Suitcase and World: Harem Beauty. Topkapı Palace.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Harem Beauty. Topkapı Palace.

e're back in Istanbul! We got back this morning after an overnight bus ride from Selçuk. We're also back at the Kybele Hotel though this time, we've got a really nice room set away from the noisy interior courtyard. I look forward to a quiet night's sleep tonight. We quickly settled into our room and then headed down to the dining room. We helped ourselves to some breakfast - as usual, stuffing our faces with the typical Turkish breakfast fare - bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and hard boiled eggs, washed down with orange juice (for Lei) and tea for both of us.

Our first destination of the day was Topkapı ("Top-ka-puh") Palace which was the official and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853.

After breakfast, we caught the tram for the short ride to Topkapı. It's Sunday today and all of Istanbul was out enjoying the lusious weather - bright blue skies, perfect temperature with not a drop of humidity in the air!

We wound our way towards the entrance. We soon found ourselves in a V-E-R-Y long queue.

We patiently waited. Soon the queue turned into a gigantic amorphous mass of sweaty bodies, all trying to shove their way through security and the turnstiles. We pushed our way through with everyone else. Oh, Lei was not enjoying this at all!

Topkapı Palace is a huge complex. There is absolutely no way you can see it all in one afternoon so we stazted with the building that was on top of Lei's "must see" list - the Imperial Harem.

The entrance to the Harem is through the Hall of the Ablution Fountain, also known as Sofa with Fountain (Şadirvanli Sofa). For security, this space was guarded by the harem eunuchs.

As described in Wikipedia,

The Imperial Harem (Harem-i Hümayûn) is one of the sections of the private apartments of the sultan. The harem was home to the Sultan's mother, the Valide Sultan; the concubines and wives of the Sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. The harem consists of a series of buildings and structures, connected through hallways and courtyards. Every service team and hierarchical group residing in the harem had its own living space clustered around a courtyard. The number of rooms is not determined, with probably over a 100 of which only about a couple are open to the public. These apartments (Daires) were occupied respectively by the harem eunuchs, the Chief Harem Eunuch (Darüssaade Ağası), the concubines, the queen mother, the sultan's consorts, the princes and the favourites. There was no trespassing beyond the gates of the harem, except for the sultan, the queen mothers, the sultan's consorts and favourites, the princes and the concubines as well as the eunuchs guarding the harem.

The Harem is a multilevel structure. Today, tourists only get to tour a few rooms on the ground level.

The first thing that visually strikes you as you enter into the Harem are the intricately designed, delicately beautiful blue and green turquoise colored Iznik tiles. Just stunning.

Even door jambs and windows are ornately adorned with Iznik tile.

From room to room and surface to surface, the tile patterns are a mishmash of design and color but somehow it all works, probably because the space of the rooms are so expansive.

Of course, the dome ceilings are ornately decorated as well. With all the rooms to see, it doesn't take long before you get a crick in your neck looking up all the time to admire the beautiful ceilings!

Humble wooden cabinet doors are decorated - inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

We passed through a couple of courtyards between rooms. One was the Courtyard of the Concubines and the other, the Courtyard of the Queen Mother.

In contrast to the rooms and courtyards, the connecting hallways are surprisingly stark - devoid of any surface decoration. The one exception was the hallway leading into the Harem from the Hall of the Ablution Fountain - the floor was inlaid with pattern of river stones.

Of course, these were the Sultan's living quarters. The guy has enough stature to deserve his own bathroom and wouldn't you know, we were lucky enough to see it....not that I was curious. He's a macho guy so no pretty tiles - just simple marble with ornate gold fixtures befitting a man who holds the tile of Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

One of the most beautiful rooms we saw was the Dining Room of Sultan Ahmet III, also known as the "Fruit Room" because it's embellished with paintings of fruits and flowers.
Two of the rooms had tiled fireplaces. Istanbul does get cold in the winter.

One room had stained glass windows. Pillows formed the seating area on the carpeted floor. My guess is this is where concubines congregated.

Of course, one of the most spectacular rooms on the Harem was the Imperial Hall, where the Sultan held court.

At one point, we found ourselves outside looking at the The Twin Kiosk/Apartments of the Crown Prince which are two private chambers built in the 17th century but at different times.

Once through, we double backed and exited, stopping to have our photo taken in front of the entry mural, which I thought was so beautiful we had picture after picture taken in front of it.

The Harem. WOW! What a feast for the eyes. Beautiful Ottoman design work everywhere your eyes land. I can only imagine what it must have been like in it's heyday with hundreds of concubines, eunuchs and members of the royal family wandering its halls.