed. The building built for him now serves today as the Turkish – Islamic Arts Museum.
What to see in Turkish-Islamic Arts Museum?
Important artifacts from the times of the Caliphates, Seljuk Empire and Ottoman Empire are exhibited inside the museum.
Explanation of Turkish existence in Anatolia
Those visitors who are asking “Well, where did the Turks come from?” while listening to 2700 years old Istanbul history can find an answer to this question during their visit to the museum. Because the footprints of the Turks who emigrated from the Central Asia to these lands can be found within Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
The main building of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is a Neo-Classical structure built between 1897 and 1901 by the French architect Alexander Vallaury who contributed to the modern look of Istanbul with the buildings he made.
Located within the Gulhane Park and Topkapi Palace
Since it takes three hours to visit Topkapı Palace, most of the visitors leave the palace from the first garden without visiting this museum which is next to Darphane (State Mint), just on the way to Gulhane Park.
Egyptian–Hittite Peace Treaty & Alexander Sarcophagus
This late-Ottoman building has one of the largest archeological collections in the world including the Egyptian–Hittite Peace Treaty (Kadesh Tablet) which is accepted as the oldest written treaty, Alexander Sarcophagus and ancient Greek sculptures.
The richness of the collections in the museum can truly be understood only when the fact that Ottoman Empire was stretched upon three continents is taken into consideration.
A historic journey to Anatolia and Mesopotamia
If you like to take a magical journey throughout the long history of Anatolia and Mesopotamia, regarded as the cradle of civilization, I would definitely advise you to add this museum to your itinerary.
Tiled Kiosk adorned with beautiful Ottoman Tiles
One of the buildings in the museum complex is Tiled Kiosk which dates back to 1471 and is regarded as one of the first Ottoman buildings in the city.