I visited the Topkapi Palace on Wednesday.
Like most of the ancient tourist attractions here, it has a rich history. The many rooms, exhibits and mosaics there are impressive and the views over the Bosphorus picturesque.
Pity about the tourist-trap add-ons though: 25 TRY access fee for starters, 15 TRY for an audio guide (not particularly useful), an additional 15 TRY to enter the Harem, where the sultan’s mother, wives, children and concubines where kept, and a 15 TRY audio guide upgrade for the Harem, because your previous audio guide won’t be very useful there. The kitchens, where meals were prepared for up to 10000 people at at time, are closed at the moment – another disappointment, kitchen lover that I am.
After the visit to Topkapi, I headed back to Taksim square to meet my friend Jurg (follow him on Twitter – @die_jurger), who will be joining me for the remainder of my stay in Istanbul before we head off to the Aegean cost for a sailing trip. We spent the rest of the day walking around and revisiting the basics, drinking beer and having dinner in Beyoglu, a vibey area stacked with restaurants, bars and cafés.
Today’s stereotypical tourist activity was much more meaningful than the Topkapi palace: The Hagia Sophia. With its origins dating as far back as 337 AD, I think it’s by far the oldest place of worship I have ever visited. The conversion of the Hagia Sophia from a Roman Catholic place of worship into a Mosque (which happened in the 15th century) really struck a chord in me and is a reminder of the religion-based strife all over the world over the ages and how rulers prescribed (and in some case still prescribe) what people are allowed or supposed to believe.
During the cathedral-to-mosque conversion, the Catholic artifacts were removed and the mosaics covered in plaster – all of this was replaced with Islam based artifacts and relics. During the Hagia Sophia’s 20th century secularisation into a museum, a lot of the Catholic relics and mosaics were uncovered and visitors today are greeted with a mixture of Christian and Islam history under the same roof.
After the visit to the Hagia Sophia, we wanted to visit the Blue Mosque, but my shorts prevented us from entering (apparently visitors need to wear trousers) and we will try again tomorrow – I am looking forward to see Sultan Ahmed I’s “bigger and better” replacement of the Hagia Sophia tomorrow.
The day was finished off by watching the sun set from the Galata Tower – a wonderful way to end a day of sightseeing and walking around Istanbul.
We will be leaving for Fethiye tomorrow evening with a night bus – can only be interesting. Before that we will try to squeeze in the mandatory visit to a hamam as well.
Let’s hold thumbs that my sunburnt and now oversensitive skin will not get scrubbed off…
Other pictures taken today:
UPDATE: Turns out you won’t be denied access to the Blue Mosque if you are wearing shorts. You’ll be provided with a sheet to cover your knees or whatever needs to be covered, depending on your gender.