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Topkapı Palace

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The seat of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, Topkapı Palace is today one of Istanbul’s most popular sights. The massive complex consists of four courtyards and hundreds of rooms, and the treasures on display are among the world’s most valuable. A visit to Topkapı Palace is almost compulsory during a trip to Istanbul… just expect to be exhausted afterward.

Everything about the Topkapı is excessive, and visiting is an exercise in patience and endurance. You’re going to be waiting in a lot of long lines, and there’s just no way around it. Although the courtyards and outdoor areas are spacious, the rooms and pavilions which hold the various treasures aren’t. You spend much of your time in ı waiting to enter them, then shuffling briskly through in single-file queues.

Luckily, the rewards for patience are spectacular. Once you’re through the Gate of Salutations, which separates the publicly-accessible first courtyard from the second, there’s an overwhelming amount to see, and much of it is unforgettable. The sword and mantle of Muhammed. The Spoonmaker’s Diamond, one of the world’s largest. The Topkapi Dagger (which features in a popular 1964 heist movie). The marvelous pavilions where the royal family would rest, such as the Baghdad Kösk, the Terrace Kösk and the Grand Kösk. The arm of John the Baptist. The libraries. The throne room. The Gate of Felicity. The circumcision room. The garden views across the Golden Horn and to Asia. The keys to the Kaaba. The Harem.

Let’s just put it this way… Topkapı Palace has the Staff of Moses. And I knew this, but was so dazzled by the other treasures, I forgot to search it out. Topkapı: awesome enough to reduce the Staff of Moses to an afterthought.

One of the best things about Topkapı is that chances for rest are plentiful. The palace is so large that you can always find a place to sit down and relax in the sun… and after a few hours of filing through rooms, you’ll need to sit. These were the moments I most enjoyed Topkapı. Relaxing on a bench under a tree, reading from a history book about the murderous, amorous or deceitful practices of the sultan and his court. And then looking up! These buildings provided the scene for so much amazing history. Just being inside this palace is an incredible experience.

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Topkapi Palace Further Reading

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June 27, 2013 at 5:26 pm Comments (7)

The Sakıp Sabancı Museum

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Housed in a 19th century mansion in the neighborhood of Emirgan, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum features a permanent collection dedicated to calligraphic art, along with outstanding temporary exhibits. This was one of the surprise cultural highlights of our time in Istanbul.

Sakip Sabanci Museum

Sakıp Sabancı was one of Turkey’s most successful businessmen, and among the wealthiest people in the world. The son of a cotton merchant, Sakıp never completed high school, but nothing could stop him from clambering to the top of Turkey’s largest business conglomerate. He was a famous figure throughout the country, a colorful and extroverted staple of Istanbul society, and a grand patron of the arts. The museum which carries his name opened in 2002, just two years before his death.

We only decided to visit the museum after finding ourselves with extra time in Emirgan. “Just a quick stop”, we figured. “In and out in a half-hour!” Yeah right. The Sakıp Sabancı Museum deftly conceals its true size; from the coastal road, we saw only the lovely mansion set atop a hill, and completely overlooked the massive modern annex attached to it. We ended up spending about two hours there.

A path leads from the coast up to the house, through a courtyard studded with sculptures and a variety of trees. The mansion itself contains the museum’s permanent collection. The first floor has rooms dedicated to Mr. Sabancı’s legacy, and others which preserve the mansion’s original furniture and decorations. The second floor is dedicated to the art of calligraphy, with old manuscripts and Korans.

The Korans and calligraphy were nice, but the Sakıp Sabancı Museum has become known for the world-class temporary exhibits displayed in the annex. During our visit, we saw one called “1001 Faces of Orientalism”. The fascinating collection spanned three floors, bringing together painting, film, photography, posters, books, clothing and more, in an effort to understand the West’s 19th-century obsession with the Ottoman Empire and Orient.

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June 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm Comment (1)
Topkap? Palace The seat of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, Topkapı Palace is today one of Istanbul's most popular sights. The massive complex consists of four courtyards and hundreds of rooms, and the treasures on display are among the world's most valuable. A visit to Topkapı Palace is almost compulsory during a trip to Istanbul... just expect to be exhausted afterward.
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