The Topkapi Palace
25.05.2011 - 25.05.2011 79 °F
Wednesday, May 25th, we arrive in Istanbul. Joe May is on hand to give his running commentary on the open decks as we make the scenic sail into the Golden Horn. The spires and minarets of Istanbul shine in the early morning sun.
Today we have a private tour, arranged through Ephesus Deluxe. They've given us a package price for a combo tour of Istanbul and Ephesus. It turns out Ephesus Deluxe doesn't really have guides as such in Istanbul. Instead, they subcontract to local guides in the city.
We meet our guide, Fatih Copuroglu, right outside the customs building, and he immediately makes us feel welcome. His van is designed perfectly for touring, plush and comfortable, with facing seats in the back. As the driver takes us across the Galata bridge and to our first site, Fatih gives us a running commentary, filling us in on the history of Istanbul and Turkey with a real depth of knowledge and passion for the subject. Our first stop will be the Topkapi Palace, hopefully to beat the crowds. Unfortunately, with two ships in port, that's a little hard to do.
We enter the literally palatial grounds of Topkapi, and are immediately awed, which is, I suppose, what the Sultan had in mind.
Fatih is with us every step of the way, pointing out interesting details and features, putting things into historical context, and generally doing everything you ever imagined a professional tourguide would do. First we tour the Harem, the apartments and courtyards for the female members of the palace family. These include the apartments of the Sultan's concubines, as well as the Valide Sultan, the Queen Mother.
Everywhere you look, the palace is appointed with sumptuous details. The walls are covered with elaborate tile work, the doors exhibit stunning marquetry with mother-of-pearl and tortoise-shell inlay, even the Sultan's horse-path is laid with an intricate design.
The above is the Privy Chamber of Sultan Murad III. When it was built, he included dozens of fountains in niches on the walls.
The white noise of the fountains provided a sound screen of privacy for the Sultan as he discussed important matters of state, preventing bodyguards and supplicants from eavesdropping.
In its heyday, the palace must have been a sight to behold.
We also visit the treasury, now a museum, and view stunning works of gold an precious jewels. It's a fascinating place I've read much about in fiction, now brought to life.
We exit the Palace, on the way to our next stop. Fatih picks up some roasted hazelnuts for us to munch, and I get excited about seeing simit on the cart, so he grabs one for us, and we all share it. Turkish Lira are the currency here. We're not carrying any, but Fatih has us covered.