Nov 1, 2013
Short flight from Athens. Aegean Airlines even fed is lunch on the one hour flight. Take that US carriers. Landing and getting to the hotel went smoothly despite the harrowing drive to the hotel. Hard to believe you can have six or seven near death experiences in one half hour of Turkish driving. Checked in to our bordello-red silk and mirrored room with special lighting. I hope this is normal for Turkey.
Eating last night was fun. You walk by the mosque and restaurant hawkers accost you every few feet offering special discounts on their fare. Some even whisper that they serve beer and wine in the back. I think we will stick with water, coffee and tea. As I am writing, the muezzin is calling everyone to prayer this is Friday, the holy day and the mosques are closed to non-Muslims. Fair enough. Did enjoy the 5AM first call this morning.
After a sausage and bacon free breakfast we headed out on to the streets. They were relatively calm this morning. We are just a few minutes walk from most of the historic sights. Decided to revisit the underground Cistern made famous by James Bond in From Russia with Love. Could not find the row boat but located many carp and a very eerie environment. We watch the Istanbul in One Day Tour groups race through in five minutes the place that took us an hour to explore. We managed to find some quiet places in this underground water tank built in the 6th Century.
Headed for Hagia Sophia across the street. This church was built by the same Justinian who build he reservoir. The building is stupendous. Paris Notre Dame and Statue of Liberty could easily fit under the central dome. We explored every nook and cranny hoping that it would stay up one. Ore time. I read that the dome has collapsed three times in the past and the marble floors show plenty of cracking and crumbling. The church became a mosque that day of the Muslim conquest of Byzantium back in 1453. It became a secular museum with the art of both the religions in the 1930s. Much of the original art survives in the midst of continual restoration.
We walked around the Byzantine Hippodrome and saw the goodies brought here by Roman and Byzantine rulers of the city. Horse racing was a big deal. The Blue Mosque beckoned but we will see it when we are more welcome. Saw the remains of the triumphal arch from which distances to the far ends of the empire were measured. Not much remains but the signs were fun.
Only part of the Archeological Museum was open. To see were collections the ancient middle eastern civilizations of Ur, Babylon, Hittites, Assyrians and others. The collection was amazing and included stuff I would have never had seen without going to Baghdad. That is not on the list.
We then made the decision to tackle the Topkapi Palace and its Harem. This was probably not the best decision but after entry we were committed. Let me say up front that if I was Sultan, I would swap for the Alhambra in Grenada even Steven. While this place is grand, it is a jumble. Four centuries of Sultans added whatever tickled their fancy. Maybe a favorite was the Circumcision Room. I don’t get the tile selection. While the individual tiles were beautiful, the coordination and combinations used were a mishmash. It was like going to a tile store and buying whatever was in inventory and using it all in one room.
There were plenty of fountains and tubs and sinks and baths but placed in strange locations like an entry but no in the private areas. It is not they could not have afforded an interior decorator. We saw buckets of emeralds and enough gold and silver to pave the strip in Vegas. The whole place reflected their massive empire that was patched together from Asia to Africa and Europe. It also fell to pieces like this place.
We have seen plenty of royal knicknacks and treasures in European palaces. Versailles comes to mind. So does the Habsburg Imperial treasury remind me of their treasure rooms. However, places like Schunbrunn and Versailles have a constancy of decadence not seen here. Perhaps it was the length of time to construct and remodel that created the jarring inconsistency. I think it largely reflected the effort to include stuff and ideas from their entire empire using Venetian, Persian and Turkish artisans and architects to create this accumulation. I quests I won’t be invited back by the Turkish tourist bureau.
I did manage to keep quiet during our visit to the sacred collection. Let it be said that I have voiced criticism about the Christian relief collections of many countries. In the Topkapi Palace there is a unique collection of Muslim relics. Without any commentary, here is a partial list: King David’s sword, the staff of Moses, Mohammed’s robe, beard and footprint. These were next to the original gold kissing opening of the Kaaba in Mecca and the swords of the Prophet Mohammed and his original band of brothers. I did not say a thing. The folks in these rooms took this stuff very seriously as did I while in the palace.
Had to see the Harem. The person who actually ran the empire was the Sultans Mommy Dearest. She controlled all kinds of access to the big guy. The Sultan seemed to wait for what she sent him in his small quarters, compared to hers, tucked in the back. His Man Cave would not not make it on a TV show today. Really disappointing.
Dodged trams and taxis and made it back to our hotel. It is about time to eat. Time to upload a few pictures and post this. There are a few pictures of our modest, mirrored palace hotel room.