Greece and Turkey 2012


ISTANBUL, day 2            10-7-12

A really great day of touring. Lots of things made it different. For one we are in a large city that has been the capital of much of the world at one time or other and has centuries of history and culture. The place has one site after another so even just hitting a sampling of the highlights a sightseeing day can be varied and full.

We started the day at Topkapi. This is the original palace of the Sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent. The palace was located in an area hundreds of acres in size. It was described as being like the Forbidden City in China in that there were several portals that one had to pass through to get to the inner Palace and to the Sultan. There were gates and mosques and gardens and layers of residential and governmental structures.

The thing that everyone goes to see is the treasury rooms. Our guide got us to the Palace early so we beat the crowds. And crowds there were. Our stroll through the various rooms that held the treasures ended us with the jewel room that contained the famous dagger with huge emeralds. The dagger was originally displayed in the center of the room but, as in the movies, thieves tried to defeat the alarm systems by coming down from the ceiling. They were foiled by a bird that flew into the room while the heist was going on and tripped the alarm. In addition to the dagger was one of the largest diamonds in the world, 62 carats.Istanbul Day 2

We then went deep into the Palace and through various rooms and corridors to the Harem. The Harem was the family as opposed to the administrative section of the palace. It had a training school for young women and had its own schools for children both of the Sultan and other royal families. There were kitchens that fed thousands every day (this included poor people from outside the palace walls) and there were also hospitals and other service areas on the palace grounds. The Harem was divided into various sections for favorite wives, those who produced children, those who produced male children, and the biggest area of all for the Queen Mother. The bedrooms and sitting areas and other perks were divided up on the basis of this favor.

The Sultan's quarters, no surprise, were the most elegant. The rest of the Palace had rooms where dignitaries were met, gardens for leisure, and mosques for prayer.Istanbul Day 2

We then went to a spice market. We like markets because it is a place where the locals hang out. This market had spices but was alive with all sorts of household items and junk. Fun and colorful.

We had lunch in a place that sounded Italian, Mezzaluna, but which featured Turkish dishes. The various appetizers and main courses were featured behind glass and you told the waiter what you wanted and it was brought to the table. The stuffed grape leaves were particularly good but I passed on a dish that CC ordered which was small sardines wrapped around a mixture of rice, currents and dill.

Istanbul Day 2Then after lunch we drove to a second block-busting Palace, the Dolmabache. This was the residence of the last Sultans and it sits right on the Bosphorus. It was entirely different from Topkapi. In fact, it more closely resembled Versailles or Peterhof. In was built in part because the sultans in the Istanbul Day 21800's wanted to look more modern and European and using that standard the beautiful Topkapi just didn't make it. In the Dolmabache there were huge crystal chandeliers (including one of the biggest in the world at four and a half tons), vast and specially woven Turkish carpets, inlaid wood floors, French furniture. In fact, almost nothing in the Palace looked like it belonged in Turkey. But the whole structure, inside and out, and the grounds were truly magnificent.

Istanbul Day 2We ended the day with a long boat ride on the Bosphorus. The sultans had numerous homes for their chief administrative staff (the pashas) as well as for their own family and servants,including summer and hunting lodges. These and the homes of wealthy Turkish families that were built over the last several hundred years lined the Bosphorus. Our boat passed close to them on our ride. Other homes more recently built lined the slopes of the hills through which the Bosphorus runs. The palaces originally built for the sultans are all now museums, hotels, or schools but these are kept company by private homes that are equally splendiferous. The old homes right on the water are called yelas. One sold recently for 100 million dollars.

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