The Museum of the Ancient Orient is home to a very special artefact known as Exhibit L.2461. A small clay tablet inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform of a romantic poem thought to play a part in the yearly Sumerian fertility ritual between the Sumerian Ruler and the High Priestess of Inanna. This little artefact is the oldest love poem ever written.
In 1952 it was translated by Samuel Noah Kramer who had found it in a museum drawer. He describes the moment he found it in his book History Begins in Sumer:
‘The little tablet numbered 2461 was lying in one of the drawers, surrounded by a number of other pieces. When I first laid eyes on it, its most attractive feature was its state of preservation. I soon realized that I was reading a poem, divided into a number of stanzas, which celebrated beauty and love, a joyous bride and a king named Shu-Sin … As I read it again and yet again, there was no mistaking its content. What I held in my hand was one of the oldest love songs written down by the hand of man.’
Entering the Mesopotamian Hall in the Museum of the Ancient Orient is to me like entering Room 56 of the British Museum. I get excited and I am in awe of all the Mesopotamian artefacts including the panels that once decorated the processional way leading up to the Ishtar Gate.
The Museum of the Ancient Orient is one of three buildings that make up the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. The other two being the Tiled Pavillion and the Archaeological Museum. They are all located next to each other.
The Tiled Pavilion is very impressive. It has fourteen marble columns and an alcove entrance decorated with dark blue and turquoise mosaic. Along the arch, there is an inscription in stylized calligraphy. Inside are displays of Seljuk, Anatolian and Ottoman tiles as well as a peacock fountain dating back to the 16th century.
The Archaeological Museum houses an extensive collection of classic statuary, sarcophagi and other exhibits. What interested me most were the fragments of the frieze of the Lagina Hecate Temple and the Roman floor mosaics.
The museum has a lovely cafe in the garden between the Ancient Orient Musem and the Tiled Pavillion. The cafe is surrounded by columns, statues and other artefacts and it’s a peaceful place to sit and take in the view while drinking coffee or tea.
The Istanbul Archaeological Museum is located just down from Topkapi Palace. It was founded by Royal Decree as the Imperial Museum in 1891 as a way to protect cultural goods in the Ottoman Empire.