Istanbul, Turkey – Day Nine / Cruise Day Eight
Topkapi Palace Museum
Today we arrive in Istanbul, I am very much looking forward to experiencing the very different culture of Turkey. We start at the Topkapi Palace, the Ottoman sultans’ residence for over 630 years, we see the thrones of many rulers, and the treasures from the spoils of war and each generation. Huge jewels, gold water vessels, crystal vessels, and tea sets, and the world’s largest diamond are all on display at the Museum. Robes of the sultans from the 900’s to the 17th century show great change in fabric and design. Some of the fabrics are so intricately patterned and the robes have such spectacular closures, and some are so simple, clean and white with simple buttons.
The Palace is now a Museum and one of Istanbul’s largest tourist attractions. I appreciated the portrait gallery which presented paintings of the Sultans through the years, the style of portrait, the poses of the Sultans, and the back drops are very interesting. Some of them are very dark, with rich deep colors and very serious expressions, some are even painted in profile. No photos allowed in the portrait gallery however.
The Topkapi Palace Harem
We learn that there are over 600 rooms in the palace, all built at different times and at one point the palace was home to as many as 4000 people. Our guide is amazing, he holds a masters in art history and tells us many interesting things about the palace and its former inhabitants. One of the most interesting parts of the palace was the Harem and family quarters, which were all decorated with hand painted tiles. Thousands of them. Hand painted, each and every one is different. The artistry is amazing. The carpets are hand woven and the ceilings are hand painted. There are gold accents everywhere.
Our guide tells us a little bit about the Imperial Harem of the Ottoman Sultan and how it worked. The girls that were brought to the Harem were between the age of 8-13 years old. These girls were well educated and hand picked by the Sultan. The Harem typically housed several dozen women, including wives, the Sultan’s mother, daughters and other female relatives. The sons of the Sultan also lived in the Harem until they were 16 years old. The Topkapi Harem was basically the private living quarters for the Sultan and his family. For the Sultans, often times the first wife is a pre-arranged marriage and the second wife is out of love our guide tells us. But he also tells that there is much competition amongst the women of this polygamist household, as only one of their sons would inherit the throne, this would ultimately give the mother a source of power. It is said that the empire was ruled from the Harem.
Inside the Karakol Restaurant is a beautiful and newly renovated space for us to enjoy a taste of Turkish food. The service is excellent, but we have to open windows to relieve the heat, even with air conditioning, it’s cooler outside than in. We start with stuffed grape leaves and bread, followed by pasta filled with veggies and appetizers drenched in rich sauce with feta cheese. The main course is grilled kebob of chicken and lamb with mixed vegetables and rice. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, dessert is served, a frozen vanilla and chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce.
The Haga Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. There have been three churches on this place, destroyed and rebuilt. The first church was built in 360 and destroyed by fire (intentionally) there are no remains of that structure today. The second church was built in 415 and some of the marble blocks from it still stand today. The third church and current church was built in 537. It was converted to a mosque by the Ottoman turks in 1453, since Islam considers depictions of the human form to be blasphemous, all of the iconic mosaics were covered with plaster (rather than destroyed). Our guide explains to us that Turkey is more secular than most Muslim countries. The Islamic calligraphic displays suspended from the main dome remain in place, and the mosaics are being gradually uncovered, years of being under plaster has kept them preserved.
The Süleymaniye Mosque
The architecture and interior design is stunning, and the dome is huge, the dedication to faith and God is overwhelming. This structure was built between 1550 and 1558, it’s an Ottoman imperial mosque, located on the third hill of Istanbul, our guide tells us.
The Süleymaniye Mosque was designed to serve both religious and cultural needs in Istanbul. Originally the complex consisted of the mosque, a hospital, a school, public baths, a medical college and a kitchen to feed the poor.
The Blue Mosque
Visitors have coined the Sultan Ahmed Mosque “The Blue Mosque” for the over 20,000 blue tiles on the interior. In order to go in, women must cover their heads and legs past the knee. Even though I had a “past the knee” skirt on and a sun hat, I was handed blue drapes to cover my head and legs, and was told to remove the hat. Thank goodness I could keep on the prescription sunglasses in order to take in the stunning interior of this HUGE mosque.
Besides being tourist attraction, it’s also a active mosque, so it’s closed to non worshippers for a half hour or so during the five daily prayers. We stood in a very long line in order to gain entrance to the mosque, despite having a guided tour appointment, this is a very popular place to visit.
The structure was built between 1609 and 1616, and was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I when he was only 19 years old. The interior is lit with 260 windows, which were once filled with 17th-century stained glass.
What an amazing look into a totally different culture. Once again, I am amazed at the role that art plays in the interiors of such special spaces. Today was a long day of touring and a day filled with much information about religion and culture. We can hear the citizens of Istanbul being called to prayer as we walk. Tomorrow we visit Kusadasi for more cultural adventure.
For more information on my workshops visit Facebook page for a complete listing of classes. No Facebook account required.
Click on any Douglas Nelson Photography image to enlarge. Visit his photo Facebook page for more stunning images.