Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Day in Istanbul

Well, now that you know a little more about Turkey, I shall tell you about our day in Istanbul.

After arriving at the overcrowded Ataturk International Airport, we collected our (filthy) rental car and entered the Istanbul traffic. It was hair-raising! Eventually we reached our hotel and coma-ed out for the next 7 hours. Feeling refreshed - lets be honest, we're all friends here - after having a jolly good puke and a few panadols, I crawled out of bed and we agreed to head for the historic Sultanahmet area of the city. (And no, Dave Reid, just a migraine). Along the way, we stopped to explore a seafront park and came across both our first wild dogs, and our first ancient ruins. These were from the old city wall, mostly constructed in the fourth and fifth centuries under Emperor Constantine.
Patriotic ruins

I shall call him 'rover'
Once we finally found our hotel, we went to explore Sultanahmet. We walked past the Blue Mosque, a nearby Egyptian obelisk, Hagia Sofia (originally a church, then a mosque, and now a museum), and wound our way up the hill to Topkapı Palace.
The Blue Mosque, named for its special coloured tiles
Shame the Archaeological Museum wasn't open
The Obelisk of Theodosius
The Gate of Salutation at Topkepı
Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856). At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. The palace also had its own water supply through underground cisterns. Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire.

Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, Topkapı Palace was transformed by a government decree into a museum of the imperial era. It also houses important Islamic relics, such as hairs from Mohammed’s beard, and his coat and sword. We would have liked to see the treasure rooms, as they are apparently up there with the Crown Jewels, but the queue was enormous. We’d already waited in a queue for an hour just to buy tickets, so we decided to forego seeing the riches of the Palace.
Privvy Chambers of the Crown Prince

Pretty tulips everywhere
Topkapı Palace was the main residence of the sultan and his court. It was initially the seat of government as well as the imperial residence. One of the central tenets was the observation of silence in the inner courtyards. An Imperial Harem wing was added in the late 16th century. It was located in the private apartments of the sultan and contained more than 400 rooms. The harem was home to the sultan's mother, the concubines and wives of the sultan, the rest of his family (including children), as well as eunuchs and servants. The girls who served the Ottoman sultans were mostly beautiful Circassians from the North Caucasus. Muslim women were forbidden to be concubines, so mainly white, Christian slave girls were used instead. There could be up to 300 in residence within the complex at one time.

Nice beds!
Tiles in the Harem 
Sultans could be very picky and moody. Sultan Ibrahim I, who died in 1648, seems to have had an obsession with finding more and more obese women, and is also rumoured to have ordered the drowning of his entire harem of 280 girls on a whim. Until the 17th century there had been a brutal tradition that justified a sultan killing all his male relatives to ensure that the sultanate passed to a favoured son. For example, in 1595, Mehmed III’s 19 brothers were murdered at the instigation of his mother, while seven of his father’s pregnant concubines were put into sacks and drowned at sea. Such brutality was ended in 1666 by Selim II, who decreed that all princes should survive, but be locked away from public life until the succession. One prince spent 39 years in the 'gilded cage' (where princes were secluded) before taking up the sultanate.

The Gate of Felicity
An interesting place! After that, we went to meet our friends who were also in Istanbul on their way to the Gallipoli Peninsula. We looked around the Grand Bazaar - it seemed mainly to be scarves, knock-off clothing, and over-priced Turkish Delight. (Though there were a few shops with awesome names...)

E.g. 1
E.g. 2
Seeing as there was nothing else we wanted to buy, we spent our Lira on some (hideously expensive) Turkish Delight, before heading to a local restaurant and having dinner and traditional Turkish rakı with our friends.

Our friends Jo and Regan
After that, we walked back to our friends' hostel, stopping along the way to see the sights all lit up at night. By the time we got back to our hotel, we were exhausted, but we were glad we'd booked that extra day to sight-see in Istanbul. It was an amazing city and not at all what we had expected.

1 comment:

  1. Great to relive that city and our little adventure, still haven't updated my diary, I'm over ten days overdue!! Was great to see you both