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Museums of Istanbul

Istanbul is home to some world-leading museums, brimming with amazing artifacts.

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There is a great number of museums scattered across Istanbul. Step back in time and view classical relics or browse modern artifacts; there is something for everyone at the museums of Istanbul.

Ayasofya Musueum



One of the most important historical buildings in the world, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), is a great feat of art and architecture and considered to be the 8th wonder of the world. Over the course of history, the Haghia Sophia has served as a church, a mosque and a museum. A remnant from the Eastern Roman Empire, it is also the largest church in Istanbul. Rebuilt three times, the Haghia Sophia of today has a different architectural bearing. The foundations of the building were laid by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine I, with the help of two important architects of the time, Anthemios of Tralles (Aydın) Anthemios and Isidoros of Miletos (Balat). The Haghia Sophia was a church from 916 until the conquest of Istanbul, when Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror had the Haghia Sophia converted into a mosque, and it remained a symbolic place of worship in the Ottoman Empire for 482 years. In 1935, under Atatürk’s orders, it opened its doors as a museum. The columns and marbles in Haghia Sophia were brought in from ancient cities in Anatolia and Syria, such as Aspendos, Ephesos, Baalbek and Tarsus. The white marbles in the structure were brought from Marmara island, pink marble from Afyon, and the yellow marble from North Africa. Most of the walls of the exterior are covered with marble, and others with beautiful mosaics. Gold, silver, terracotta, glass and colored stones were used in the mosaics. In the gardens and outside the Haghia Sophia museum, you can find the mausoleums of the Ottoman Sultans, Sıbyan Mektebi, Şadırvan, Muvakkithane, Sebiller, Minareler, Payandalar, Hazine Building and İmarethane. Within the museum you can view the magnificent dome, mosaics, tiles, mihrab, minbar, Hünkar and Müezzin Mahfilleri, slabs, Sultan I. Mahmud’s library, maksureler, marble stones, dilek sütunu (wishing colomn), Commander Henricus Dandolo’s gravestone, Viking writings, and the doors of the Haghia Sophia. Located in Sultanahmet, the Haghia Sophia is open to visitors every day, and has audio guides in 12 different languages.

Istanbul Archaeology Musueum



The Istanbul Archaeology Museum (Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi) is an incredible place, both architecturally and for its unique collection of thousands of works from numerous civilizations, from the Balkans to Africa, Anatolia to Iran. The Istanbul Archaeology Museums (Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi) are among the city's most important, and they were established by the archaeologist, painter and curator Osman Hamdi Bey. It was the first museum complex to be established in Turkey and consists of three separate buildings - The Archaeological Museum, The Tiled Kiosk and Museum of the Ancient Orient. The oldest of these buildings is the Tiled Kiosk (Çinili Köşk) which houses the Museum of the Ancient Orient, exhibiting fantastic examples of Turkish tiles and ceramics. In 1993, the museum won the European Council Museum Prize, and it’s no surprise, with its majestic architecture, and incredibly peaceful gardens. On top of that, the Archaeology museum boasts 726, 542 collection of valuable items. The Tiled Kiosk was built in 1472 in the Seljuk architectural style and it is attractively decorated with Ottoman-era tiling. The tiles that adorn the exterior are the only example of Ottoman civil architecture. The works in the kiosk extend from the 15th and 16th century İznik tiles, to the 18th and 19th century, when tiles from Kütahya and Çanakkle were more fashionable.

Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum



The last remaining museum from the Ottoman Empire, this is the first Turkish museum to house both Turkish and Islamic Arts. The decision made to establish this museum was due to the looting of important monuments from mosques, masjids, dervish lodges and tombs. The museum, originally in Süleymaniye İmaret building later found its current home in May 1983, when the collection was moved to the former palace of Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, in the Fatih district. In the museum, the precious works of Umayyads, seljuks, Abbasids, Safvids and the Turkish and Islamic communities are on display. In the museum, you'll find a collection of 15,000 hand-written volumes, carpets, ceramics, wood carvings and metalwork in its seven sections - Wood Works, Ceramics and Glass, Metal Art, Ethnography, Stone Art, Carpets, and Calligraphy. The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is an incredible place that documents the rich Islamic heritage of the region.

Great Palace Mosaic Museum



Children chasing geese, an elephant fighting a lion, a mare nursing her foal, a child feeding a donkey, bears eating apples, a man milking a goat - these scenes and many others from daily life in the Byzantine Empire are depicted in the mosaics in the Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi), all of which date from between 450 and 550 A.D. The mosaics are rich in artistry which really accencuates the scenes in which they depict. The mosaic stones have an average size of 5mm and are composed of limestone, terracotta and colored stones. The depictions are in the style of “Opus Vermiculate” and carefully placed between pieces of marble. The depictions of the mosaic are contrasted by the white marble backgrounds which are applied with the “Fish scale” technique. The Great Palace Mosaics Museum is part of the Hagia Sophia Museum, both are located in Sultanahmet and are must-see places in Istanbul.

Galata Mevlevi Lodge



In 1491, Divane Mehmet Dede established the Galata Mevlevi Lodge (Galata Mevlevihanesi), the first Mevlevi lodge in Istanbul. In spite of the natural disasters which have struck the area over the centuries, it still stands today. It's undoubtedly one of the most important pieces from the Ottoman era still standing in the Beyoğlu district underwent significant repairs in 2007 and it wasn't until November the 21st of 2011 that it once again opened its doors to visitors. Now looking more like a contemporary museum, the Mevlevi lodge is spread across three floors. As you walk in, you're greeted by the large area in which the whirling ceremonies take place. This room is beautifully decorated in walnut wood, with incredible calligraphy inscriptions along the walls and ceiling. Be sure to take a look at the Dervish rooms on the second floor too while you're at the lodge. You'll find religious items, Matbah’ı Şerif, traditional dress and holograms of Whirling Dervish displays there, so it's not to be missed. On the top floor, there are further examples of the arts of calligraphy, marbling and engraving. Visit the Galata Mevlevi Lodge at the weekend and you'll get to see the incredible whirling performances which make this sect so unique.

Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam



The Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam is the first museum of its kind in Turkey. Here you'll find models and mock-ups alongside 570 instruments created between the 9th and 16th centuries by Muslim scientists. The Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam, split over two floors, covers an area of 3,500 square meters, you'll also find items used in the fields of astronomy, physics, chemistry, mathematics, geography and optics on display. Among its most interesting pieces are a map of the world drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi, minute scales designed by Abdurrahman el-Hazini and a mechanical clock created by Taqi ad-Din Muhammad ibn Ma'ruf. You'll can also find the İbn-i Sina Botanical Garden in the museum's garden.

Chora Museum



The Chora Museum was a church during the times of the Eastern Roman Empire dedicated to Jesus. For a time later the Grand Vizier Hadım Ali Paşa had it converted into a mosque. The mosaics and frescoes inside the Chora Museum, which were commissioned by the Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites, are regarded as masterpieces, making the museum one of the most important in Istanbul. There are many wonderful pieces in the museum, including frescoes depicting important characters of the day; at the entrance there is a series of mosaics telling the story of Jesus and the Mother Mary. The frescoes painted by the important artists of the period can be found in more recently added chapel. The Chora Museum, in Fatih, continues to remain one of the most visited buildings in Istanbul.

Sakıp Sabancı Museum



A cultural asset on the Istanbul art scene, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, holds regular exhibitons and boasts a unique collection. Since 2002, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum (Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi) has been a private arts museum on the shores of the Bosphorus in one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city, Emirgan. The historical building that houses the museum was commissioned by the family of the khedive of Egypt in 1927, and because of the horse sculpture in front of it, it was known as the Horse Kiosk (Atlı Köşk). After 1966, the building served as the home of Turkish businessman Sakıp Sabancı. In 1998, it was gifted to the Sakıp Sabancı University with Sakıp Sabancı's collection and turned into a museum. The museum's permanent collection houses a manuscript of the Holy Quran, with furniture and pieces from famous Turkish artists such as Osman Hamdi Bey and Fikret Mualla. The museum is also well-known for the quality of its temporary exhibits, recently holding ones devoted to the works of Picasso, Monet, Anish Kapoor, Salvador Dalí and Miró to name a few. We recommended that you take a walk around the museum, as there are breathtaking views, after take a rest in the museum restaurant.

Carpet Museum



The Carpet Museum (Halı Müzesi) is one of the city's most fascinating museums with a grand collection of carpets and rugs. It first opened in 1979 in the Hünkar Kasri building, within the Sultanahmet Mosque complex, with carpets and kilims from all over Anatolia on display. In 2013, the collection moved again to Hagia Sophia’s old kitchen building in SultanAhmet. The museum, which has an unprecedented collection of carpets, consists of three sections: the Beylikler Period, the Central and the Eastern Anatolian and the Ottoman Period. In fact, some of the museum’s most valuable pieces go back to 14th-century Beylik era. There is also a 15th-century carpet with stunning animal motifs. Many of the carpets on display, including Persian, Kafkas and Uşak pieces, were donated by mosques, and it's a great place to get a sense of carpet-weaving and the variety of techniques used between the 14th and 20th centuries.

Istanbul Naval Museum



The Istanbul Naval Museum is considered to be one of the most important museums in the world thanks to its rich collection and display of maritime history ranging from Ottoman times to present day. Located at the heart of the city, the Istanbul Naval Museum is in Beşiktaş's main square, right next to the tomb of Ottoman admiral Barbarossa Hayreddin Paşa. The permanent collection, that has over 20.000 pieces, is displayed both in the museum's two buildings and in its garden. Various items from Ottoman ships, boats are on display, including tools and furniture as well as models and mock-ups of the originals. The walls are full of pictures depicting important events in maritime history as well as parts from Atatürk’s private yacht. Banners, cannons and weapons are displayed on the top floor as well as naval outfits. This massive museum covers an area of 1,500 square meters. In the most spacious hall, the boats of the palace are on display.

Istanbul Toy Museum



The Istanbul Toy Museum (İstanbul Oyuncak Müzesi) opened its doors on National Children's Day in Turkey, April 23rd of 2005, and it features the personal toy collection of the poet Sunay Akın. Since 1990, Akın traveled the world visiting antique dealers to build his collection. For 20 years he collected this historical set of toys and placed them in a mansion in the Göztepe neighborhood. These toys give a sense of life and the world during different eras in the most entertaining way possible, and the museum itself was expertly designed by artist Ayhan Doğan. The museum is one of the first of its kind in Europe as well as Turkey, and now other toy museums have cropped up in other Turkish cities too. The toys exhibited in the museum are a great way to learn about world history as well. Space toys, for example, reflect mankind's struggle to reach the moon. You can learn about the industrial revolution and its important in modern civilization through the various forms of trains on display. There are also Charlie Chaplin toys for those who want to indulge in a little bit of nostalgia. There's everything you can think of, from simple cars to action heroes, soldiers on the battlefield to dolls and dolls’ houses. The oldest toy in the museum is a toy violin, made in France, from 1817. In November of 2012, the Istanbul Toy Museum hosted the TOYCO meeting (European Union of Toy and Children Museums) and made Istanbul the "capital of toy museums".

Rahmi Koç Museum



The Rahmi Koç Museum sheds light on the history of industry with the slogan “Mirror of the Industrial Heritage,” and houses Turkey’s first industrial collection of transport, aviation, scientific instruments, machines, models and toys. The Rahmi M. Koç Museum has one of the richest collections of any museum in either Istanbul or Turkey and is located in the historical Lengerhane building and the Hasköy Dockyard. The rich collection is dedicated to Atatürk, and there's even a section with his outfits and furniture. In the sections dedicated to road travel, seafaring and aviation, you'll find everything from classic cars to horse-pulled trams, from famous ships to jets, and all the most important parts of the history of transportation. In the living history section, you'll find examples of moving figurines from the history of pharmacy, watchmaking and toy making. A part of the collection can be seen in the open area between Hasköy Avenue and the Golden Horn. If you like cars, are interested in airplane and the history of industry, prepare to be dazzled by this great collection.

Pera Museum



The historic Hotel Bristol in Taksim was renovated and turned into the Pera Museum on the 8th of June 2005 and now exhibits some of the world's leading artists. This museum, founded by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, features many different joint art projects with other important museums and foundations, including the State Russian Museum, the Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the School of Visual Arts Foundation in New York. Some of the major names included in the permanent collection are Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Spanish painters Pablo Picasso and Goya, Dutch painters Rembrandt and the Columbian artist Fernando Botero. Add Pera Museum to your list of must-see places. If you’re able to visit the museum on a Friday evening, entrance is free between 18:00 and 22:00.

Miniatürk



At Miniatürk, you can see all the must-see places in Turkey within an hour. Covering an area of 60,000 square meters, Miniatürk opened in Sütlüce on May 2nd, 2003 and is the first miniature park in Turkey. The park displays 135 models of monuments and buildings from Turkey, Europe and the Ottoman Empire. In addition to models of buildings which still stand today, you can see models of buildings that no longer exist, such as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Ajyad Fortress and the Temple of Artemis. The park is also located right on the Golden Horn, where so much of the history of Istanbul has taken place. On this coast alone sit monuments covering almost 3,000 years of history. See the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the stone houses of Mardin, and the Taşköprü Bridge of Adana as well as the Selimiye Mosque of Edirne, the Grand Mosque of Bursa, and Eyüp Sultan Mosque. There are palaces like Topkapı and Beylerbeyi, schools like Galatasaray and Istanbul High School, and many of the fortresses, columns and cisterns which make Turkey such a magical place. Some of the sites outside of Turkey included in Miniatürk are the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Stari Most Bridge of Bosnia. The whole thing has been designed as an open-air museum, and there’s a souvenir shop where you can buy gifts for back home, as well as a Turkey-Istanbul helicopter tour simulation. All in all, it promises to be a great day out, especially for the kids. Note that Audio Guide Mobile Application service is not provided by Miniatürk, instead you can download the Miniatürk app on your phone via Apple store or Google Play. There is information provided on all the works in a total of 9 languages.

Museum of Innocence



The world's first museum based on a novel is the signature of Nobel Prize-winning Orhan Pamuk. Located in Çukurcuma, the museum exhibits the objects in the novel the Museum of Innocence. This unique museum is the first of its kind. Located in Beyoğlu, it is the work of Orhan Pamuk as he brings his "real objects from a fictional tale" to life. The museum houses just about everything from the relationship between the main character Kemal and his love Füsun, but the museum also aims to take visitors on a full journey of discovery. The museum and novel were conceived at the same time, and some of the objects in the museum were used to fuel Orhan Pamuk’s ideas rather than the other way around. The museum had been planned since 1990, opened in 2012, and was named Europe's Museum of the Year in 2014. The museum was also the subject of Grant Gee's documentary "The Innocence of Memories". If you're interested in the intersection of love, history, and literature then the Museum of Innocence should be one of your first stops on your visit to Istanbul.

Grand Post Office



The Grand Post Office (Büyük Postane) is the pride of the Sirkeci district, and it was built between 1905 and 1909 as the Ministry of Post and Telegraph building. The four-story building covers an area of 3,200 square meters, but it isn't just a post office. The interior of the museum and the building's architecture draws visitors looking to do more than just post a letter. Windows of blue and orange, tall ceilings and other 16th-century Ottoman architectural details used by its designer, Vedat Tek, all add to the building's grandeur. So, visit the Grand Post Office, and send a postcard to your loved ones while admiring one of the most impressive buildings in Istanbul.

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