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Topaki Palace & Blue Mosque

July 23, 2007

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We did not see these on the same day, but I am trying to consolidate a little more for the blog as we are already in Croatia and I am still struggling to get the Turkey trip up as well as the rest of Greece.

For the most part I am not a big believer in long stays in cities for children or families as smaller towns are more suitable, but we could not miss the gems in this  ancient city full of rich history and experience. I was especially a little leery about Istanbul as there was a controversial election coming up in Turkey during our stay, so perhaps a higher chance for terrorism to go with the tensions.

It seemed perfectly beautiful and peaceful when we were there, tho I did not want to linger, but just get a nice taste of the most important things and finally see this ancient metropolis that everyone speaks so highly about. It was also hot while we were there in July and the grit and busyness in the heat somehow is not that conducive for a long stay.

We headed out to Atasofya first but it was not open because we arrived on a Monday or some such thing (a detail I have forgotten). We saw that the Topaki Palace nearby was open so we headed there instead as we are always flexible travelers as some how it always turns out just right. I had wanted to do this one a little later, but it turned out fine this way too.

It is a gigantic 173 acre park like complex, once the sultans home, filled with opulence like ceremonial thrones including one in pure gold weighing 550 pounds (imagine that at todays gold prices !!), as well as an ebony one, a jewel-studded mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell masterpiece, and other jewel-encrusted ones given by various other rulers as gifts or commissioned by the Sultans themselves.

There was such lavishness as the worlds largest kitchen and the third largest porcelain collection after Beijing and Dresden, (altho the palaces collection of celedons is greater than Beijing.)  Sultans preferred to eat off celadon china because the pigments changed colored if poison was used, which I guess was always a lurking possibility. Many of these riches were gifts from the Chinese and Persians to the Ottomans.

There is an abundant collection of silver, Bohemian crystal and Venetian glass. Not to mention the Spoon Maker’s Diamond which is the fifth largest in the world. It went on and on and I can not relate it all, but it somehow reminded me a little of Versailles and that endless booty, history and greed.

The Holy Relic section is the largest collection of its kind in the world. There are many personal belongings of the Prophet Mohammed, the arm bone and skull of St.John the Baptist and even the staff of Moses. They were brought back by Selim the Grim after his conquests of Mecca and Medina but have only been made public since 1962.

I think the most interesting part was the Harem which means “forbidden” in arabic. I am still a little struck by the strange image of Black Eunuchs (ouch!) that were charged with guarding the Harem or the 800 concubines and how horrible their lives must have been. Most of it felt like a gilded prison and was interesting but a little depressing. Both the Sultan and his mother’s private baths were very elaborate and amazing for that ancient time.

We each did an audio guide of Topaki Palace and the Harem, as well as using a few trusty books. We spent all day there and were really glad to stop for lunch at the halfway point at a lovely, expansive place called Konyali Restaurant with fantastic sea views. We sat next to a very interesting Irish family that we chatted with and the meal, ambiance and view were all satisfying.

It is a touristy spot and a little pricey, but worth it to have a close place to rest ones feet and revitalize for the second half of the day. I was surprised to hear about its star-studded guestbook that includes Jackie Kennedy, Mohammed Ali and Richard Nixon.

We came prepared for the Blue Mosque on another day, but many in the line were not wearing appropriate clothing, so they were given big blue cloths to wrap over their shorts or bare arms or head and looked a little silly. Most guide books tell what to wear, so it surprised me that so many did not know.

It is famous for its Iznik tiles inside in traditional Ottoman patterns of tulips, carnations, and lilies.
There is a dominance of blue and that is how it got its name. An original Isnik tile in good condition
sold at Sotheby’s for $600,000 a few years ago and a chipped or broken tile can get up to $20,000.
That is one tile and approximately 21,000 tiles were used to decorate the Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1617 and is also known for its unusual six minarets and unusual design of successively descending smaller domes to create a large covered open space. It is one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture and is lighter and more delicate looking inside, than the nearby Ayasofya. Lateral half domes rest on enormous, massive columns and enhance the sense of open space and it is not just blue, but many colors are used. It can appear more red, orange, or yellow depending on what time you are there and what entrance you use. There is funny lighting there on abundant wires that mars the experience some.

I am glad we saw the Blue Mosque, but the spectacular mosque in Cordoba, Spain remains our favorite of all the mosque that we have seen. We really enjoyed the park like walk between the Blue Mosque and the Ayasofya with the many flowered gardens, trees and fountains. We found ourselves there many times and even did a video with Mozart playing her violin there with the Blue Mosque in the background as it was so pretty from this position. As usual, a small crowd of tourists gathered and some wanted to take their own pics or video of her playing.

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