The news that the Zeugma Museum, which opened in 2011, is the largest mosaic museum in the world has been spreading fast and the museum is now more famous than its counterpart — Tunisia’s Bardo Museum.
Before entering this museum, you won’t be able to comprehend its magnificence. It takes you on a unique historical journey, and you will suddenly find yourself in the mystical atmosphere of the ancient city of Zeugma, one of the four major cities of the Kingdom of Commagene. The old town of Zeugma is found in the village of Belkıs, in Gaziantep’s Nizip district on the banks of the Euphrates river. On the day the museum opened, it attracted more than 3,000 people and every year it continues to host thousands of visitors.
The ancient city of Zeugma is known to have been founded by Alexander the Great in 300 BC. The name, “Zeugma”, which the city has kept until now, actually means “bridge” or “passage” during the period of the Roman Empire. The ancient town of Zeugma, the biggest of its time, was exceptionally valuable because of its population and its strategic location. When the city’s population reached 80,000, the residents started to build villas on the hillsides.
Today, as you walk around the museum displaying the remains of this ancient city, you can see the villas of Poseidon and Euphrates. In addition, the old town of Zeugma was one of the Roman cities which have carried out substantial building works and have minted its coins. It is believed that there are still some temples buried under the ground.
The Ancient Zeugma Museum covers an area of 30,000 square metres, and over the years, its excavation, restoration and construction works have made it internationally acclaimed. The museum is comprised of three separate, three-storey buildings with a 7,000-square-meter exhibition hall.
The major draws of the museum include not only the historical pieces that were found during the excavations but also the use of advanced technology and the laser system to recreate missing parts of the mosaics. There are also light shows on the floor, the interactive mosaic panels and three-dimensional film shows, as wells as a virtual reality system which allows visitors to see the fish swimming in the lake. A unique feature of the museum is the glass-fronted workshop section, which can only be found in very few museums.
The museum also houses the world-famous “Gypsy Girl” mosaic, which is presented to visitors with unique lighting effects. The mosaic museum contains many valuable historical pieces such as the mosaics, murals, four fountains from the Roman period, a bronze statue of Mars, and sarcophagi. The villas in the museum are also dazzling. After years of work, the rooms, pools, fountains and other details of the villas are on display to visitors. The frescoes on the walls of the villas depict many different pictures from gods to people and geometric patterns. Great care has been taken to preserve everything in its original state and to display it to visitors.
At the entrance of the museum are stelae depicting Heracles and Helios built by the Commagene King Antiochus. Amongst the museum’s most valuable pieces are the mosaic depicting Dionysos’s wedding scene and the 1.45-metre high statue of Mars which can be seen from every corner in the museum.