Sightseeing in Istanbul

I spent an interesting two days with Angela and Elenor, her childhood friend from Norway. Elenor was in Turkey to attend a Dyslexia Conference in Adana, after which she and a colleague, Marianne, decided to do some sightseeing in Istanbul.  We managed to pack in quite a lot of sightseeing in the short time they had available.

The tower on top of he Harem in the Topkapi Palace

Our first stop was the Topkapi Palace. Built by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on the site of the original Byzantine palaces, Topkapi Palace dates from 1459, although it was not completed until 1478. The word "palace", usually conjures up an image of an imposing edifice of considerable size. Topkapi Palace doesn't fit this mould, being rather a collection of smallish buildings scattered over a large area.

The Aya Irini in the grounds of the Topkapi Palace

On entering the palace grounds, the first sight is of the Aya Irini (Hagia Eirene), Church of Divine Peace. A church was established on this site in the sixth century, but was seriously damaged during the Nika Riot in 532. It was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in 537, and has remained little changed since then, apart from some repair to earthquake damage in 740. This church was never converted into a mosque in Ottoman times, but was used, first as an armoury, and later to store precious historical artifacts. Today, the building is used as a concert venue for orchestral and choral works.

Elenor and Angela at the entrance to the Harem

After buying our tickets and entering through the Bab-uş Selam (Gate of Salutations), we passed through to the palace's second courtyard, and Angela suggested that we cross directly to the Harem. This was a great idea as there was hardly anyone there. Most people work their way around the square, visiting the buildings in order, so the crowds hadn't reached there yet.

A beautiful mirror, one of a pair in the first room.

The Harem was where the Sultan resided, surrounded by his wives, children, concubines, eunuchs and slaves; all controlled by the stern hand of the Valide Sultan, the Queen Mother. It is a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and courtyards, where rooms were continually added and rebuilt as needed. The decorations are beautiful, and obviously the work of many master craftsmen.

The Courtyard of the Concubines and the Sultan's Consorts

Angela, Elenor and Marianne by the stunning view

After visiting the Harem, we went to the Mecidiye Pavilion to gaze out over the spectacular view of the Golden Horn and the confluence of the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara. The treasury was next and we marvelled at the extraordinary opulence of its bejewelled artefacts. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed there, so you will just have to go to see for yourselves.

The Basilica Cistern

Reluctantly, we left this amazing testament to a bygone era and headed for the Yerebatan Cistern (also known as the Basilica Cistern). This extraordinary feat of Roman engineering, enlarged to its present dimensions by the Emperor Justinian I in 532, was used to store water for the Great Palace. 

We had lunch in the Havuzlu Restaurant in the Grand Bazaar

Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar - an essential experience for any visitor to Istanbul. This was Marianne's last day, so she had shopping to do, as did the rest of us.

We looked at ceramic bowls

...and bought some beautiful scarves.

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