Thursday, March 10, 2011

Topkapi Palace

Okay, I admit it! I give. You win, snow. I have offically given in and will remain inside for the rest of the day. Its too cold to go out to do anything let alone wander around Istanbul without a plan.

This morning, I finally made it to Topkapi palace because I was still in denial about the realities of the weather. The thing about this place is that the most interesting things are in the harem, which you have to pay extra to get into. so you pay to enter the palace and you can see the treasury (which is really cool, I have to admit), the kitchens, the library, the stables (which were closed so I didn't get to see the chariots), and the school for the janissaries. But the harem is where the sultan and his wives/concubines/ladyfriends lived along with the eunuchs. To really get a glimpse at everyday life back then – and not, for example, official state business – you have to go into the harem. The worst part is, you can't come back later to see the harem if you are too tired after exploring the main palace, because your entry into the palace is only for one time. Either you do it all in one swoop, or you come back and pay all the fees again.

I was not about to be strong armed into paying the outrageous fees again, so I consigned myself to the long run. I stopped in the middle to get a kebab from the cafe inside the Palace (16.5 lira - unarmed robbery. For serious. Anywhere else its 1-3 lira) and then headed back into the fray.

To see the whole thing didn't take me the half day that the guide book predicted. This was probably because a) no chariots and b) I really had no interest in seeing all the stuff in the treasury at great length. I mean, sure it's sparkly (and they even had a large glass box full of emeralds the size of ping pong balls) but it doesn't really tell you about the people who owned them. The Topkapi dagger, which is supposedly very famous – though I've never heard of it - and was the subject of the 1964 movie 'Topkapi', was actually very beautiful. Mostly because it had three emeralds as big as eggs embedded in the handle.

I also got to see some Islamic relics which was an interesting experience. They had the beard, tooth, sword, cloak, banner, and footprint of the prophet Mohammed. You have to remember that Islam is the most recent of the world religions and therefor their beginnings are less shrouded in mystery than that of Christianity or the others. The Koran was being read constantly over the relics and they were all safely boxed up and protected from the public. So, all I really saw were a bunch of boxes except for the sword and the footprint which were more of less open. They also had some of the hairs of his beard on display which I thought was interesting. My first thought was that someone could, conceivably, clone Mohammed, which is probably the most dangerous thought I've ever had in my life. Can you imagine what would happen? If the Muslim community ever got wind that someone was going to clone their prophet? Because you know they'd never do it themselves, it would be sacrilegious.

Anyway, like I said before, the harem was the most interesting part, where you could see what everyday life was like for the sultans and his entourage. The walls were all beautifully tiled in the Arabic-Islamic abstract style. There were fireplaces and courtyards and dormitories for the eunuchs who oversaw the everyday workings.

After this I decided that I was done battling the weather and that I would spend the rest of the day inside. Are you happy, snow?

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