Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Topkapi Palace

After the Blue Mosque I took a brisk and bracing walk a little way up the hill to the Topkapi Palace.

The Palace is comparatively modern - which is to say it was started some time around 1450 and continued to be occupaied, added to and remodelled until the mid 19th Century. It is a huge, rambling complex which covers most of the top of the hill, and overlooks the Bosphorus and the Sultanhamet area of Istanbul.

It comes in layers - there are a number of different gates - you start with the fairly public courtyards, move in to council chambers and audience rooms for meeting visiting dignitaries and eventually get to the private areas where the Sultans and their families lived.

One of the more interesting (from my perspective, at least) and visually striking areas was the Harem. Contrary to what I had thought, the Harem wasn't just a place to keep concubines and wives imprisoned - it was also the private family space. And, that if they wished, the Concubines could retire after a reasonable length of service...
The interior is lovely, lots of very beautiful, intricate tiled rooms and buildings - all of which were much more accessible that the tiling in the Blue Mosque, most of which are too high to see in any detail.

I particulalrly liked one of the details in the guidebook I was relying upon - one of the Sultan's was not at all keen on women, to the extent that he had all of his shoes made with nails in the soles so that he could be heard as he walked around the Harem, and all the wives and concubines had orders to make themselves scarse while he was there. Presumably they had a lot of spare time on their hands.... He was, I belive, succeeded by a nephew. The Harem has it's own courtyard, with buildings tiled on the outsde as well as the inside, and views out across the Bosphorus. (It was raining when I was there, but I am prepared to accept the the Bosphorus was lurking there, somewhere behind the drizzle). Scepticism has it's limits.

Later, after leaving the harem, I saw the kitchens (they had a staff of 400, and one entire kitchen devoted entirely to making turkish delight)
There is also the treasury (where one is not permitted to take photographs) - which offers the clearest possible proof that conspicuous consumption is nothing new. I never really belived the fairy tales which spoke about 'rubies the size of pigeon's eggs'. I do now (although they were mostly emeralds, as it happened) There was also the oh-so-practical gold suit of armour studded with diamonds. ( I assume, although the display didn't specify, that this was for ceremonial purposes only. I can't help feeling that wearing it on a battlefield would tend to lead to one becomeing the world's least-long-lived commanding officer ) There was also a gold throne. Shiny. Very Shiny. It didn't look very comfortable, but perhaps that wasn't the point.
There is also a room of relics. I understand that for Muslims this is a place of pilgrimage, and that some of the relics (which include hairs of Mohammed's beard, and at least one of his teeth) are considered amoung the most important of the muslim world. I shall therefore say little more except that, upon seeing a small cooking pot labelled 'saucepan of the prophet Abraham', my first thoughts were not terribly reverent. It wasn't a very interesting saucepan.


Kalipha Linden said...

There is a limit to how awed one can be by a cooking implement. Concubines definitely rate above sacred crockery.

Dragonsally said...

I can just picture knights in suits of armour in the first photo (and for some reason I want to start singing...Knights of the round table....)