In this world today one cannot be sure of what will happen when traveling. There are safe places and places you cannot be sure that something won’t happen. However in our armchair travels we can enjoy taking a look at most any place in the world and not have to worry about actually being there. Then in time we can make the decision of traveling there when things make a turn for the better. Another great thing about armchair travels is that we can go from one place to another with no problems at all. So while I am making up our travel itinerary as I go along I chose to include Turkey in our travels because the country has many amazing things to see including 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Turkey is a country that is partly in eastern Europe and also in western Asia. It is bordered by eight countries – Greece to the west, Bulgaria to the northwest, Georgia to the northeast, Armenia, the Azerbaijan exclave of Nakhchivan and Iran to the east, Iraq and Syria to the south. To the west is the Aegean Sea, to the north the Black Sea and to the south the Mediterranean Sea. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles, form the Turkish Straits, divide Thrace and Anatolia and separate Europe and Asia.
Istanbul is a major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait.
Tokapi Palace was the court of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. Visitors are fascinated by the opulent pavilions, the Treasury full of jewels and the sprawling Harem.
Entrance to the palace is through the Imperial Gate (Bab-ı Hümayun). Just before entering in the cobbled square you’ll see the Rococo-style Fountain of Sultan Ahmet II, built in 1738 by the sultan who favored tulips.
Once past the gate you’ll be in the First Court, known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court. On the left is the Byzantine Church of Hagia Eirene, commonly known as Aya Irini.
The Second Court is through the Middle Gate (Ortakapı or Bab-üs Selâm). This court was used for the business of running the empire. During the time of the Ottoman Empire only the sultan and the valide sultan or mother of the sultan were allowed through the Middle Gate on horseback. Everyone else had to dismount.
Chimneys of the kitchen
The Second Court brings you into a lovely park-like setting with a series of pavilions, kitchens, barracks, audience chambers, kiosks and sleeping quarters all built around a central enclosure. After restoration the Palace Kitchens have been reopened and you can see the collection of Chinese celadon porcelain. The sultans admired the porcelain for its beauty and for its worth since it was reputed to change color if touched by poisonous food.
Here you’ll also find the Imperial Council Chamber (Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn). This is where the council met to discuss matters of state. The room to the right displays clocks that were part of the palace collection. There is also the Outer Treasury which houses an impressive collection of Ottoman and European arms and armor.
Beneath the Tower of Justice to the west of the Second Court is the entrance to the Harem. These were the imperial family quarters and every detail of Harem life was always governed by tradition, obligation and ceremony. Literally the meaning of the word “harem” is forbidden or private.
Courtyard of Concubines
The Harem complex has six floors, but only one can be visited. You approach through the Carriage Gate. Inside the gate is the Dome With Cupboards and beyond it is a room where the eunuch guards were stationed. It is decorated with fine Kutahya tiles from the 17th century. Beyond this room is the narrow Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs also decorated with these tiles. Behind the marble colonnade on the left are the Black Eunchs’ Dormitories. At one time as many as 200 eunuchs lived here, guarding the doors and waiting on the women of the Harem. There are many fascinating rooms and things to see here.
Gate of Felicity
From here leads a passage which is known as the Golden Road and takes visitors into the Third Court. The Third Court is entered through the Gate of Felicity. This was the sultan’s private domain, staffed and guarded by white eunuchs. The Audience Chamber was where important officials and foreign ambassadors conducted the high business of state.
Behind this is the lovely Library of Ahmet III built in 1719. Toward the east is the Dormitory of Expeditionary Force, housing a collection of imperial robes, kaftans and uniforms. There is also an interesting collection of talismanic shirts that were believed to protect the wearer from enemies and misfortunes.
On the other side of the Third Court are the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms. These are decorated with Iznik tiles and house many relics of the Prophet. Next door is the Dormitory of the Privy Chamber, housing an exhibit of the portraits of 36 sultans. The highlight here is the impressive painting of the Enthronement Ceremony of Sultan Selim III the artwork of Konstantin Kapidagli.
Toward the east is the Imperial Treasury featuring an amazing collection of objects from or decorated with gold, silver, rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls and diamonds. There are four rooms. The second room exhibits non-Ottoman objects that were received as gifts or are spoils of war.
The most famous exhibit is the Tokapi Dagger found in the fourth room. The dagger has three huge emeralds on the hilt and a watch set into the pommel. It was the object of the criminal heist in the 1964 film “Tokapi” by Jules Dassin. Near it is the Kasikci or Spoonmaker’s Diamon, a teardrop-shapped 86-carat diamond surrounded by dozens of smaller stones and is one of the largest diamonds in the world.
The Fourth Court is home to the pleasure pavilions. Here you’ll find the Konyah Restaurant, offering spectacular views from the terrace. Up the steps from the Mecidiye Kiosk is the Head Physician’s Pavilion. On this terrace is also the Kiosk of Mustafa Pasha also sometimes known as the Sofa Kosku. During the reighn of Ahmet III, the Tulip Garden outside this kiosk was filled with lovely flowers.
At the end of the Tulip Garden is the Marble Terrace, a platform with a decorative pool, three pavilions and the Iftariye Kameriyesi, a small structure commissioned by Ibrahim I (“the Crazy”) in 1640 as a picturesque place to break the rast of Ramazan.
Murat IV had the Baghdad Kiosk constructed in 1639 which is one of the last examples of classical palace architecture. It was built to commemorate his victory over the city of Baghdad. You can see fine Iznik tiles, a painted ceiling and mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlay.
The small Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odası) was used for the ritural that admits Muslim boys to manhood. It was built by Ibrahim I in 1640.
Gulhane Park was once the outer garden of Tokapi Palace. Today locals and visitors enjoy pickning under the trees, strolling by the flowerbeds and enjoying the lovely views of the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara and Prince’s Islands from the Set Ustu Cay Bahcesi on the park’s northeastern edge.
The park is particularly lovely during the Istanbul Tulip Festival in April and May.
Suleymaniye Mosque sits atop of one of Istanbul’s seven hills, dominating the Golden Horn and providing a landmark for the city. It is one of the grandest Ottoman mosques. The mosque and surrounding buildings were designed by Mimar Sinan, the most famous and talented of all imperial architects. His tomb is just outside the mosque’s walled garden.
The mosque has lovely gardens and a three-sided forecourt with a central domed ablutions fountain. The four minarets with 10 beautiful balconies are said to represent the fact that Suleyman was the fourth of the Osmanh sultans to rule the city and the 10th sultan after the establishment of the empire. In the garden behind the mosque is a terrace that offers beautiful views of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. The interior is richly decorated.
In the imaret (soup kitchen) you’ll find the Daruzziyafe Cafe. To the right is a tabhane, an inn for travelling dervishes and to the left is Lale Bahcesi, a popular tea garden in a sunken courtyard.
Kariye Museum (Chora Church) is a beautiful church full of mosaics and frescoes. It displays impressive Byzantine art. The building was originally known as the Church of the Holy Savior Outside the Walls. Literally chora means “country”. When originally built it was located outside the city wall constructed by Constantine the Great. Today you see the reconstruction. Almost all of the interior decorations date from 1320 and were funded by Theodore Metochites, a poet and man of letters. He was the official who was responsible for the Byzantine treasury under Emperor Andronikos II. Just above the door to the nave in the inner narthex you can see a wonderful mosaic, showing Theodore offering the church to Christ.
Today this church consists of five main architectural units – the nave, the two-storied annex added to the north, the inner and outer narthexes and the chapel for tombs. Most of the interior is covered in mosaics that depict the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. To the right of the nave is the parecclesion, a side chapel that was built to house the tombs of the founder of the church and his relatives, close friends and associates. It is decorated with frescoes of themes on death and resurrection, depicting scenes from the Old Testament.
Aya Sofya stands out from other important monuments with its innovative architectural form and incredible beauty. It was commissioned by the great Byzantine Emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared as a museum by Ataturk in 1935.
As you enter the building and walk into the inner narthex you can look up to see an impressive mosaic of Christ as Pantocrator (Ruler of All) above the third and largest door known as the Imperial Door. Through this comes the main space which is famous for its dome, huge nave and gold mosaics. The focal point is the apse, with its amazing 19th century mosaic of the Virgin and Christ Child. As you look about you’ll see many more fascinating mosaics.
In the side aisle at the bottom of the ramp that leads to the upstairs galleries you’ll see a worn copper facing that has been pieced by a hole. Legend has it that the pillar known as the Weeping Column, was blessed by St. Gregory the Miracle Worker and if one puts their finger into the hole their ailments will be healed if the finger when pulled out is moist.
The Upstairs Galleries offer many impressive mosaics depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist as well as emperors and empresses.
Exiting the building through the Beautiful Gate, a magnificent bronze gate dating from the 2nd century B.C. a doorway on the left leads into a small courtyard.
Dolmabahce Palace is a popular Imperial palace with a neo-Classical exterior and impressive interior. It consists of Ceremonial Suites, Apartments of the Crown Prince and a Harem. The Apartments of the Crown Prince are now home to the National Palaces Painting Museum. Visitors enter the palace grounds through the ornate Imperial Gate which includes a clock tower. Close-by is an outdoor cafe that offers great views of the Bosphorus.
The palace has lovely gardens and is divided into three sections – the Selamhk, Harem and Veliaht Dairesi. Guided tours of up to 50 people are available.
The Selamhk has impressive chandeliers and a crystal staircase made by Baccarat.
The National Palaces Painting Museum showcases the palace’s collection of paintings. Among the highlights are the Turkish Painters 1870 – 1890 room downstairs and upstairs the Istanbul Views room where you can see 19th century street scenes by Germain Fabius Brest.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art has found a home in an Ottoman palace that was built for Ibrahim Pasa, who was a childhood friend, brother-in-law and grand vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. It offers visitors an impressive collection of artifacts among them exquisite calligraphy and one of the world’s most amazing antique carpet collections. The museum’s collection dates from the 8th to the 19th century. You can see interesting 12th and 14th century wooden columns and doors from Damascus and Cizre.
The Basilica Cistern is a most surprising tourist attraction. This is a huge, palace-like underground hall that is supported by 336 columns in 12 rows. At one time it stored the water supply for the Byzantine emperors. This project was begun by Constantine the Great and finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
A great many of these columns used in the construction were recycled from earlier classical structures and feature decorative carvings. The most famous are the column bases known as the Medusa stones found in the northwest corner along with their Medusa head carvings. A most peaceful place to visit with the columns lit up and the sound of softly, trickling water.
The Blue Mosque is Istanbul’s most photogenic building. The exterior features a cascade of domes and six slender minarets. The interior is decorated with blue Iznik tiles. Visitors must use the south door as only worshipers are let through the main door. It is closed to non-worshipers during the six daily prayer times.
The Hippodrome is left over from the days when Byzantine emperors enjoyed chariot races. It now sits along Sultanahmet Park and is a popular meeting place and place for strolling.
What is left of the ancient Hippodrome is a small section of gallery walls on the south side. On this site now is the At Meydani Park with monuments. On the northwest side is a fountain presented to the Ottoman sultan. Toward the southwest you’ll see three ancient monuments – a 20-meter high Egyptian obelisk from Heliopolis, the Serpent Column and a stone obelisk that was once clad in gold-covered bronze plating until they plating was stolen by the 4th Crusade soldiers in 1204.
Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain is located near the north end of the Hippodromes. This is a little gazebo with lovely stonework and was presented to the sultan and his people as a token of friendship by the German emperor in 1901. The monograms on the dome’s interior feature Abdul Hamit’s calligraphic signature and the first letter of Wilhelm’s name, representing their political union.
The Spiral Column comes up out of a hole in the ground. It is a strange column that was once taller and topped by the heads of three serpents. It was originally built to commemorate a victory of the Hellenic confederation over the Persians in the Battle of Plataea. It originally stood in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece from 478 B.C. until Constantine the Great brought it to his new capital city about 330 A.D.
Yildiz Park is a large tree filled park full of the singing of birds. Families enjoy picnics here and couples love to stroll. The best time at the park is in April when the spring flowers and a great many tulips are in bloom.
At the park’s highest point is Yildiz Sale. It was built as a hunting lodge for Sultan Abdul Hamit II in 1880. The sale or chalet closed to the public but if reopened is worth a visit.
A bit past the chalet you’ll come to the Malta Kosku a restaurant and function center. The terrace offers wonderful Bosphorus views as well as the dining room upstairs with an ornate ceiling and chandelier.
After that comes the Yildiz Porselen Fabrikasi. This building was designed by Italian architect Raimondo D’Aronco, who introduced Art Nouveau style to Istanbul. You can visit the workshop. The showroom at the gate sells the porcelain made here including cups and saucers, whirling dervish figures and fun mugs depicting the Ottoman sultans.
Galata Tower built in the 14th century is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks. From the top balcony you can get panoramic views over the city.
For lovely views at sunset take a walk across the Galata Bridge. It is at this time that the historic Galata Tower is surrounded by seagulls, the mosques atop of the seven hills are silhouetted against a soft red-pink sky and you can smell the scent of apple tobaccos from the nargile cafes under the bridge. The cafes and restaurants beneath the bridge serve drinks and food all day and night. You can enjoy a relaxing drink while watching ferries come and go.
Right near the bridge you can take the world’s oldest underground railways the Tunel which will take you to the lower end of the pedestrianised Istiklai Caddesi or Independence Street. This is a bustling modern shopping street with many restaurants and cafes.
You can also choose to take a ride on the old-fashioned tramway that runs the length of the
street right up to Taksim Square at the top of the hill.
The area surrounding Istiklai Caddesi also includes Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Pamuk is Turkey’s most famous author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This conceptual-art museum is based around the theme of his novel.
From Taksim you can walk along the busy Cumhuriyet Caddesi which is lined with hotels, shops, restaurants and high rises.
Beyazit Square in Byzantine days this public square was called the Forum of Theodosius. Today you can enjoy the antics of pigeons, see the wares of street vendors
and watch the students gathering here from the adjoining Istanbul University.
The main building is the Beyazit Mosque along with various other buildings. This complex is now home to the magnificent Beyazit State Library.
The 85m-tall Beyazit Tower sits on top of one of the seven hills. The colored lights on it indicate weather conditions – blue for clear and sunny, green for rain, yellow for fog and red for snow. The university and the tower are closed to visitors.
As you can see Istanbul offers so much that it would make this blog post practically endless. So I will finish here and if you take a trip to the city you will have plenty of surprises left.
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