Museum break: cool museums to beat the summer heat

In Istanbul, summers are hot and tourists are plentiful, but there are few places you can go for a break from the crowds and the temperatures while enjoying some of the best sights the city has to offer. Take one of the many boats traveling up the Bosphorus to the village of Beylerbeyi on the Asian shore and experience the same natural breezes and imperial majesty as the sultans did from their summer palace. On the European side, the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle is the world-class Istanbul Archaeological Museum, located in the heart of Sultanahmet. Istanbul Archaeological Museums Osman Hamdi Bey was a man on a mission. On June 13, 1891, his vision became reality when the purpose-built Istanbul Archaeological Museum was opened. One hundred and twenty years later, June 13 is still celebrated as Museum Day in Turkey, and Osman Hamdi Bey’s name is still synonymous with Turkish museology and historical preservation. In the late 19th century, the Ottoman government, frustrated with Western powers taking Anatolian artifacts out of the empire, established the Imperial Museum Collection. After this, local treasures began to be sent to Istanbul from all the Ottoman provinces, but they mostly collected dust, being neither well-organized nor well-exhibited. In 1881, Osman Hamdi Bey was appointed director of the museum. His appointment was undoubtedly the most significant occurrence in the history of Turkish museums. He was already a famous painter, archaeologist, and intellectual – his most famous painting, “The Tortoise Tamer”, was sold in 2004 for $3.5 million, the largest sum ever paid for a Turkish work of art, and is on permanent display at the Pera Museum. When he became director, there were only 650 pieces in the museum’s collection, which he quickly began restoring and cataloguing. One of his first acts after becoming director was to fight for an Antiquities Conservation Act that could legally combat the rampant smuggling of cultural treasures to Western countries. This act was passed in 1883, and is one of the reasons that the Istanbul Archaeological Museums now have a collection of over 1 million objects. Osman Hamdi Bey’s fight to stop smuggling is so legendary that he appears as a character in the novel The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White, which concerns a turn-of-the-century Istanbul detective tracking an antiquities smuggling ring. Osman Hamdi Bey also spent much time traveling around the Ottoman Empire collecting new artifacts. When he heard that a farmer in Sidon (in present-day Lebanon) had unearthed something interesting while ploughing his fields, he went there to conduct the excavations himself. What he found was an underground necropolis of Phrygian kings that included what is undeniably the most famous piece in the museum today: the Alexander Sarcophagus, named after its bas-relief carvings depicting the life and adventures of Alexander the Great and once thought to have been made for Alexander himself. Osman Hamdi Bey was so concerned with the safety of these antiquities during their transportation to Istanbul that at one point he tied himself to the sarcophagus as it was being winched aboard a cargo ship.

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