This week is being celebrated as Museum Week and many national museums are offering free entrance until Tuesday, May 24. The gesture is to honor May 18 International Museum Day, but in Turkey, there is a weeklong celebration to mark the event
International Museum Day, or week in Turkey, was first established in 1977 by the International Council of Museums with the aim of promoting historical and cultural understanding for community building and cultural exchange. Every year, the event is held with a different theme and this year’s slogan is “The Power of Museums” in reference to the power of knowledge and insight offered through museums on humanity’s background and transformation of society as a whole. Since 1982 in Turkey, the day has been celebrated over the course of a week, in which the museums operated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism offer free entry every year from May 18-24.
There are 354 museums throughout Turkey listed under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism website’s registry, and while not all of the museums in Turkey will be offering free entry, including some noted below; in honor of this yearly tradition in Turkey to promote a greater understanding of humanity and the country’s heritage, I have taken it upon myself to list my top favorite museums in Istanbul.
Top Pick: The Istanbul Archaeological Museums consists of three complexes – The Archaeological Museum, The Museum of Ancient Oriental Works and The Tiled Kiosk Museum – and each is magnificent in its own right. Turkey’s first museum opened in 1891 as the Imperial Museum under the curatorship of Turkey’s beloved Ottoman painter and archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey. Located in Gülhane on a street named after the museum’s famous founder, the gardens also offer a wonderful respite for reflection.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, which is located in the heart of old Constantinople and present-day Sultanahmet, offers a spectacular and colorful display of Turkey’s artistic history.
Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam is another impressive museum and is housed in the former Imperial Stables Building in the Gülhane Park. While this modern museum opened in 2008, it exhibits replicas of scientific instruments used by Muslim scholars dating back to the 9th century.
The Great Palace Mosaic Museum is a small but special treat, located in the Arasta Bazaar in the Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque), Complex. The restoration was completed in 1997 and it was originally established decades earlier to preserve a mosaic floor. It houses mosaic works dating back to the 5th century that contain images depicting the daily life, nature and mythology of that time.
The Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum is actually Istanbul’s first mevlevihane and it was established in Beyoğlu’s Galata district in 1491 by Iskender Pasha. A mevlevihane is the lodge of the mevlevi order, best known for signature whirling dervish dance ceremonies. Visitors can still witness live performances taking place there to this day. The museum also houses historical musical instruments, artifacts and artwork from the mevlevi order, also known as Sufi and founded by the 13th century theologian and poet Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi.
In Turkey for citizens and foreigners with resident permits, the majority of museums operated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism are actually always free for those under the age of 18 or over the age of 65. For nationals and residents, there is also the magnificent MüzeKart option, which offers yearlong free entry to most of the museums in the country and at the affordable price of just TL 60. This successful initiative aims to inspire citizens to visit museums and for the country’s young population to learn more about their heritage.
For visiting foreigners, the cost to enter museums is understandably costlier. There is a similar pass on offer called the Museum Pass, which allows single-entry to all of the museums on its list for the duration of 15 days starting from the first entry to a museum. The cost for this pass is TL 800. There is also an Istanbul Museum Pass, which allows entry to 13 museums for the duration of five days and costs TL 550. There are similar passes on offer for Cappadocia, which include 10 museums for three days and cost TL 320.
The Mediterranean Museum Pass offers entry to 40 different ancient sites and museums in Antalya, Mersin and Adana for seven days and costs TL 500, while the Aegean Museum Pass similarly offers entry for seven days to 40 sites and museums in Izmir, Aydın, Muğla and Denizli too for TL 500.
There are multiple ways to purchase a Museum Pass, including at the museums’ entrance as well as online at www.muze.gov.tr and through the Museums of Turkey online app. Check out the website to see the comprehensive map of the museums that offer free pass access. The benefit of having a museum pass is that it costs a lot less if you will be visiting a number of museums and you don’t have to wait in long queues.