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July 31, 2012, Tuesday

Imagine the sights and sounds and smells of yesteryear

In my last piece, “Money saving tips on where to go and what to see” (July 29), I promised to share a little more on some of the museums in İstanbul and a way to save money on museum entrance fees.

Before I share I want to clarify a point about the Museum Pass. I received a note from muzesever who asks: “Can you clarify the deal on the Museum Card? When it was introduced it wasn’t available to either foreign visitors or foreign residents.”

Thank you, muzesever, for your comment and question. There has been a real effort on the part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to encourage Turkish citizens to visit and appreciate the history of their nation, and they have a Müzekart pass that allows Turkish citizens to visit museums and archaeological sites run by the ministry for TL 30 over a period of one year.

There is another option for tourists -- the Museum Pass İstanbul card, which costs TL 72 and is valid for 72 hours, beginning with your first museum visit. It allows you to visit the historical and cultural treasures of İstanbul, the capital city of three empires whose history dates back over thousands of years, free of charge and without having to queue. The card offers many advantages to cardholders. There are also attractive discounts at elite private museums, including both arts and entertainments venues, museum shops and Traditional Hand Crafts Stores Directorate (GES) shops.

As I mentioned, the card holder gets free entrance to the Chora Museum, the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Topkapı Palace Museum and the Harem sections, the İstanbul Archaeology Museum, the İstanbul Mosaic Museum and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. These cards are sold at Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Chora Museum and the İstanbul Archaeology Museum. For other special discount offers you can see the entire list at this link:

The Chora Museum is my favorite of all the church museums. I think what I like the most about the Chora Church is the beautiful mosaics, combined with its viewer friendly size which brings the Byzantine art close above the visitor’s head. If you have time to visit Chora, it is definitely well worth it.

The Hagia Sophia Museum is the most visited of all the church museums. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served mainly as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. For almost 500 years it was the principal mosque of İstanbul until the early 1930s. In the early part of the 1930s, the founder of the Republic of Turkey and the first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, had the building transformed into a museum.

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian, when rebuilding the cathedral in the mid 500s, did not spare any resources and it is believed that he decorated the church with precious marbles symbolizing his imperial power. Over the centuries the grandeur and glory of the Hagia Sophia have been marveled at by millions of visitors. It is said that Justinian even exclaimed, “Solomon, I have surpassed you,” demonstrating his belief that this new church even outshone the Temple of the Old Testament.

Topkapı Palace is one building at the top of everyone’s list to visit. The very name conjures up many magical connotations of oriental mystery and intrigue -- such as sultans, janissaries, harems, revolts, power and empire. Visiting this historical building will provide hours of opportunity to imagine the lives of those who have resided and been in service there.

The İstanbul Archaeology Museum is a large building with plenty of opportunities to view life in bygone eras. You can spend hours in the museum admiring the collection, which includes around 60,000 archaeological finds of various kinds, nearly 500,000 coins and medallions and nearly 75,000 cuneiform inscription tablets. It is claimed to be the greatest collections in the world, according to the website:

The İstanbul Mosaic Museum is especially for those who love mosaics. It only takes about an hour to view the displays. You can see examples of a variety of mosaics in a small but well designed space.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts has an excellent exhibition of a collection of calligraphy, peace treaties and numerous sultans’ official seals (tuğra). Although these are interesting, you may even enjoy the ethnographic section which depicts the lifestyles of nomads and city-dwelling Ottomans even more. For Today’s Zaman readers who are unfamiliar with calligraphy, this museum is a great place to learn about it. Calligraphy is the primary form of art for Islamic visual expression and creativity and is in both Arabic and non-Arabic.

There is no other city like İstanbul! Sprawling in every direction and straddling two continents, it has much to offer. History buffs can see well-known historical sights dating back thousands of years and nightlife lovers will be surprised by the variety of entertainment and fun.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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