For our third day in Turkey, we continued on with our theme of seeing how the other half lived by visiting Topkapi Palace. We’d gone by it on our free walking tour on Saturday, but the afternoon was dedicated to seeing what it was really like.
We got to the palace around 10:30 in the morning, as we wanted to ensure we’d beat the crowds. Other people had the same idea, so it took us maybe ten or so minutes to wait in the queue for the palace doors to open. Now that we were inside, the entire courtyard was up to us to explore, and we had plenty of freedom to walk around. I want to quickly specify that this was the First Courtyard we were in, which was where the officials had their offices. As a testament to this, we visited the Imperial Council where the sultan’s advisors congregated for their meetings, and there was the gilded cage at the top where the sultan could listen in on whatever it was they were discussing. I thought that for what the function was, it was rather small, but eh, it is what it is. Or was, I should say. Moving on, we saw some other neat places, include a small museum that housed all the trinkets of that the sultan received, including some very fancy English and French clocks; it was a shame that photography was banned there, albeit some other tourists conveniently ignored that. Oh! I should mention that earlier, when we were getting tickets, we also received audio guides, so that massively helped with understanding what exactly it was we were looking at. With a place like this, I’d always, always recommend spending a few bucks more for these guides, since you’ll have a better appreciation other than “oh, it’s an ornate home”–this was absolutely the case.
Once we strolled around the various little buildings, it was time to see the back end of the palace, aka the Second Courtyard. By now, it was nearing noon, so a lot more people (including some school groups) were coming out. We walked inside the various little domes, which generally housed some of the education facilities in the palace. Just imagine small places to read with private tutors on cushions and you’ve got an idea of what they were like. Yup. Moving further on, we eventually came to the back of the palace, which harbored another great view of the city. Naturally, this was crowded with people taking selfies galore, but as seen below, both my mom and I were able to get a few pictures. Moving on, we explored the other little buildings but really all they were were spots for the sultan to sit down and spend time at. So, that was pretty much it for that part. The harem beckoned us, and thankfully, we’d opted to have that included on our ticket.
Being tucked away downstairs, the harem was more low-key compared to the rest of the complex, and honestly, it wasn’t as interesting. I’m not sure if it was because we’d been walking around for a few hours by that point, but it felt like something you’d do to justify the price of your admission. Once we’d gone downstairs, we were immediately greeted by the barracks. It felt smaller than the rest (which was a theme for this part of the entire complex), but that was by design; you don’t spend too much time on making the lives of these people very comfy, if you were the sultan. What we didn’t initially know was that the managerial staff, who were surprisingly black eunuchs taken from Africa, lived there. So, we had a chance to see their marginally-better living quarters.
Moving on, there were some basic places such as the baths where people could cleanse themselves as part of the ritual. We had to go through a decent amount of these places before getting to the nicer, bigger area where the sultan came down to stay, when he did swing by. Now this felt more in line with the rest of Topkapi. Plus, it was cooler down there, so I could imagine that the sultan would spend plenty of hot days with the harem. But for us, that was it. We meandered a bit longer down there, but since we were getting a bit tired, it was time to head out back into Istanbul.
The day wasn’t quite finished, however. On our way back, we decided to stop by the Archaeology museum, which, while small, was thoroughly entertaining. You can’t escape the historical presence of the Byzantines, so a lot of the scultpures and art was from that era. However, I enjoyed strolling through for that very reason! It also didn’t hurt how there were some interactive displays that reminded visitors of the long, storied history of the city, and I was mesmerized. Before we left, we took the time to watch a short video that showed how they excavated and restored the pieces; it made me think of wanting to (briefly) be an archaeologist as a kid. All in all, the hour or so we spent there was absolutely worth it, and it’s a neat little museum to swing by if you want something a bit different.
I was curious how the gold trim all over the place was made. Is it just paint, or a metallic finish? Couldn’t possibly be actual gold, could it?
I didn’t get a chance to closely look at it, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if if was actual gold. After all, the sultan would want it.
It just seems like that would amount to soooo much of that precious metal. I could see the Sultan doing that back in the day, given the bent towards extravagance, but I can’t see that it would have survived over all this intervening time, just like the Pyramid thieves stealing so much down through the years…it would attract the scavengers like honey does bees..
Well, the Ottoman Empire didn’t collapse until after World War 1, so being a sultan still had serious pull for longer than we mostly imagine. And if anything I’ve learned going through these palaces, it’s that you really, really, really didn’t want to mess with one.