Making the most of Antalya’s Archaeological Museum
[Living in Antalya]
Now, thanks to a change in the regulations, as a residence permit holding foreigner, I have been able to buy a Müzekart. This credit-card-like piece of bendy plastic now gives me unlimited entry to Antalya’s Archaeology Museum, generally regarded as one of the best in the country. My new flexible friend also, of course, allows me “free” entry to the multitude of state-owned museums and ancient sites scattered liberally around the country.
The value for money museum card
Although museum cards have been available since 2009 for Turkish citizens, it has been a bone of contention among the foreigners living here, many of whom are working and paying taxes, that it was not possible for us to take advantage of this great deal. Entry to Antalya’s Archaeology Museum is TL 15, the entry to nearby sites such as Olympos, Aspendos, Perge and Termessos vary between TL 5 and TL 15. İstanbul’s premier attractions are TL 25. This soon mounts up if you are a frequent visitor to any of these. There are two types of card: one costing TL 30 and the other TL 50. The latter has several advantages spelled out on the website, and I chose the more expensive option because it offers unlimited access to all the sites and museums, whereas the cheaper version only allows one visit per year per museum or site. Although we frequently travel around the country and make day trips to local sites such as Termessos and Phaselis, the thought of being able to make as many trips as I wanted to Antalya’s superb Archaeology Museum was the deciding factor in opting for the TL 50 card.
Although Antalya is not short of other attractions — it boasts two water parks (although one recently burnt down!), its own version of İstanbul’s Miniatürk called “Minicity,” a recently built tunnel aquarium, beaches, a beautiful harbor ringed by the picturesque old quarter of Kaleiçi, a toy museum, the Suna İnan Kıraç Museum, a couple of pretty waterfalls and a superfluity of state-of-the-art shopping centers — the Archaeology Museum is the star in the city’s firmament. Not only are many of the artifacts on display, beautiful works of art in their own right, they also help the visitor understand the history of the city and its surroundings.
From my house in the city center, it makes a pleasant, cheap and stress-free outing. I can hop on the quaintly named “nostalgic tram,” which runs twice an hour and is as regular as clockwork, admire the stunning views across the bay on route and disembark immediately opposite the museum entrance. The museum is large and spacious and on occasions I have been virtually the only visitor wandering around the halls. At other times, I have managed to coincide with the arrival of several busloads of German or Russian groups being bussed in from their all-inclusive hotels for a taste of culture. Fortunately, these tend to whizz through the galleries and linger mostly in the shop and outdoor café.
It was Süleyman Fikri Erten, a teacher, who in the postwar period of 1919 set about rescuing the many artifacts that were in the process of being looted by occupying forces. These were originally housed in the Alaaddin Mosque in the Kaleiçi and later moved to the Yivli Minare (Fluted Minaret) Mosque. In 1972 the current purpose-built building was established as Antalya’s museum. The museum contains over 15,000 art works and artifacts spread over 13 exhibition halls and a garden. It is now one of Turkey’s largest museums and in 1988 won the European Council Special Prize.
The exhibitions start with a children’s gallery. In my experience, Turkish museums are far from child-friendly and I have never come across any other special section for children, bar that in İstanbul’s Archaeology Museum. My own children are now well into their 20s, but when they were young I tried very hard to instill in them an interest in history and culture by dragging them around museums. The museums or historical sites that provided child friendly information, treasure hunts, interactive exhibits clearly scored highly in any parents’ eyes. Turkish museums have yet to realize the importance of grabbing the attention of the younger generation. So I am pleased that Antalya has at least made a nod in the right direction. It contains 3D models from prehistory to this century and includes Antalya’s famous landmark, the clock tower. However, the models, in my opinion, are overshadowed by some rather grotesque cartoon characters perched above them and there is a distinct lack of any interactive material to maintain their concentration.
Many Turkish museums are guilty of not providing enough background information to the displays in Turkish and frequently nothing at all in any other language. This is not the case with the Antalya Archaeology Museum. Not only does it boast numerous panels throughout the halls with very detailed descriptions of the exhibits, but these are almost all translated into English. There is also background information to the area, short biographies of the main archaeologists involved in the excavations and additional descriptions of such things as pottery and the development of the tools used for sculpture. It could almost be guilty of too much information — hence the need for several visits in order to do this museum justice. Now that I no longer have to pay the TL 15 entry fee, I occasionally indulge myself and invest in an audio guide for TL 10, which talks me through the key features of each of the halls and saves the effort of finding my reading glasses to peer at the notice boards.
The galleries begin with a collection of natural and prehistory artifacts and moves through the ages, touching on the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Classical period, Hellenistic, Roman and the Byzantine era. Next come the regional halls, with many small items from local sites, such as Karain cave, Patara, Myra, Xanthos, St. Nicholas’ church at Demre and Elmalı. These are followed by the centerpiece of the museum — the absolutely magnificent Roman-era statues, the majority of which were found at the site of Perge, just a few kilometers east of Antalya. Truly monumental in size and appearance, they dominate the rooms with their stature alone. But with closer inspection, the detail brings them alive; Hadrian, a frequent visitor to Antalya, is depicted with the characteristic curly hair and beard; the room containing only heads even shows lines and wrinkles on eyelids; figures are dressed in a variety of garments, including lion skins, shawls and long flowing robes.
The mosaics, although they might pale into insignificance when compared with those in Gaziantep’s mosaic museum, are nevertheless worth a look. The numerous sarcophagi show scenes from Greek mythology and provide fine examples of typical motifs — acanthus leaves, vines, shields, Medusa heads, theatrical masks, to name but a few. One exception to the rule is a sarcophagus in which a dog called Stephanos was buried. Found at mountain-top Termessos, it is movingly simple and unadorned.
Upstairs in the museum there is a large collection of coins from the Archaic period through to Ottoman times and a display of religious icons from Demre. The remaining rooms downstairs are dedicated to displays of calligraphy, regional dress, yörük culture, glass and porcelain, carpets from Doşemealtı, local musical instruments and some fine examples of the interior of Ottoman Antalya houses with beautifully carved wooden ceilings.
The garden of the museum boasts a view out to the sea at Konyaaltı and also contains many more statues and sarcophagi, not to mention a few chickens and peacocks strutting around. The shop and café provide a satisfactory end to this fine museum.
Resource: Today’s Zaman