When archeology became a science in the 19th century, most of the Middle East was ruled by the Ottomansultan, who got all the best stuff. These were his private collections, so they're pretty amazing.
There are actually three museums here: the Archeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Near East, and the Tiled Kiosk (Çinili Köşk) (map).
The oldest stuff, in the Museum of the Ancient Near East, (Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi) includes one-of-a-kind treasures like the tiled reliefs of lions and kings from the fabled gates of Ninevah, and the oldest written peace treaty ever discovered (cuneiform tablets which preserved the words of the Hittite and Egyptian kings). (The Egyptian hieroglyphic version of the treaty was carved into stone at the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak, Luxor, Egypt.)
Look also for artifacts found in the Yenikapıexcavations which uncovered the Harbor of Theodosius and exposed the remains of 34 wrecked ships from the 7th to 11th centuries, and even Stone Age burials up to 8500 years old.
The Tiled Pavilion (Çinili Köşk) is among the oldest Turkish secular buildings in Istanbul, an elegant residence built by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. It's been beautifully restored and is now an outstanding Museum of Turkish Faïence. More...
Depending on your interest in very old art, fine statuary and tiles, you could spend between one and four hoursin the museum complex. There is a lot to see, and you may wish to come back for a few more hours some other day.
The easiest way to reach the museums is to go to the first court of Topkapı Palace (the tree-filled area open to the public without charge), turn left about midway into the court, walk down the cobbled street and look for the museum complex on your right. Or take the T1 Bağcılar-Kabataş tram to the Gülhane stop and walk up Alemdar Caddesi, bearing left and into Gülhane Parkı, then up the stone road on the right.
The entire museum complex is open daily except Monday from 9:00 am to 17:30/5:30pm during the summer season which is from April 1 to October 1. During the winter season, which is October 1 through April 1, 10:00am to 16:00/4 pm. Admission costs TL50. The museum complex is included in the Istanbul Museum Pass. More...
Photograph (without flash) as you like.
In warm weather, a shady cafe is open amidst a forests of old columns, stones and statues in the courtyard.
—by Tom Brosnahan