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Istanbul Guide
Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, IstanbulThe Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for most of their rule and is now a museum and a major tourist attraction. Like Agia Sophia you have to get up early to see Topkapi Palace if you don't want to stand in line at the entrance. But in the case of Topkapi it is not just a matter of standing in line at the ticket booth. You have to stand in line at some of the buildings within the palace, particularly the ones that contain the famous jewels. Topkapi is not your ordinary palace. It is many buildings spread out on several grassy, tree filled courtyards and most people just follow the crowds. When it comes to museums, especially those that contain gold, jewelry and art, I am not the happiest of spectators and if there are lines involved even more so. To me one 50 karat diamond looks like another and rubies and emeralds look like pretty stones. Jewel studded daggers seem impractical and gold embroidered coats and bathrobes seem wasteful and look uncomfortable. So in the time that Andrea takes to look at the first two pieces in the exhibit I have moved on to the next room and while she scrutinizes every piece I am looking for the snack-bar which I have been told has the best view of the Bosphorus.

Topkapi Palace, Bosphorus viewAfter a quick stop at the circumcision room and snipping, I mean snapping a few hopefully representative photos that will at least prove I came here, I backtrack to the steps that lead down to the cafe and get on the self-service line for a Turkish coffee. The cafe view is the crown jewel of the Topkapi Palace tour and while Andrea happily visits every room of the museum, I am able to sit and watch the view and the ships going up and down the Bosphorus and the ferries crossing back and forth between Europe and Asia. The prices are a little steep but the food looks and smells pretty good and I am tempted to have a meal and hang out here for the rest of the day until I am satisfied that I have photographed every ferry in the Turkish fleet. Andrea joins me and buys a bowl of the best strawberries I have ever tasted. Then we run into the Jones family from Chapel Hill and we compare notes on what we have seen in the Topkapi Palace, only they have seen every inch of it and were impressed by everything and I saw practically nothing and was annoyed by the fact that some people lived in such opulence while many of their people went hungry or fought each other over the scraps. The Ottoman sultans were odd people and those who surrounded them even odder. A friend told us of the first transcontinental flight, which took place in Istanbul when In 1631, a Turkish man by the name of Hazarfen Celebi climbed the Galata Tower in Istanbul and flew across the Bosphorus to Asia in a glider with wings that were said to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci. And what was his reward? He was given a sack of gold coins and sent into exile because if he was able to fly then he was a threat to the Sultan in his palace at Topkapi.

Topkapi Palace MuseumAmong the artifacts in the palace that I missed because I raced through it so quickly were the Prophet Muhammad's cloak and sword, 10,700 pieces of rare and precious Chinese porcelain thought to rival that found in China as one of the finest collections in the world, one of the richest assemblages of Islamic arms in the world, with examples spanning a period of 1,300 years from the seventh to the 20th century, the Topkapi Dagger with its golden hilt ornamented with three large emeralds, and a golden sheath covered with diamonds, made famous in the movie with Peter Ustinov Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell and music by Manos Hatzidakis, the Spoonmaker's Diamond, which was supposedly found by a spoonmaker in the bazaar who thought it was just a crystal and sold it to one of the viziers who gave it to the sultan, and the Imperial Harem which contains over 400 rooms and was the home of the mother of the sultan, his wives, concubines, eunuchs, children and their servants. Visiting the harem costs an extra 15TL, sort of a dirty trick but one that most people paid without grumbling since besides the view it is the most interesting part of the palace.

Topkapi PalaceI did manage to visit the audience chamber where the viziers came here to present their individual reports to the sultan, after which the sultan showed his pleasure by showering them with gifts and high offices, or in the case of particularly bad reports (or if the Sultan happened to be having a bad day), having them strangled by deaf-mute eunuchs. But if ever I needed proof that I was not a good tourist it was my visit to Topkapi Palace where I felt like a spoiled teenager being dragged around a museum by his parents when he would rather be playing baseball or smoking pot with his friends. Not to give the impression that I am not interested in culture or history. I am. I find it fascinating. But I prefer it horizontally, laying on the couch with a photographic history of the Ottoman Empire, or a book by John Freely rather than walking around with ten thousands other tourists on a hot summer day. Chances are if you are traveling you will be with someone like me, even if you yourself aren't. My advice is for you to skip trying to impress him with the fabulous things you are seeing and enjoy them yourself. Some things can not be shared and you are casting pearls before swine. Don't be annoyed with his lack of appreciation for art, architecture, culture and history. Just send him to the cafe to watch the boats and feel the cool breeze of the Bosphorus while you enjoy the riches of Topkapi Palace.

Topkapi Palace Photos

Topkapi Palace

A Glitch in the Matrix?

Topkapi Palace

topkapi palace

Topkapi Museum Information

To find Topkapi Palace you can follow the signs from Sultanhamet Square or near the entrance to Gulhane Park. If you are coming from Sirkeci just follow the tram tracks uphill and it will be on your left sort of behind Agia Sophia. If you are coming by tram get off at Gulhane or Sultanahmet.

Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. (During tourist season, calling ahead is recommended due to very busy schedule)
Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays.
Harem section can be visited only by a guided tour and tickets should be purchased separately.
Entrance fees: Between $10 to $15 depending on the exchange rate. (Turkish students and soldiers : Free)
Entrance fee for the Harem section:  Additional $10 (Only guided tours are allowed in Harem section.)
Tel : +90 212 512 0480 FAX : +90 212 528 59 91

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