There's nowhere else in the city that can conjure up the drama of one of the momentous events in world history, the two-month siege and eventual capture of Byzantine Christian Constantinople by the Ottoman Muslim Turks on May 29, 1453. Descend into the dim bowels of the museum, usually accompanied by throngs of excited Istanbulites eager to relive this iconic moment in their history, before a short ascent to emerge, blinking in the bright light, to a viewing platform beneath a cleverly-lit dome painted with an amazingly life-like depiction of the last day of the siege. You can see the whole length of the monumental land walls of Theodosius, which had successfully protected the peninsula on which the city stood for over a thousand years, stretching from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn.

In front of the walls beautifully painted be-turbaned Ottoman troops fire cannons, bang marching drums, and man siege engines in their efforts to pierce the defenses. Atop the battered walls, beleaguered Byzantine defenders pour boiling oil and hurl balls of flaming Greek fire at their foe—to no avail. There are over 10,000 beautifully painted figures in all, plus a diorama encircling the bottom of the dome, complete with authentic looking cannon and the like. The sounds effects are pretty startling, too. There are a few gripes. The optional audio guide is next to useless and the display board information is in Turkish only, but it’s still a wonderful experience and ideal for kids. Other pluses? One is that the museum is located just outside the land walls, which survive surprisingly intact to this day. You can easily explore part of their 6.5-km length after your visit. The second is the fact that few other foreigners make it out here despite it being so reach from the Old City on the T1 tram—just get off at the Topkapi stop and it’s right there.

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