Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Topkapi Palace & Harem and the Archeological Museum

Topkapi Palace entrance
On our final day in Istanbul we visited the Topkapi Palace.  The first entrance was less than a block from our hotel, then up a steep cobble stoned street to the real entrance to the palace.  We purchased 2 tickets for the main entrance.  Once inside, we rented 1 audio guide to share and purchased 2 tickets for the Harem -- which was really the only thing we came to see here.  So just to gain entrance to the one Palace area that we wanted to visit cost us 80 Turkish Lira for 2 people.  This was a tad expensive in my opinion just to walk around an old building.  But I came here willingly so should not complain.

Topkapi Palace is so renovated that it is difficult to imagine how it must have looked during its heyday.   Certainly the paved walkways throughout the grounds for tourist pedestrian traffic did not exist.  And some of the buildings are quite obviously not original to the Palace construction.
Harem building exterior
Harem building
We went straight to the Harem on the left side of the interior grounds.  I wanted to see what a real sultan's harem really was like; Bill was just humoring me this day.  He had already had enough of sightseeing; both of us had aching legs from walking around the steep cobble stoned streets and walkways.  I promised Bill we would see only 2 easy places today.

Harem courtyard entrance
Inside the first courtyard upon entering the harem the walls were covered in ornate tiles.  The columns had gold trim at tops and bases, and gold Turkish writing above the doorways.  This area was guarded by numerous eunuchs at all times.  To the side was an exit used only by the sultan when he wanted to go horseback riding alone. 

The courtyard entered into another room with a large fireplace.  This room had doorways off to the right that supposedly led to the sultan's quarters quite some distance away.  This was barred entry to tourists.  Another doorway led to a large courtyard which was often used by the "mother" or most important wife, as well as whichever other wives she chose to accompany her.

Food counter
To the left was another doorway which opened to a long narrow hallway.    This hallway had a stone counter all along the left side, with drain holes in the stone floor in several places.  This is where the meals for the harem were delivered. The holes both in the marble counter and in the floor must have been for washing the dishes.

Harem women's courtyard
From the end of the hallway we entered the courtyard for the harem women.  The sultan kept 300 to 500 women in the harem.  I cannot imagine how 500 women lived in this size building.  They must have been sleeping on top of one another.  Only women who produced a male child were allowed a room with a window opening into the women's courtyard.  No woman was ever allowed a window opening elsewhere.  The courtyard was guarded at all times by many eunuchs.  The sultan protected his harem women (or "wives") at all times.  Sounds to me like they were treated as slaves at all times, but that is a current era western woman's idea.  I really cannot think like an Islamic woman living in the middle ages.

One of many ornate fireplaces
Fancy tiles on walls & ceiling
The women's courtyard led to the right into a very nicely appointed room.  There were 2 fireplaces, one on either side of the room.

Mother-of-Pearl inlaid window covering

No clue what this is
And the walls and ceiling were uniquely tiled.  The doors and window doors were heavily inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  I don't know what you call these things--they look like doors inside the windows and were throughout the Palace.   I think these probably were to help to keep out the cold and wind during winter months; after all, they did not have double-paned insulated glass windows in those days.

First Wife's sleeping chamber
I have no idea what this recessed alcove space with steps was used for; but there were a lot of these located throughout the Palace.  No signs on any of them and the audio guide did not mention them.  Since we did not spring for a personal guide, there was no one to ask for an explanation.

The room opened back to the right into "mother's" or "number one wife's" courtyard.  Before the courtyard there was a room with yet another fireplace, this one made from copper.  The number one wife or "mother" also had a private sleeping platform in her private room.  The sleeping platform was topped by intricately molded or shaped copper.  We were told that sometimes the sultan visited this bedchamber rather than ordering the first wife to his chambers.

View from First Wife's courtyard
This next led into the courtyard.  Today the view across the Bosporus River onto the European side of Istanbul is considerably different than it must have been in years gone by.  The Topkapi Palace was the official and primary residence in the city of Istanbul (Constantine) for the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years of their 624-year reign.  Sultans lived in this residence from 1465 until 1856.

Fancy tiles & stained glass windows for the male children's suite
Bronze fireplace for the boys

Next we were led into the princes' suite of rooms.  As is common in all Islamic culture, the males get the best of everything.  These little male darlings had the most elaborate tiles and fireplaces of any place in the Palace open for public view.  The sleeping platforms were spacious and elaborate.  The fireplaces were beautiful.  The tiles intricate.  There were seating cushions wrapping completely around the day room.
Princes' day room

Deposed sultans lived down there
The princes' courtyard was much larger than their mothers' and far more open to the world.  It was higher in elevation and afforded larger views.  This courtyard also looked down upon a very large pool -- now empty.  The audio guide did not specify if this was a bathing or swimming pool or what.  We saw no method of filling this pool with water.  And no method of draining the water.  Obviously, given the years this was built, there was no method of circulating water in this pool.  Having owned several homes with swimming pools, I cannot imagine how nasty this would have been filled with water.  Maybe the whole thing was filled with slimy lily pads.  The courtyard also looked down upon the "quarters" where deposed sultans lived.  Or imprisoned would be my description.  At least they still had their heads.

And that completes the tour of the Harem.

Small corner of Topkapi Palace
We sat on a bench and watched people for awhile.  That is always fun.  Then we wandered to a building in the rear left side of the Palace grounds.  There are quite a few buildings on this property.  Since we did not rent an audio guide for the entire Palace (just for the Harem), we did not know the layout or identity of the various buildings.   Turned out it was a building full of religious historical things.  Sorry, but we did not believe most of what was displayed.  Moses' staff; Ark of the Covenant; The Prophet's footprint in stone from which he leaped to Heaven (where he negotiated with God -- God wanted men to pray 35 times per day, but The Prophet talked God down to "a more reasonable number" of 5 times daily.  Does anyone else get the irony of that claim?  This is God we are talking about.  God knows everything.  God would have known how the negotiation would end before it started.  So The Prophet shouldn't get points for this.  Logic does not follow.)  There were lots of relics of The Prophet's hair and many other such things.  This building was very crowded with reverent tourists but we just could not take this stuff seriously.  We breezed through that big building in record time.

Long line to see the Treasury
We wanted to see the Treasury.  But the queue was far too long for us.  We were not standing in that line for over an hour just to walk through the Treasury.  Instead, we walked through a smaller building showing exhibits of sultan's clothing over the centuries.

Then we found an exhibition of carriages used over the centuries.

And that was enough of Topkapi Palace for us.

Streets that cause aching legs
We returned the Harem audio guide and searched out the exit.  Down the street again and we found the Archaeological Museum.  This museum was highly recommended by the guide we used at the Hagia Sophia.  He was right.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Archaeological Museum.  The oldest item in the Egyptian section was over 12,500 years old.

Egyptian with man bag
One wall carving caught Bill's eye.  Even in very ancient Egyptian times, men apparently carried "man bags."

Enough was enough.  We looked at marble statues until our eyes were glazed over.  After 3 floors of artifacts and statues, we were done.  We were so over-done.  And we had completed only one building and 1/2 of the second building.  There were at least 3 other buildings that we never entered.  We were just too tired and our legs ached too much.  One could spend a week appreciating this museum complex.

We had hoped to see the Dolmabahce Palace during our time in Istanbul.  It supposedly makes the Topkapi Palace look like a slum.  But friends said they waited in line almost 3 hours just to get inside that palace.   We are not standing in line 3 hours for anything -- ever!

We cried Uncle and gave up on sightseeing.

As always, click on any image for larger view.

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