Topkapi Palace + Archaeology Museums
Tuesday 18th May
We had realised the night before that the Topkapi Palace isn't open on
Tuesdays, so we thought we had screwed up and missed out on seeing it
(unless we got a chance at the end of the trip). But we headed off to
the Topkapi complex anyway, to visit the archaeology museums.
When we got to Topkapi there there were flocks of school girls, some
all in black, some with coloured headscarves, and others going in,
so we went over to the ticket counter and discovered it was open after
all, because it was going to close the next day for a national holiday.
This meant that not only did we get to see the palace, but we got to do
it with no real crowds at all!
There are various rooms of "treasures", showcasing the memorabilia the
Ottomans collected over the centuries. This includes religious relics
such as beards of the prophet, cases for mantles of the prophet and earth
from Medina, garish jewelry, weapons and military awards given to (one of
the more martial?) sultans by the rulers of Russia, France, and so forth.
And there are some nice buildings and good views over the Bosphorus or
Golden Horn in places, but overall the complex was a bit disappointing,
lacking a real unifying vision.
We had lunch in the (overpriced) restaurant, which did at least have
good views, and then visited the Harem (which was an extra 15 lira).
There were some nice rooms here — the nicest by Sinan, as usual
— but most of it was fairly run-down and/or garish.
a restaurant under the Blue Mosque
After that Gabi went back to the hotel while I wandered through the Astana
Bazaar area — possibly the most touristy area of Istanbul — and had lunch in a back
yard restaurant where I could look up at the Blue Mosque while eating.
In the afternoon we went back to Topkapi to visit the archaeology museums.
We started with the Museum of the Ancient Orient, which has middle-eastern
antiquities — Egyptian, Sumerian, Hittite, etc. These include
some striking pieces, but the British Museum and the Ashmolean have very
similar material, with better interpretive displays. The second was the
small but fascinating Tiled Kiosk, which has displays of the different
periods of Ottoman ceramics.
detail from a relief in the Sidon Necropolis
We left to last the largest of the museums, the Archaeology Museum,
which was the most exciting by far. We started with the reliefs and
sarcophagi from the Sidon Necropolis, some of which are really striking,
dramatic tableaux; these were so impressive we barely had time to look
at anything else. There's a floor of displays on the Roman and Byzantine
archaeology of Constantinople. There's a floor of displays on the history
of Troy and Anatolia. And there's a floor of Lebanese/Syrian/Cyprian
displays which I never got to at all!
an Ottoman mausoleum
Leaving Topkapi we looked at some of the Ottoman mausoleums in the
Aya Sofya complex.
For dinner we wandered up Divan Yolu — the "main drag" —
and ended up in a "Mexican" restaurant — except that we had
Turkish dishes and ignored the separate Mexican menu, and ended up
with an excellent meal — I had eggplant kebab, which is eggplant
interspersed with lamb.
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