We rode the tram westward from the Old Town along the Gulf of Antalya and twenty minutes later stepped off at the end of the line, in a little park with a lovely view, right across the street from the museum, of a long beach that extended much further. What a marvelous place that was! We spent the next three and a half hours in that museum, judging by the time signatures on the hundred of photos we shot there, taking our time and doing our best to give it its due, and I think preferred this Antalya Museum even to the great Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.
At the entrance was an immense, one-legged marble statue of an emperor in beautifully carved armor, a headless unidexter surrounded by flowers, above whose figure in gold letters was a quotation of Mustapha Kemal Atatürk to the effect that one way to possess a fatherland was to know the historical events that took place within its lands and to have become acquainted with the civilizations that were born there, and this knowledge the museum was well designed to foster. Modern, clean, beautifully presented, in room after room—thirteen exhibition halls in all displaying 5,000 works of art—were gathered many of the greatest treasures of the ancient world. We moved from wall maps and dioramas of different periods in the history of Asia Minor to glass cases filled with early pottery and earthenware urns, to bronze age burial mounds, wonderful examples of classic Greek vases and urns, prehistoric earthen figurines, classic colored glassware, silver bowls and buckles, and a host of other artifacts that had been excavated from all parts of the former empire.
Then came a room that truly blew us away. At the front stood a magnificent, nearly complete, larger than life-size statue of a dancing woman, carved using two different kinds of colored marble and exquisitely modeled, the missing fragments making it somehow appear all the more fragile and amazing. Behind her, other statues had been set in the middle of the room and in alcoves on the three surrounding walls, statues of gods and goddesses and emperors, each either totally or largely complete, beautifully lit and displayed, amazingly carved, nearly all of them found at nearby Perge during excavations that still continue, and created in the second century A.D. with immaculate attention to anatomical detail. In many cases these were Roman copies of older Greek originals that had gone missing. Here stood the timeless images of Apollo, Artemis, Nemesis, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hera, Hermes, and Athena, and the Roman emperors Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and Septimius Severus (193-211), all but Hadrian clad in exquisite armor, he depicted instead as he might have emerged from his bath, nude, smoothly scented and with a cloak tossed over one shoulder—had he bathed with a laurel wreath on his head. Each statue was carefully described in both Turkish and English.
The next room was the Perge Theater Room and even larger, walled and floored in blocks of lovely green marble, where the statues of emperors and gods found in the niches of the great theater during excavations begun in 1946 were displayed, along with great sections of the theater’s ‘skene’ friezes and a video display of what archaeologists believe it once looked like and where the statues were situated. Perge was the capital of the former province of Pamphylia, only a few kilometers from Anatalya and now a World Heritage Site, but from the looks of this room, all but the shell of the theater itself was here. We didn’t go to Perge, but looking back we probably should have.
A smaller room contained just the heads of ancient gods and notables, each on a wooden pedestal tall enough to place them at eye level as one walked past, and then came a suite of halls containing dozens of large, intricately carved sarcophagi, some with roof-like lids while others had lids bearing statues of the deceased. Our favorites here were the great marble Herakles Sarcophagus, each long side divided into five panels by six carved pillars with Corinthian capitals in which the labors of the Herakles legend had been depicted in high relief, and the stunning Dionysus Sarcophagus which depicts in one complex and intricate high relief carving Lycourges’ slaying of his wife and son after Dionysus drove him mad.
There was much more than this on display. We saw what we could—rugs, ancient coins, an intricate wooden ceiling, a display of tent life in Anatolia, a traditional loom—but in the end we grew tired and hungry after so many hours and went out to the garden to have a snack and a bottle of cold water to quench our thirst. The garden was lovely too, filled with broken columns, statues and pediments, Ottoman cannons with a heap of large cannon balls, pomegranate trees—even a peahen preening herself in the bushes.
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