Monday, September 2, 2013

Where two continents kiss

I had a very brief visit to Istanbul in July. I was busy most of the time with work, but I had planned about 2 days of sight-seeing. The flights were such that I had to arrive early in the morning and leave late at night. This suited me because I could come a day early and leave a day later without any guilt. I couldn't land on the day I needed to be at work but I also knew that I couldn't plan a whole day of sightseeing after having traveled all night but I was determined to do as much as I can.

I had 3 places that were on my must-see list: the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sofia and the Blue mosque. The first two are now museums, the latter is a functioning place of worship.

The day I landed, I went to the Topkapi Palace museum. This is where the Ottoman Sultans lived for centuries. The weather was fabulous. Sunny and warm, but not too warm. It was rather nice after Shanghai, which is very hot and humid in the summer. However, my colleagues told me that the weather was unusual. It is usually much more humid that it was when I was there. I just counted myself lucky!

As befits a palace, the entrance is grand! You walk through this gateway into a garden.
From the garden, you see the first of many views of the Bosphorus. Those Ottomans knew how to place their palace for the very best views. You will see lots of photos of the Bosphorus so I won't bore you with too many from the palace itself. The Bosphorus is the strait that divides Europe and Asia. I was amazed by how blue it was and how blue the sky was. Maybe it was the contrast with  Shanghai, but the light seemed very clear and pure.

Turkish architecture is very decorative. All the ceilings and walls were painted and tiled and I will only give you a small sampling of the intense color and pattern all around.

This gate is where you go after you buy your ticket. The security check and ticket booth are on the other side. I got an audio guide, which was very helpful in understanding the different buildings and what they were used for.
Here is an example of the decorative arts in the palace. This is the ceiling on the other side of that gate above.
This area is where the Sultan would receive foreign dignitaries. After picking up the audio guide, I walked through a section that used to be the kitchens. That was adjacent to this beautiful garden which separates the previous gate from the next one.
Looking back through that gate after I passed through it, you can see the gorgeous architecture, which is hidden by the trees in the photo above.
Now we are into a courtyard called the Enderun. This was an area for education. So there is a library here, along with other buildings that were used by scholars and tutors. The Ottomans had a meritocracy. Bright boys were gathered from all over the Empire and brought to Istanbul for education. They then became the officials of the government.

One of the buildings in the Enderun courtyard:
And a view of the courtyard itself:
A view of the Bosphorus from the palace itself.
This building used to be a library. It is now a museum with clothing, jewelry and furniture used by the Sultans and their families along with gifts that were given to the Sultans by visiting dignitaries.
Unfortunately, photography inside was forbidden. The view of the Bosphorus above is from the balcony on the other side of the library.

The insides of the rooms have stained glass and tilework. Every surface is decorated.
Here is a lovely outdoor courtyard overlooking the Bosphorus:
One of the many ceilings I photographed...
This interior is a room where many official government meetings were held:
On one side of the palace are the buildings of the harem. The harem was for the women of the palace and was ruled by the Sultan's mother. Eunuchs guarded the harem and served the women. It also contains the private apartments of the Sultan himself. This lovely courtyard is in the harem.
I visited the Sultan's bathroom - very ornately tiled - and some other rooms in the private area. This fountain caught my eye because it was one of the few in the wall, as opposed to in the middle of something.
An example of the interior of the harem...
I was pretty tired by this time and ready to hit the sack so I just walked through the square that separates the Hagia Sofia from the Blue mosque (yes, there is also a garden in between) and caught a taxi back to the hotel.

In parting, and as a preview of the future, here is the Hagia Sofia from the square,
and the Blue mosque on the other side.
One evening, my colleagues took us to a lovely restaurant right on the water. We called for a boat taxi from the European side. The boat took us right to the deck of the restaurant where we sat at the water's edge and ate. I took a lot of photos of the sunset, the bridges and the boats passing by. I am giving you a little glimpse of that glorious evening.

Waiting for the boat:
On the boat:

Sunset during dinner:
Bridges lit up as the night comes on:
They change colors:
The lights of Europe, from Asia:
After a lovely evening, we took the boat back to Europe and then taxis to our hotels and apartments.

Next up, the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Stay tuned.

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