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January 3, 2014

Postcard from Turkey: Archaeological museums in Ankara and Istanbul

by Aaron Haines

Ankara, the capital of Turkey, is slated to host a massive archaeology museum that the Turkish government hopes to complete by 2023, the centennial of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. The current archaeology museum is a sizeable building and when I visited in August, only two of the galleries were open due to extensive renovations that were taking place in the museum’s other galleries. The interior of the main gallery was dark with dramatic lighting illuminating the artifacts on display. There was a large amount of Hittite artifacts with detailed text panels in Turkish and English explaining the history and significance of the Hittite civilization and their archaeological remains.

The crowning piece of the main gallery was the “Troy Gold”, a collection of jewelry recently sent to Turkey on indefinite loan by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The museum in Ankara had hung a large banner at the entrance proudly advertising the return of the artifacts. The collection of jewelry was on display at the back of the gallery where a matching banner had been hung. The jewelry was well displayed and the necklace and earrings had been placed on a stylized head to give the viewer an idea of how they would have looked when worn. The only other part of the museum that was open was a small gallery displaying various Roman artifacts. The side yard was littered with massive half buried amphoras as well as various capitals and partial columns. In the spacious courtyard were copies of various statues from the Hittites, Romans, and other civilizations.

The Istanbul Archaeological Museum is an older building that was also undergoing extensive renovations when I visited it in August. The permanent collection in the main building was open as well as the galleries containing the Greek and Roman sarcophagi. It was clear that the main building was intended as a space for a permanent collection as many of the artifacts were built into the wall or had special pavement around them. The amount of cameras seemed adequate, but there were very few guards in relation to the amount of patrons in the museum. However, the museum was experiencing an unusually high amount of attendance that day since the Topkapi Palace was closed. The display cases appeared to only have simple locks and no seals. The lighting was sufficient, but only a few of the display cases had individual lights.

Due to the renovations, patrons had to use the restrooms in the administration building. This required them to walk down a narrow hallway and turn a couple of corners before reaching the restroom. This would have be insignificant had it not been for the archaeological artifacts haphazardly lining the walls and the open storage room stacked with crates containing other artifacts. There were no cameras in this area of the building, but the security guards’ break room was in the same hallway. The guards frequently came in and out of the hall providing the artifacts with a reasonable amount of security.

The gallery containing the Greek and Roman sarcophagi and architectural remains were similar to the gallery in the Ankara museum with its completely dark rooms and the dramatic lighting of the artifacts. All the artifacts were well displayed and there were many more guards in this area of the museum, especially in those rooms containing the large sarcophagi. The small gallery containing the Classical statuary was particularly well displayed with lots of camera surveillance. At the end of this small gallery was a large room occupied by only the Orpheus Mosaic returned by the Dallas Museum of Art. Next to it, the text panels describe the history and significance of the piece as well as its recent repatriation from the Dallas Museum of Art.

Aaron Haines is a senior majoring in art history at Brigham Young University and traveled to Turkey this summer using grant moneys from the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities to observe the security of four archaeology museums. He visited the archaeology museums in Uşak, Boğazkale, Ankara, and Istanbul each of which houses artifacts that have been recently repatriated by Turkey from other countries. Aaron has a special interest in cultural property law and preservation as it applies to Italy and Turkey and speaks Italian and some Turkish. He recently returned from an internship at the American Embassy in Rome and is currently interning with the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.


I would have been interested to hear about the Uşak and Boğazköy museums too....?