I’ve heard many locals refer to Turkey as ‘The World’s Largest Museum’ and the more I’ve traveled the more I can see that it’s justified. The archeological history of this land is among the deepest and richest in the entire world. Göbeklitepe, for example, is believed to be the oldest temple site in the world dated at 9500 BC. That means that when Stonehenge was being built Göbeklitepe was already over 6000 years old! Turkey has been home to many ancient civilizations and empires, from big names like the Hittites, Greeks, and Ottomans to the more obscure such as the Uratians, kingdom of Sam’al, and the Yamhad.
Combining this rich archeological heritage with a long tradition in the visual arts it’s easy to see how every one of Turkey’s 81 provinces can have at least a few museums.
Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Müze)
This is the most important group of museums. Generally speaking the best museums are tied to this government organization and chances are most of the places that you have thought of visiting are a part of it. The museums will tend to have the best information available either in the form of signs, brochures, or books available at the gift shop.
Another aspect of these museums is their museum pass system. For locals or foreigners with residence permits there are cards available that give access to every museum in the country and are valid for one full year.
There are also options for tourists. The cards are either based on region or have a much shorter validity period. Non-resident options:
Museum Pass Istanbul – 5 day – 85TL
Museum Pass Aegean – 7 day – 75TL
Museum Pass Mediterranean – 7 day – 60TL
Museum Pass Cappadocia – 3 Day – 35TL
Museum Pass Nationwide – 15 day – 185TL
For more information visit any sales point (museum) or for information in Turkish only: http://www.muze.gov.tr/en/muzekart
(Note: the webpage above is supposed to be in English but only seems to have been half translated so far. Hopefully this gets fixed soon.)
These are not necessarily non-government as some will be run by local governments without being tied to the larger Müze system. These will range from personal antique collections on display to a guy charging money to use his flashlights at the entrance of a set of underground ruins. Either way, the most important factor is that entrance is paid by cash (or occasionally free) and the museum passes that you can buy from the ‘Müze’ museums will not work here. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to decide whether or not you need to buy a pass from the ‘Müze’ museums.
One of the most important of these non-müze museum groups is the National Palaces group of museums. While this does not include Topkapı Palace it does include Dolmabahçe Palace and most of the other palaces and galleries along the Bosphorus and Islands in Istanbul. If you’ve decided you need a pass from the Müze group of museums keep in mind that these National Palace museums will not be included when making your calculations.
Art Museums and Galleries
While Turkey’s deep history lends itself to archeological museums there are also a good number of art museums and galleries scattered around the country, sometimes in the most unlikely places. These will range from turn of the century collections of paintings, to Grand Master pottery exhibits, to all sorts of modern art.
There is a third type of museum though they aren’t officially museums. These are the countless sites of ruined cities, ancient tombs, and cliff-side carvings that are so numerous that no one could ever manage to put up the infrastructure to turn them into any sort of official attraction. A great deal of my favorite places are among these unofficial sites. They tend to be quieter, more remote, often un-excavated, and, if I’m honest, the perfect place for the 10-year-old version of me who wanted to be an archeologist (in the vein of Indiana Jones of course). There are some great guidebooks for some of these places that allow you to at least have some understanding of what you’re looking at despite the lack of signs and brochures.
These will also lack the safety and security measures that other museums have in place so be careful when exploring!
The scope of these museums tends to be much narrower than their name might suggest. These ethnography museums tend to be a few rooms with collections of household goods from the turn of the century till the 1950’s with a handful of heirlooms scattered throughout. They’re usually cheap or free and may tell a bit about life in that particular town or village. They’re not amazing but as they don’t take much time or money you may find a visit worthwhile in some cases.
Museums concerning the Life of Ataturk and the Founding of the Republic
These museums are relatively common across the country and commemorate major events from the Turkish War of Independence or the political development of the Republic. There are also a good number of mansions that had been used by Ataturk displaying some of his goods such as typewriters, cutlery he used and other such household goods. If you’re not a Turkish citizen or haven’t gone through the Turkish schooling system you probably won’t find these museums very interesting.