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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Topkapi Palace Paradise

Topkapi Palace: Harem Gorgeous Tiles
Topkapi Palace: Harem Gorgeous Tiles

Topkapi Palace Paradise

Our first day focuses on the seat of Ottoman power and paradise, the Topkapi Palace - if we can ever leave the delights of our present-day palace!  The Topkapi Palace is the first place you should visit in Istanbul.  The highlights are the Harem, Divan, Bagdad Pavilion and the Treasury filled with jewels and spectacular arts. 

Note: hover mouse over photo for caption.  Click any photo to start slideshow with larger images.


Sirkeci Mansion Modern Delights

Sirkeci Mansion: Breakfast Buffet
Sirkeci Mansion: Breakfast Buffet
Day 2: We had a slow start this AM and took our time munching through a very big breakfast with a large selection of food, both hot and cold dishes. They had a hot cheese and veggie dish that was salty. The breads were very fresh and must come from a bakery. The small roll with sesame seeds on top is the best bread so far. The coffee was very strong but smooth.
It was cloudy and cool so we'll do the outdoor sightseeing and Bosphorus boat trips on our second visit to Istanbul at the end of this trip.  The hotel sold us a TRY 85 museum card, which is good for only three consecutive days.  It was a short 10 minute walk to Sirkeci Station to get the transit card.  Our hotel was right off the tramway, which is a great service.  Each trip is very low cost (and lower with the transit card) but there are no transfers.
Topkapi Palace: Official Sahlep Seller to the Sultan
Official Sahlep Seller to the Sultan
We left at c 1100h and took the busy tram to the Sultanahmet stop then walked to Topkapi Palace.  Be sure to try the sahlep drink outside the Topkapi entrance.  This aromatic drink – made from wild orchid root, milk, honey, cinnamon and vanilla – is only available in the winter (October to April).  It costs TRY 5 at Topkapi but elsewhere in Turkey we had it for TRY 2 or 3.  Delicious!

Turkish Origins

The Turks are not from Turkey!  They are from Central Asia.  They are believed to have originated from the Xiongnu, the "Northern Barbarians" – the bane of the Han Dynasty and cause for the Great Wall!  The Turks migrated gradually westwards and invaded Anatolia and defeated the Byzantines near Lake Van (East TR) in 1071.  After the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, their dynasty became known as the Ottomans (Osman in Turkish) and ruled for 624 years.  At its peak the Ottoman Empire stretched from Algeria to Mecca, from Hungary to Iraq including Romania and Crimea.  The Ottoman Empire disintegrated as a result of supporting Germany in World War I.  This led to the emergence of the new state of Turkey as well as independence for the various other states. 

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace: Gorgeous Iznik Tiles
Topkapi Palace: Gorgeous Iznik Tiles
The Topkapi Palace was begun in 1453, just after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, and renamed it Istanbul (see "Polis" section)Wow, what a place! Unless you are museum-adverse person, you could spend a full day here. Six hours was barely enough time. The palace is arranged around four treed and grassy courtyards.

Topkapi Palace Harem

The harem is an extra TRY 15 (but included in the Museum Pass) and it was the most interesting part of Topkapi Palace. Go there first, well after visiting the Divan or council building. The magnificent tiled walls are lined with cushioned seats, which led to the use of the word divan (couch) in our language. The tiles are always geometric shapes with lots of turquoise and blue colours. Islamic artisans used mathematical precision to produce symmetry and repetition. The depiction of the human form is considered idolatry. The doors are inlaid mother of pearl and wood.

Topkapi Palace: The Sultan's Bedroom
Topkapi Palace: The Sultan's Bedroom
The harem is the living quarters of the palace.  It is also a maze of beautiful tiles and inlaid wood.  It was the sultan's mother who ran the palace and sometimes even the country. She controlled the Sultan's his wives (maximum four) and decided who should be his four favourites, even who and when he had sex. The rest of the women in the harem were only servants and did not have sex with the sultan. The main purpose was to ensure there was a male heir. 

We did not go to a restaurant to eat lunch because we knew we had limited time.  So we took a rest on a bench in the outdoor Courtyard of Favourites with its view of Galata Tower in Beyoğlu. Fortunately, we had some snacks like halvah: it was delicious but very similar to what we can get back home.

Topkapi Palace Tulips & Jewels

Topkapi Palace: Harem
Topkapi Palace: Harem
After the harem we toured the Fourth Courtyard with its gardens full of tulips.  The Turks introduced the Central Asian tulip to Europe, and today Netherlands is the biggest cultivator.  The Bagdad Pavilion has an interesting fountain pool.  We left the jewel and other treasury rooms to the end because there were too many people lined up.  The lines were shorter at the end of the day. This is another must-see definitely spectacular arts, crafts, weapons and jewels.

We stayed at Topkapi Palace all day and were the last ones out at 17:00h!!!  Then we met some PhD students (Turkish lady and Iranian man) in the courtyard and had a long conversation.  The guards had to come and kick us out.  Then we made the long walk back to the Sultan Ahmet Parki with its colorful cascading fountain in between Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and the Blue Mosque.   

Antiochland Restaurant

Antiochland Restaurant: What a Meze
Antiochland Restaurant: What a Meze

From there were walked up Yerebatan Street to the Antiochland Restaurant. We had another good meal. The Anatolia is up Ticarethane Sk. about one long block from Divan Yolu, the main street with the tramway.  In fact I recognized the Divan Yolu intersection from one of my sister's photos from her trip five months earlier.  The restaurant provided a better type of pitta bread.  The meze (small appetizers) was particularly delicious.  We had a long discussion with the waiter about the herbs and spices used.  We also met and talked with the chef/owner.

We also talked with our neighbours at the next table who sounded British but were from Sweden.  One is a teacher and the other arranges music group cultural exchanges.  They flew down for 5 days – it is only a three-hour flight!!  They said they will connect with us on Facebook. 

We walked down a steep road to our hotel because the walk back to Sultanahmet stop was longer and we would still need to take the tram which would take even longer.  Moreover, sometimes it is so busy that you do not even get a seat on the tram. 

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