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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Wednesday 10th October Afternoon, Magnificent Istanbul - Topkapi Palace

Oh My, Oh My! What can I tell you? Istanbul is wonderful. Full of mosques and minarets, history, architecture, opulence, curly, over the top squiggly patterns and more shopping than can ever be achieved. So many sights and smells, so much noise, colour and life here. I love it.
The Black Watch was given the best berth in the port, right alongside the old city and all the places we wanted to see. As we finished docking, the muezzin (pronounced muathin) started to call the faithful to prayer, the sound blasted out of loudspeakers on the the minarets of the mosque nearest to us. Then another muezzon in another mosque started his call, then another and another. The air was filled with wailing song, almost like the various mosques were trying to out do each other. There are no Mosques where I live, and I found the sound quite magical.
And so here we are, in Istanbul and there is so much to see. We knew we wanted to get to the Blue Mosque, and I’d taken note of the Hagia Sophia, as well as the Topkapi Palace, but the tourist maps are covered with marks detailing interesting places. We aimed was to see as many as possible.
 Istanbul Topkapi Palace The Gate of Salutation
We got off the ship and started to walk in the general direction of the Blue Mosque and made our first discovery on the way - Gulhane Park. We walked through it to get closer to the Sultanahmet District, where all the interesting stuff starts, and thoroughly enjoyed the very pleasant,tranquil nature of the little park. The noisiest things there were the green parrots winging through the tree tops, and the hooded crows scrabbling on the ground. Lovely to see. The park runs alongside the Topkapi Palace. When we got to the end we turned left to find the entrance of the palace. I warned Peter that this place is massive, and would probably take us all afternoon to look round. I don’t think he believed me. It cost 25 Turkish Lira (about £10) each to get in.
Topkapi palace was the centre of power and home of the Ottoman Sultans and their families for several hundred years. Over that time it grew, successive Sultans adding new buildings, each as opulent as the first. Some of the riches and wealth that used to be part of the palace are displayed in various museum rooms throughout. We saw the Spoonmaker Diamond, a pear shaped 86 carat diamond found on top of a rubbish tip and stunning gold candlesticks, 5 ft high. weighing 46 kg each and covered in diamonds. There were religious artifacts including a footprint of the Prophet Mohammed and a cutting of his hair. There were magnificent examples of weapons, armour, uniforms, furniture and household items. We did wonder how on earth the people of the time could have worn some of the clothes though? They were massive! The owner would have had to have been about 10 foot tall.
The museums were all very well, but not really what we wanted to see to be honest. There is a Harem in the palace, but it’s not what you think. True, it was the home of consorts and concubines for the Sultan, but actually, the Harem was the part of the palace where the whole family lived, including the Sultan’s mother. There were Eunochs and slaves, and the whole hierarchy is very interesting. It seemed that to be captured as a slave girl and sent to work in the Harem was a bit of luck. You would be educated, learn to sing, sew, play musical instruments and be looked after. You would probably have to work, doing the cooking and cleaning, but you might become a consort or concubine to the Sultan and give birth to his first son. If that was the case, you’d hit the jackpot, because you would become the next Sultan’s mother. But if not, no worries, you only had to work in household for nine years, at the end of which time, you could leave and get married and the Sultan would pay for the wedding.
We wanted to see the Harem, but that needed extra tickets to the ones we had. We left it to come back to later and continued our walk around the rest of the palace grounds.
Not all the room or buildings captivated us, but several had us staring in absolute wonder. They are so highly decorated, it is impossible to take it all in. I think, if you lived there and studied the rooms every day for several years, you might get a handle on all the detail. They are truly amazing. To anyone else visiting the palace I recommend The Domed Chamber/Imperial Council in the Second Courtyard, and The Kiosks, right at the back in the Fourth Courtyard. Just overwhelmingly awesome! It did take us all afternoon to wander around the grounds, and we didn’t get to the Harem because it closed at 5pm, just as we were making our way back. I’m sorry we missed it, but all in all, an amazing place.

Having spent so much time in the Palace, we thought we’d take a look to see where other particularly interesting sights were.
 Istanbul Ahmet fountain outside the Imperial Gates of Topkapi Palace
We found the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome.We took loads of photographs in the evening light, soaking up the atmosphere before deciding we needed to eat and it was time to make our way back to the ship.
Istanbul Hagia Sophia and fountain of Sultan Ahmet Square or Hippodrome
Our next treat came as we passed a Turkish restaurant. There were two men playing traditional Turkish music. We stood and listened for a while, the song finished, the dulcimer player switched to an instrumental piece, and then, just as we were about to leave, a third man, who up until now had just stood still and upright, stepped forward, bowed, and then started to spin. And spin and spin and spin and spin. I Googled it, “Sufi whirling (or Sufi spinning) is a form of Sama or physically active meditation which originated among Sufis, and which is still practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order” and it’s where the term “whirling dervish” comes from:  Wikipedia - Sufi Whirling.  I was absolutely astounded that this man didn’t stop, he kept turning, like a top, for the length of the song, 4 or 5 minutes. I don’t know if he was dizzy when he finished, but he seemed to be OK. Amazing! 
Istanbul is full of wonders, and I am loving discovering them. But after that, we really did have to get back to the ship for our dinner. Tomorrrow we have so much more to see, and not enough time to see it in.

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