24 July 2013

June 8: Istanbul, Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace

This Saturday is our last full day in Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace are on our agenda, then we have the afternoon and evening to ourselves.

The Grand Bazaar is a maze of thousands of small shops in a huge building. It’s about the easiest place to get lost in in Istanbul. We are not big shoppers, so we dipped into the Bazaar gingerly, trying to remember our way back out. We were distracted a few times: there is so much for sale here! We thought to at least get a T-shirt, or a purse-type bag for me. We wandered, and ran into some of our tour members and chatted. Eventually, we were lost and had to ask directions to get out. Ali had told us to remember our entrance gate and that helped. Finally we see daylight! Happily, we emerged from the Grand Bazaar and found some of our group sitting at some tables at a restaurant. A nice cool drink, that sounds good.

I took just one photo: the gate we took into the darkness of the Bazaar.

Grand Bazaar

I did get a Turkish bag, but at a shop just outside the Bazaar.

Turkish Bag

I should at least give a little history of the Grand Bazaar. It is centuries old. Construction began in 1455, after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. At first, it was devoted to textile trade. Over the years, the structure was enlarged, and many different types of goods were exchanged. Fires and earthquakes hit the bazaar at different times, demanding reconstruction. Today it is one of the largest and oldest covered marketplaces in the world.

About noon, we got in the bus and went a short distance to Topkapi Palace. Actually, we are back where we were yesterday, near Sultan Ahmed Square.

The Topkapi Palace dates back to the 1470s, and remained the most important palace for the sultans until the 1850s. It consists of four tree-shaded courtyards separated by huge gates. Buildings of different functions surround the courtyards. The Palace was not only the residence of the Sultan, it also housed administrative facilities, the treasury, a mint, libraries, a university, a medical facility, and the harem. One large building housed the kitchens. At one time, about 4000 people lived in the Palace. (More information on the Istanbul tourism site and Wikipedia.)

We wandered around the Topkapi Palace, mostly on our own. There was a long line into the treasury, and inside it was crowded and dark and items were not well labeled. Mainly, we enjoyed the beautiful tiles and gold work on many of the buildings, the shady areas of the courtyards, the lovely fountains. We lunched in the cafeteria, then met up again with Ali who took us through some of the buildings that we missed before.

Museum ticket.

Topkapi ticket

An example of the detail on the buildings.

Topkapi

One of the buildings.

Topkapi

Courtyard.

Topkapi

Line for the treasury.

Topkapi

Building that holds Islamic artifacts.

Topkapi

Another building.

Topkapi

This is pretty:

Topkapi

The kitchens:

Topkapi

This woman is working to restore some of the tiles:

Topkapi

Close-up of tile work:

Topkapi

The palace living quarters:

Topkapi

Textiles:

Topkapi

Some of our group at a palace building:

Topkapi

John likes this column:

Topkapi

Palace living quarters:

Topkapi

Back at the hotel by 4 pm, we enjoy a swim and a rest. We decide to take Ali’s suggestion and walk away from the protest area to the Hunkar Restaurant for dinner. Four other couples from our tour group all arrived at separate times - we all took Ali’s advice, this was not preplanned. The waiters didn’t speak English well, so we just let them serve us whatever they wanted. It was crazy. Mostly, we got meze - small dishes - and it was all good.

Tonight the crowd of Saturday night protesters backs up all the way past the Divan. In the lobby, the hotel personnel are taking all the big vases of plants back behind the counter for safekeeping. We ride up the elevator with a couple nervous hotel workers. They are going up to the tenth floor for safety.

We do not venture out into the crowds tonight. We hunker down and hope no tear gas is released, no water cannons fired, no fires started. We note the best exit routes from the hotel. Although it’s been interesting, it’s time to get out of Taksim Square. We are not unhappy that we will be leaving the unrest and the crowds of Istanbul by 7 am tomorrow morning.

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