Thanks to its significant place in many empires throughout the history, Istanbul has witnessed multiple cultures, communities, conflicts as well as different art forms. One of the most unique and mind-blowing art forms that have become a part of Istanbul’s historical and cultural texture is the mosaic. While this art form can be traced as far back as B.C. 3000s, the most prominent examples of it are seen in the Roman Empire. If you are interested, visit Great Palace Mosaic Museum Istanbul in you can find some of the best and clearest mosaics of the Byzantine era.
History of the Great Palace Mosaic Museum
This museum takes its name from the Great Palace, from which all of the mosaics you see inside were excavated. This palace was built by Constantine the Great in the 4th century. Great Palace, just like its name, was a very large palatial complex with many other parts, such as gardens, fountains, chapels, throne rooms, state buildings and courtyards. It is said to be so large that its entire area contained even the areas we know to be Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome today. But this was short-lived as the infamous Nika riots in 532 destroyed a large portion of the Great Palace complex.
Emperor Justinian, while rebuilding the city damaged from the riots, built a large peristyle courtyard inside the Great Palace complex. The floor of this courtyard was entirely covered with mosaics, but after centuries of earthquakes, fires and other sources of natural decay, this courtyard was damaged and buried. It was only discovered in the excavations during 1935 - 1938 and 1951 - 1954 in the Arasta Bazaar in Sultan Ahmet Square. British scientists from the University of St. Andrews in Edinburg operated the excavations and found many mosaics from the said peristyle courtyard.
What is the Mosaic Art?
By definition, a mosaic is a picture that is made by assembling various materials. Starting from the 3rd millennium B.C., this unique art form has a long history. Many great artists from numerous civilizations such as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome utilized this technique in their work.
Studies show that the mosaics we see in the Great Palace Mosaic Museum were made of three different layers. The bottom layer was statumen that had a 0.30 - 0.50 meters of thickness. On top of this layer, 9 centimeters of mortar was found. The second layer was made of a mixture of compressed slime, charcoal, and soil. This layer was covered with broken tiles. Then, at the top, seating mortar was used and the mosaics were put on this layer.
The mosaics were created from numerous different materials, such as marble, limestone, colored glass, clay and terracotta. The average length of the sides of the cubes used in the mosaics was 5 mm, so if you take the estimated size of the original courtyard, that means 75 to 80 million cubes were used in the making of the original mosaic.
Inside the Great Palace Mosaic Museum
The total surface area of the mosaics inside the Mosaic Museum Istanbul adds up to around 250 m2, but the original mosaic that covered the entire peristyle courtyard in the Byzantine era is thought to be 1872 m². Still, you can still see many great mosaics here that shed light on that period’s culture, art and lifestyle. In these mosaics, we can see dozens of scenes and characters; from the ordinary daily routines of the citizens to legendary heroes fighting mythical creatures.
In one of the mosaics, we can see a bear feeding on an animal that appears to be a gazelle. Another picture shows a warrior holding a large shield and even though most of his torso is missing, we can see that he has a spear in his other hand.
One mosaic shows a little boy sitting down and holding an animal. It is hard to make out what that animal is, but it looks like a dog. Another mosaic portrays a group of citizens milking goats, and above them are horses. Similarly, we can see a child feeding a monkey from a basket in another mosaic.
A more epic mosaic shows the legendary Greek warrior named Bellaphron and a Chimera (a mythical beast with 3 heads) fighting. Most of this image is decayed, but we can still see Bellaphron’s Pegasus and spear. Chimera is mostly visible, with all of its three heads and a snake tail.
Another mosaic shows the fight of an eagle and a snake, which is a scene that is portrayed often in ancient art pieces. This motif symbolizes light’s fight against the dark and is even present in Roman Legions’ emblem.
Great Palace Mosaic Museum Location
Because of its central location in the famous Sultan Ahmet neighborhood near the Blue Mosque, the Great Palace Mosaic Museum is both very easy to reach and find. If you are around Fatih, the easiest way of reaching this museum will be using the Kabatas – Bagcilar tramway line and getting off at the Sultan Ahmet (Blue Mosque) stop. From Taksim, this tramway line is also accessible if you go to Kabatas by using the Taksim - Kabatas funicular line.
To get to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum from the Asian side of Istanbul, you can take the ferries from Kadikoy or Uskudar to Eminonu. There is a tramway stop here of the Kabatas – Bagcilar tramway line too, so you can go to Sultan Ahmet with ease.
Great Palace Mosaic Museum is easy to find after you get off at the Sultan Ahmet (Blue Mosque) stop; just find the Arasta Bazaar in the Sultan Ahmet Square (Hippodrome) and you will see the museum right next to the bazaar.
Visiting Great Palace Mosaic Museum
If you want to visit the museum during the summer period (1 April – 31 October), Great Palace Mosaic Museum opening hours are between 9 AM – 7 PM in this time. For the winter period, (1 November to 31 March), these hours change to 9 AM – 5 PM.
Great Palace Mosaic Museum ticket prices are 24 Turkish Liras for adults. This museum is also included in the state’s Museum Pass that is created for the tourists.
After visiting this amazing museum, you can keep touring the surrounding area, which is absolutely packed with historical attractions to explore. You can go on a Blue Mosque Area Tour, visit Basilica Cistern or start a Istanbul Old City Tour.