Simplesimon is so right! The tourism industry in Turkey continues to grow. There are many history lovers who hope to visit one day. Here is just one letter from one of them.
Dear Charlotte: I will be coming to İstanbul to see the historic sites as I am a fan of history, and there are some awesome museums here. The Hagia Sophia is about 1,500 years old. Wow. I can't wait to see it!! But I am afraid that the entrance fees might be expensive: I am on a tight budget. I have also read that there can be long queues. What do you recommend? Any tips appreciated.
Dear History lover: You don't need to pick and chose between sites if you are on a tight budget: Just buy a Museum Pass, which is TL 72 (about $40), and this gives you entrance into a whole range of fantastic historical sites for 72 hours -- so you can have a full three days of sightseeing. The basic entrance fees for the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace come to TL 50. And you can't do Topkapı Palace without seeing the best bit, the old harem section, which adds another TL 15, making the total just for these museums TL 65. So you can see that if you are really going to do the sights of İstanbul, this card is a great deal. It doesn't cover every museum, but the main government-owned ones are free, and there are discounts on some key private museums. You get free entrance to Chora Museum, Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapı Palace Museum and the Harem Apartments, İstanbul Archaeological Museums, İstanbul Mosaic Museum and the Museum of Turkish and İslamic Arts.
Sounds like you are interested in Byzantine history. Before your trip, read up! I recommend you read “The Fourth Crusade 1202-04: The betrayal of Byzantium” by David Nicolle, published by Osprey (2011). You'll also enjoy the review of the book by Marion James in a Sunday's Zaman piece, “When crusading ideals become betrayal” (Nov. 13, 2011). James writes that visitors to the Aya Sofya Museum, looking at the remnants of amazingly exquisite Byzantine murals, may erroneously jump to the conclusion that the icons and decorations were damaged by the conquering Ottomans, when the greatest church in all Christendom was turned into a mosque. She explains that this is not so and adds that although many churches across Anatolia have damage to the faces of frescoes and mosaics because the depiction of the human form was deemed unacceptable, experiences in other Byzantine churches such as the Kariye Museum (Chora Church) show the Turks preferred to plaster over the Byzantine glory rather than destroy it as invaders did. Also in James's book review she notes this important point: “The recent renovations in the Aya Sofya revealing the archangels near the dome give more clues to its former glory. … The marauding invaders who stripped the Haghia Sophia Church of its gold and its jewels and its glorious icons were not the Ottoman Turks in 1453, but Latin crusaders some two-and-a-half centuries earlier."
You also get discounts such as 10 percent off purchases in the İstanbul Archaeological Museums shop. Private museums giving discounts for card holders include 20 percent at the Rahmi Koç Museum -- a science and transport museum on the Golden Horn, great if you have young boys with you; 30 percent at the Sabancı Museum -- a mansion with the most amazing art collection -- 20 percent off at the Turkazoo Aquarium; and 20 percent off the observation deck at Sapphire -- the tallest building in Europe outside of Moscow, which gives amazing views over İstanbul and the Bosporus but is not for those who are scared of heights.
In my next piece I will share a little more on some of the museums mentioned above and a few more money saving tips.
"If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on İstanbul." --Alphonse de Lamartine