Istanbul Archaeological Museums: The Museum of the Ancient Orient

I’m not going to yammer on and on in this post, because I really want to show you the absolutely incredible art that I saw last month at Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.  A short introduction, then we’ll get on with it.

The Istanbul Archaeological Museums is made up of three museums: the Archaeological Museum, built in the late 19th century, houses the Alexander Sarcophagus and other sarcophagi found at the same site (more on that in a future post), an additional amazing sarcophagus collection, and items from many Turkish archaeological excavations including Troy (I could have spent all day in just that building); the Museum of the Ancient Orient, originally built as a school in the late 19th century, then transformed into a museum; and the Tiled Kiosk, built in 1472, originally part of the Topkapi Palace, and now a museum for Islamic ceramics and tiles.  Of course the grounds also contain a small cafe where I had my beloved tea, sitting next to a garden of columns, a large Medusa head, and other ancient statuary.

Head of Medusa, Istanbul Archaeological Museum courtyard, Istanbul

Before tea, I couldn’t resist going into the Museum of the Ancient Orient to see the animals from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. (The Oriental Institute in Chicago has a couple of these on display, too.)  I had no idea how many other treasures I’d find there. I was seriously wowed by the Ishtar Gate animals, as I stood there sweating (the museum was very warm) and snapping photos. I suspect serious reconstruction work has been done on the dragon, but it’s so beautiful that I barely thought about it:

Dragon, Ishtar Gate, from Babylon, late 6th century BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

Auroch, Ishtar Gate, from Babylon, late 6th cent BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

Lion, Ishtar Gate, from Babylon, late 6th cent BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

I can’t help it — my imagination runs wild, as I imagine walking down the Processional Way and entering Babylon through the Ishtar Gate.  Just for fun, here’s the Ishtar Gate (now in Berlin, a reconstruction built of excavated material):

Ishtar Gate from Babylon, 575 BC, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

See what I mean?

A couple more pieces before getting to my favorite find.  Because I’ve talked about the Standard of Ur, I’ll show you the next image (don’t these people look incredibly similar to those on the Standard of Ur?), even though I have very little information about it:

From Girsu (Telloh) in ancient Sumer, c 2500BC?, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

Here’s another one that I simply like (more info about it here):

Chlorite Vessel with Snake and Eagle, from Mesopotamia, Nippur, c2400BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

And finally (I’m in love with this one, my favorite find), from Assur (in modern day Iraq), bronze plates from a door:

Bronze plaque from Assur (modern day Iraq), c. 840 BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

And a detail, with my favorite stacked horses:

Bronze plaques from Assur (modern-day Iraq), 840 BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

And one more:

Bronze plaque from Assur (modern day Iraq), c. 840 BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

I’m surprised at how little information I can find about these objects.  These plaques are very similar to those from the Gates of Balawat in the British Museum, but I haven’t been able to find a connection.  Not on the internet, anyway. (The two sites (Balawat and Assur) are only 120km apart, which while interesting, doesn’t really tell me anything.)  And as much as I’d like a trip to the university library, it’s not likely to fit into my day anytime soon.  I’m always surprised when I can’t find something on the internet.  I’m running into that issue more and more as I’m searching for information about what I saw in Turkey.  I don’t know what to attribute this to, but it’s not a bad lesson for me to learn.  Sometimes it’s ok to just share the images without a lot of information.  And sometimes you just won’t be able to find out anything.  It can be frustrating, even infuriating, but in a way I’m glad that we don’t know everything about everything, and that we don’t necessarily have easy access to all that we do know.   Sometimes a little digging is good.  On that note, maybe a trip to the university library will fit into my day sometime soon after all.

I’m restraining myself.  I’ll let you savor these, then follow up with part two.  More to come!

5 thoughts on “Istanbul Archaeological Museums: The Museum of the Ancient Orient

  1. Karen – Do the animals/dragons on the Ishtar Gate have mythologic/religious meanings? I’m just curious about their purpose there beyond their essential loveliness.

    • Hi Trudy! I remember learning that they were supposed to be intimidating. As you walked down the Processional Way toward the Ishtar Gate, the walls would have been lined with the lions, which I can imagine could be quite intimidating. They’re not exactly friendly looking. I’m glad you asked, because I started thinking that there must be more to it. Turns out that lions are symbols of, or at least important to, Ishtar, who was the goddess of love and war. (I was thinking Athena, but Ishtar’s not quite equivalent.) The aurochs, which are bulls, but bigger and more fierce than we have now, were a symbol of the storm god, Adad (apparently they were big enough to make the ground rumble when they ran), and the dragons were a symbol of the god, Marduk. Aurochs and dragons were on the gate, but not on the Processional Way, in my understanding. Marduk was the most important god at Babylon.

      King Nebuchadnezzar (of Biblical fame), who was responsible for the building of the Ishtar Gate, said that the animals were meant to wow people, to impress them and inspire wonder. We have an inscription in his words (or at least the inscription says that it’s his words. I, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, more amazing things about me, etc, say this. I’m paraphrasing, of course) that tells us that this was his intention, so we can take him at his word or not. Makes sense to me, though!

      If you want more, the website Bible Babel (http://www.biblebabel.net/) is fascinating — easy to read, lots of detail. Read the homepage and you’ll be immediately hooked!

  2. Lovely as always. The cafe overlooking the scattered sculptures in the garden is my favorite place as well… I even wrote about it. I am so glad you posted these photos since what most people concentrate on are the Roman sculptures and sarcophagus.

  3. Pingback: Istanbul Archaeological Museums: The Museum of the Ancient Orient | I’ve got some art stuck in my eye | turkischland

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