What happens when two women don’t pay attention in traffic? Well, usually chaos – however our mini chaos turned out to be an extremely enriching and exciting adventure.
As usual, we started our day with a scrumptious Turkish breakfast and planned to spend the larger part of our day exploring Topkapi Palace; which according to our Concierge, was located in close proximity to the rest of the historical sights. What he failed to bring to our attention however, was that it is located in Sultanahmet District, and not Topkapi neighborhood – the end of Istanbul!
Sitting in a crowded tram, we enjoyed watching the sights passing by until I noticed that we were heading much further out of the city centre. Checking on the tram’s information board, we were definitely headed for Topkapi, however it wasn’t until we actually arrived, that we realised, this was not a palace. Slightly annoyed and at this point, wet from the rain, we noticed a large dome shaped building next to an ancient wall ruin. Without much choice, we decided to go into the building (which turned out to be a type of museum) until the next tram arrived to take us back to the centre. What awaited us inside, left us wide-eyed and speechless.
Walking up a narrow spiraled staircase, the first thing we witnessed was the bright blue sky. Then, a huge panorama painting, illuminated visual effects, the sound of knights in battle, and life sized cannons surrounded us – we were transported back in time to 1453, the conquest of Constantinople.
Measuring an impressive 38 meters in diameter and covering an area of 2,350sq metres, the Panorama 1453 Historical Museum is the only museum in the world to offer a 360 degree panorama view. It’s aim is to portray the ambiance of the battle which brought down Constantinople on 29th May 1453, in 3D, giving visitors a real life feeling of the battle. We were so amazed by the effects and exceptional artwork that we literally felt as if we were in the middle of the battle ourselves! Our pictures below will explain, what I am unable to describe in words … Once the rain stopped, we took the tram back towards Sultanahmet District and were happy to find the Grand Bazaar was on our way. Women rarely spend only a few minutes shopping, so what happens when you end up in the largest and oldest covered market in the world? With over 3,000 options of shops, we feared that once we entered, we wouldn’t come out any time soon.
“Kapalicarsi” (meaning covered bazaar) is Istanbul’s most visited tourist attraction with over 250,000 daily visitors. We were greeted with an abundance of bursting colours in form of shoes, bags, clothes, souvenirs, spices, jewelry and above all, sweets! It was an absolute chaos trying to make our way around the bazaar as thousands of tourists flocked every shop, bargaining, laughing and taking photos. Where ever we passed by, we were attacked by a swarm of shopkeepers offering their products for sale (for the best price of course)…luckily we were able to escape the madness through a hidden doorway which led us to a narrow street filled with artisans working on their masterpieces. Phew! While I do recommend visiting this beautiful architectural landmark … in terms of purchase, everything is a bit more pricey here, so the best place to conduct your shopping is in other areas of the city.
We were in dire need of fresh air at this point and decided to walk to the real Topkapi Palace, a short distance from the Grand Bazaar. The excitement of visiting the palace started to build up as I imagined all the stories of the Sultans and their concubines, just like in my favourite series “Magnificent Century“. Topkapi was the first palace in Istanbul, built shortly after Constantinople fell into Ottoman rule, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the subjects who lived there for years. The Palace is divided into 4 courts, an impressive treasury, palace kitchen and of course, the desirable harem. The structure of Topkapi is significantly different from European palaces; it has a series of pavilions, kitchens, barracks, audience chambers and sleeping quarters making it more a city complex, rather than a royal court.
The first point of visit was to the different courts which include several separate living quarters, kitchens and audience chambers. What impressed me was that the Sultans had a special room for every type of interaction, whether that was dining with family, conducting state affairs, relaxing with his romantic subjects, receiving gifts, or simply sitting alone. Every single room was adorned with the finest tapestries, intricate artwork and impressive jewel accents brought by merchants from around the globe.
We then visited the main palace kitchen which hosts an extensive collection of pure Chinese porcelain, cherished by the Sultans not only for its elegance, but also because it changed colour if touched by poisoned food. Next up was the Treasury, boasting an impressive collection of the finest adorned swords, sparkling crowns, and jewelry plated with gold, silver, rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls and diamonds. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photographs of either the kitchen nor the treasury, so I leave that to your imagination, while admiring the rest below. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to visit the Harem, however I am saving that for my next visit. A separate dedicated ticket must be purchased to access this part of the Palace and I can only imagine what kind of stories those walls can tell. Harem means “forbidden” and these chambers were only accessible to the women who lived there, the eunuchs who worked there, and the Sultan himself. Despite the ultimate goal of pleasing the Sultan, the girls who lived in the Harem were well educated in Turkish culture, Islam, music, reading, writing, embroidery, dancing and sewing.
To end our tour, we found a viewpoint where the East meets the West which brought a smile to my face, as I realised that I have just witnessed a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people who have, in their own way, shaped the history of the world.
I am already planning a return trip to discover even more of what Istanbul has to offer. With layers of history unfolding in every corner, delicious cuisine, authentic entertainment and the most beautiful skyline – it has very easily become one of my favourite cities.
- Topkapi Palace: www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr/en
- Grand Bazaar: www.grandbazaaristanbul.org/Grand_Bazaar_Istanbul.html
- Panorama Museum: www.panoramikmuze.com/homepage/