Istanbul, Day 3

2006 September 17
by haris
Today, the plan was to head over to Topkapi Palace, visit the Spice Bazaar, and maybe go across the bridge to Galata Tower and go all the way up to get a panoramic view of Istanbul!

We got up, did our usual breakfast (except we finally figured out that the jams that they kept in the bowls were not used for bread but instead to mix in with yogurt…) and then trekked over to the palace. We passed by Haghia Sophia on our left, and once again I noted the peculiar brick minaret.

single brick minaret of the haghia sophia

There were a bunch of people selling random things along the way, mainly typical touristy stuff like photographs, scarves, magnets, keychains, etc. I found a photo store and saw a sign that said that they could transfer files from a memory card to a CD!!!! That eased my mind a little, as I didn’t know if I would have enough memory to last the whole trip.

The way to Topkapi palace, it seemed as though they hadn’t quite finished the paving and construction and such, or maybe they were renovating or something. We saw the entrance (which unfortunately I couldn’t get decent pictures of….) and walked a little further to get our tickets to enter the main part. As with many other places we saw, the decorations were so elaborate and I had so much fun just taking pictures of the ceilings!!!

celing, divan

Once inside, apparently you have to buy separate tickets to enter the Harem, which is basically a guided tour. We bought the tickets and waited just for about a half hour for our tour, it was getting quite hot in the sun by this time! Adjacent to the Harem was the Divan where I guess the law-maker types used hold their meetings.


interior, divan

The tour was about to start so we lined up; there were maybe about 20 or 30 people on the tour, and I tried to stay in the back so I could get decent pictures of things without people in the way, but unfortunately there was a second tourguide in the back who had to rush people on so that the next group wouldn’t bump into us.

The Harem was kind of like a little mini-apartment complex it seems, where the Sultans used to keep their favorites (I wonder if all were concubines?). Supposedly being in the Harem was something that the girls during that period used to aspire to do. Once there, they seemed to have a pretty lavish life, with good food, massages, baths, entertainment, etc etc, including what seemed to be a pretty decent education. Apparently the Sultan’s mother also lived within the Harem.

Just after the entrance, there is the Courtyard of the Eunuchs, where um I guess they kept the eunuchs. This was basically where they had their sleeping quarters as well, which kind of reminded me of college dormitories.

doors, courtyard of the eunuchs

We went through a bunch of different sections, unfortunately I can’t remember in detail what each part was. We got quite excited looking at all the doors and walls with tiles and things on them. These Iznik tiles were all over the place!

door with mother-of-pearl inlays

And of course, the ceilings :)

ceilings, harem

Once interesting thing I do remember is that some of the rooms (if not all of them) had these water fountains (actually more like taps) which would constantly be streaming water; the tour guide said that the purpose was to create noise so that the Sultan could have conversations without having them eaves-dropped.

water fountains, harem

There were apartments for the Sultan’s mother, the Prince, and a bunch of other special purpose rooms like the Throne Room.

throne room, harem

I really wanted to go up to the Tower, and asked the tourguide about it but was told that they were doing renovations or something so it was closed…. That was really unfortunate, because I remember when I was taking History in 7th or 8th grade, we had a textbook where there was this picture of the view from the tower, with the little domes and pillars and it was so geometrically picturesque, I had been wanting to see that for myself. Oh well.

After finishing the tour, we explored a little more of the Palace; it has three sections (or courtyards) and it kind of looked like a university. Within the buldings were little mini-museums, and unfortunately photographs were not allowed but they had some really neat artifacts and jewelry from the Ottoman era. Scattered within the mini-museums were some important Islamic relics such as clippings from the beard of the prophet, his sword and bow-and-arrow, and a letter from him to somebody talking about Islam. Most of these they kept in one particular section, and it was quite emotional just being there looking that these things, especially with the added effect of this guy who was reciting verses from the Quran, and people were being very respectful and being very quiet.

Having seen pretty much everything we wanted to see, and it being quite late in the afternoon, we decided to head out and go get something to eat.

After lunch we went down towards the Spice Bazaar. On the way were nice little shops like little lamp stores and carpet shops and such, again mostly quite touristy. There were sweet shops, art galleries, etc etc.

lamp shop

carpet weaver

I wandered off to the New Mosque (Yeni Camii) while my mother, sister and wife checked out some street vendors. There were quite a few people in the mosque, and it seemed much more grand than the Blue Mosque.

yeni camii (new mosque)

interior, yeni camii

I prayed, went to find my family, then we headed over to the Spice Bazaar. It was quite crowded in the Spice Bazaar, which is basically a huge selection of random shops (not only spice) within an enclosed space. Kind of reminded me of the small underground malls you see everywhere in Japan, like the one in Isezaki-cho (obscure reference?) , with generalized chatter and the store owners luring customers with their sweet talk, and general hustle-bustle.

spice bazaar

spices, spice bazaar

After this we went back outside and sat down for a bit because we were sooooo tired. Across the river was Galata Tower; my wife had found out that we could go up the tower and supposedly the sunset was amazing from there, so we trekked over across the Galata Bridge towards Karakoy.

view of galata tower across the river

On the bridge there were all these random people fishing pretty much all day every day.

fishermen on galata bridge

Galata Tower itself didn’t seem very far, but it was quite a steep hill going up that once we got to the foot of the Tower, I had some major burning going on in my legs! We went up to the tower and chilled until sunset, and truly it was an amazing sight, as some of the larger mosques get lit up at dusk.

view from top of galata tower

sunset from galata tower

We then headed back home and got dinner on the way (kebabs, yum!), what a looooooooooooong day, I don’t thing we had walked this much in quite a while!!!

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