Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Rest of Istanbul! (I wrote this almost a week ago now but haven't had the chance to update since then due to internet connection issues.)

On my third and last day in Istanbul I went to Topkapi Palace, which was 100% delightful. It was also kind of interesting because it was my first non-weekend day in Istanbul and there were tons of school groups there. At home, I work at the museum but usually only on Saturdays, and when I fill in for someone on a weekday, I'm always surprised by the number of school kids there (we get groups of kids on weekends, too - out-of-towners, scouts, etc., but during the weekdays it's ALL school kids). So it reminded me of that.

The palace is where the Ottoman sultans and their huge households/entourages lived for a long time, until they built a European-style palace on the other side of the Bosphorous. I think they were fools to leave! Topkapi is gorgeous, and I didn't visit Dolmahbahce (the "new" palace) but I don't think it can be half as nice.

You go through a series of gates to get into the palace:

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And there are these lovely courtyard/park thingies around which all the buildings are arranged.

There are also lots of lines - lines to get tickets to the palace (and a separate ticket for the Harem), lines to put your bag through the x-ray machine (that no one was looking at, I swear), lines to get your ticket punched to get into the palace, and then lines to get into individual attractions. I waited in all of these lines, on the principle that so many people couldn't possibly all be wrong, and I was mostly well served. The longest line of all was to get into the treasury:

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I don't have any pictures from inside the treasury, because you're not supposed to take pictures in there. I don't think it's anything to do with the objects themselves, they just don't want people spending a lot of time taking photos -- they hurried you along if you spent too long looking at any one thing. There was some pretty cool stuff - the fourth or fifth largest diamond in the world, a dagger all covered in huge emeralds (the handle, not the sharp part - I don't think that would make a very good dagger), lots of beautiful little things made out of jade and rock crystal and things.

Another nice thing about the treasury is that in the third of the four rooms, there's a beautiful little pavilion that's open on two sides, with the ocean all around it. It was lovely and breezy and surprising:

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There is also a collection of holy relics relating to the Prophet Muhammad and his compatriots (there was a name for these people, but I forget what it is). That was also a hurry-along, no photos area, presumably because otherwise people would have their noses all pressed up against the glass indefinitely, looking at Muhammad's beard hair (I am not joking - one of the relics is a beard hair). There was a very high concentration of chador-clad ladies in this area. I don't really get the relic concept. Even in my secular way, owning Abraham Lincoln's hair or an actual piece of the set from Battlestar Galactica or something, I don't really get the whole concept of treasuring an object for its association with a concept. I'm not even all that into souvenirs.

I also toured the Harem, which was the quarters of the Sultan and his family, and by family we of course mean "hundreds of concubines, wives, children, assorted other relatives, and all of their ladies-in-waiting and the black eunuchs who took guarded them." The Sultan's mother was the one in charge of the harem. This is what her quarters looked like:

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"Restrained" is probably not the best word... it's still actually very beautiful, though, and I suppose it was the style at the time, if a little much. Look, here's the Sultan's mom herself, entertaining some other female member of her vast household:

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Fortunately there were only a handful of these mannequins. One of my few strong opinions about museum exhibit design is that you should avoid using mannequins wherever possible. Especially these kind, which have an off-the-rack, last-seen-at-Empire*-circa-1985 quality to them.

I spent a few hours at the palace then wandered the streets of Sultanahmet for a while, which was also very nice. Then I dragged myself and my bags down to the tram, took the tram to the ferry, and took the ferry to the train station. Then I took an overnight train to Ankara, where I got lost repeatedly, and it was hot, and no one spoke any English at all (and I really need people who speak English most of the time). Also there was a museum, but all in all it was not one of my better days of vacation. Let us never speak of it again. From Ankara I took a bus to Goreme (and in so doing, learned to pronounce Goreme properly!), which was also slightly confusing and stressful. But I got to my hotel/pension in the end, and though the bathroom here is... disappointing, I'm in a great location amid beautiful surroundings with helpful staff. More about Goreme and Cappadocia soon.

*long-since-closed store where we bought clothes when I was a kid

1 comment:

Steph said...

The pavilion shot is great!

And I like the Sultan's mother's chambers - you're right, not restrained, but very lovely.