Day 15: Istanbul

Continue reading: →Day 16: Bosporus

Old city
Old houses in İstanbul
The second try to visit the famous Topkapı Palace (from now on written as Topkapi, but note that it's an "i" without the dot. For the proper pronunciation, see the chapter on →Turkish language). When we tried it two weeks ago, the queue at the ticket counter was so long, that we probably would have needed to stay for a night or so to get a ticket. This time it's much better. Of course there are many tourists in and around the palace area, but at least there's no queue. The entrance fee for the palace area is quite hefty: € 10 for the palace itself, € 10 for the Harem and another € 10 for the treasury. Which means that one has to pay € 30 for the whole package. This is already as expensive as for instance →Petra in Jordan. In 1995, seven years ago, the price for the full monty was € 5 only. Hyperinflation in Istanbul.

However, there's still a student's discount. All I have is a German student card and an international ISIC card, which is already not valid any longer. But the woman at the ticket counter is quite friendly and accepts the card. And so we only have to pay one third of the regular price. Topkapı Sarayı, as the palace is called in Turkish, can be called a city inside the city . The area is around 70 hectares, which is almost twice as big as the Holy See in Rome. Since the 15th century, the palace was enlarged step by step. For centuries, it was used as the Sultan's residence, who ruled the vast Ottoman empire from Istanbul. Before that, the empire's political centre could be found in Adrianopel (present-day Edirne) near the Bulgarian border.

Rich interior inside the Topkapı Palace in İstanbul
Similar to the Forbidden City in →Beijing, Topkapı consists of various parts with limited access. There are four big courtyards. The first courtyard could be accessed by almost everyone, the fourth (inner) courtyard was exclusively used by the Sultan himself. One thing is for sure: The sultans knew how to live. This doesn't necessarily refer to the fact that there's a Harem inside, but to the great view of the town and the Bosporus as well as the perfect arrangement of impressive buildings inside the palace. Additionally, some gardens make it a real pleasure to stroll around.

Nowadays, the entire palace is accessible to the public. At least it is supposed to be like that. There's a huge board near the entrance, letting the visitor know which parts of the palace are under construction. And due to the dimension of Topkapi, the list will always be quite long.

There's still plenty to see. According to the descriptions, there are some 100,000 pieces in the exhibition, including traditional clothes, porcelain, accessory and things depicting everyday life hundreds of years ago. A special exhibition is dedicated to the Islam and shows some Islamic reliquaries. Among them, the Prophet's bow, sword and coat are on display. Actually, this is the only chance for non-Moslems to see some holy Islamic artefacts. An Imam, sitting in a glass box reciting the Koran, creates the appropriate atmosphere. Needless to say that people are asked to be quiet. Except for one Turk standing in the corner shouting at his mobile phone and another Turk scolding his wife in front of all the visitors from all over the planet.

Medusa head under a column inside
an ancient Roman underground water reservoir
The treasury shows many items mostly consisting of gold and diamonds. After a while, the visitor's eyes are starting to be strained because of all the sparkling and glittering. One of the highlights of the treasury is the so-called Spoon-Diamond, one of the typical 86-carat diamonds everyone has at home. Legend says, that the fisherman who had found the diamond, sold it for three spoons only (therefore the name). Unfortunately, the spoons are not on display.

To provide just a short overview of all the things to see inside Topkapı palace would go beyond the scope of this website. My personal favourite inside the palace are the gorgeous pavilions in the fourth courtyard. The small but very cosy Baghdad- Pavilion or the so-called Revan kiosk are splendid - I've never seen something similar before (see picture on the right). I've been searching the internet for quite a while to find a more or less appropriate non-commercial website on Topkapi - I couldn't find any, which is why I can't provide a link for further reading.

After a couple of hours inside the palace we are getting hungry. This is the one and only reason for leaving the palace. And - what an outrage - we leave all the Turkish restaurants and head to a place called "Hatay Xinglong", obviously a Chinese restaurant. Our Japanese guidebook recommends the place, and after some days with Turkish food only we want to have a change of air. The restaurant is not far from the palace (address: Ibni Kemal Cad. No 9). And I can only recommend it. Authentic Chinese cuisine for little money, almost like in China...

There's another attraction not far from Topkapi palace - Yerebatan Sarnıcı, literally "sunken palace", is a huge underground cistern built by the Romans. The structure consisted of 336 eight metres high corinthian columns. 90 of the columns collapsed during the last 2000 years or so, but it's not less impressive because of that. It's quite dark inside, and the ground is covered by shallow and clear water. Visitors can walk through the reservoir on catwalks. The darkness, the water and the parallel porticos create a very special atmosphere. Two of the columns rest on large medusa heads - the one head is aslant, the other one upside down (see picture on the left). Why? There seems to be no convincing theory about it. Further to the west, a large remaining of the ancient aqueduct feeding the reservoir can be seen.

In the evening, we spend the time talking to other travelers and staff from the hotel. The young guy from the hotel is a friendly and clever man - and open-minded. I thought. After a while he starts talking about Jews and he comes up with very strange and simply incredible theories. That the rich Jews wanted to get rid of the poor Jews and therefore initiated the Holocaust. And eversince, they are trying to take over America. "Don't get me wrong, one player of my favourite soccer team is a Jew as well, and I don't have anything against him" he says. But how can an intelligent man like him believe nonsense like that? This latent anti-Semitism, present in many European countries, is nothing new but always leaves a bad aftertaste. By the way, his opinion about the Kurds wasn't much better. After a while I don't really want to continue the conversation.

Continue reading: →Day 16: Bosporus








Please note: Only relevant comments will be published (such as updates, corrections, additional information). Questions will most likely be ignored. Thank you.
Your Name:
Your Website:
Your Comment:

Security Image:

Security Code: