Suitcase and World: Ottoman Opulence. The Dolmabahçe Palace. Part 1.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ottoman Opulence. The Dolmabahçe Palace. Part 1.

hen I planned my return trip to Istanbul, there was only one place on my "must see" list and that was the the Dolmabahçe ("Dol-mah-bah-chay") Palace. I had seen the palace from the outside as Lei and I did our boat ride up the Bosphorus but we never had the time to actually visit it. When I mentioned the Dolmabahçe to a friend of my who had been to Istanbul, his comment was that if I thought Versailles was opulent (which I did), the Dolmabahçe would take my breath away. Would it really? Hard to imagine as Versailles had always been the epitome of palatial splendor to me. This was the day I would find out how well the Dolmabahçe would measure up.

My first full day back in Istanbul started with breakfast at the hotel. It was an absolutely beautiful day so I opted not to sit inside the conservatory. Instead, I found a table on the balcony to enjoy the view of the water from. It was the typical Turkish breakfast of bread, cheese, jam, olives, cucumbers, tea and a glass of sour cherry juice. Simple but satisfying. I took my time to savor every bite and to soak in the scenery around me.

From the hotel, it was a short walk to Sultanahment Park. I strolled through the park stopping to admire the Blue Mosque. I crossed the park to the Sultanahmet tram stop. Lei and I had boarded the tram at this station so many times, I knew it well. I bought my jeton (token) and waited on the platform for the tram to arrive. Standing alongside me were Istnabullus (that's what a person from Instanbul is called) on their way to work. It was nice to not be surrounded by tourists though I felt a small (teeny, weeny, itsy bitsy) tinge of guilt that I was not headed for work myself. I boarded the tram and rode it to its termination point - Kabataş ("Kah-bah-tahsh").

In very little time we arrived at Kabataş. I got off the tram with everyone else and started walking in the direction of the Palace. A short distance later and I found myself standing outside the Dolmabahçe Mosque - a very small and modest mosque.

I did not realize it until I walked in but it is a working mosque which means shoes off and head covered. I removed my shoes and placed them in the cubby space. Unfortunately, I had not brought along a scarf to cover my head so I borrowed a pink one from the shelf.

By now, it was mid morning and the sun was streaming through the windows bathing the room in a warm, hazy light. The only other visitors was a family of four paying their respects.

There wasn't much to see so I took a few minutes to soak in the tranquility of the place and snap pictures. Back outside, I continued to walk in the direction of the Palace - a very, very short walk as it was just across a small parking lot adjacent to the mosque.

I found the ticket sales booth and plunked down 26 Turkish lira - 20 lira for admission to view the three main parts of the palace - the Mabeyn-i Hümâyûn (or Selamlık, the quarters reserved for the men), Muayede Salonu (the ceremonial halls) and the Harem-i Hümâyûn (the Harem, the private apartments of the family of the Sultan). I also had to plunk down 6 lira for my camera. WOW!! What an entrance fee! This better be worth it, I thought.

I turned around to face the entrance and gasped in awe at the sight - an ornately carved entranceway, flanked by equally ornate cast iron gates. High above is the Sultan's signet in emblazoned in green and gold. A guard stands at attention in front.

Passing through the first entranceway leads to a small courtyard beyond which lies a second entranceway. As I walked towards the second entranceway, I could see the palace in the distance. If the entranceways are any indication of the opulence of the interior of palace, I will be in for a jaw dropping visit. Maybe my friend is right. Dolmabahçe trumps Versailles in the palatial department!

The story of my visit continues in Part 2.