Published: November 14th 2010November 10th 2010
Today was our cruise on the Bosphorus day with a visit to Dolmabahce Palace. It was a glorious day to be on the water. The sky was bright blue, the sun was shining and the water was deep blue with choppy white waves splashing against the shore. We has high hopes that today's trip (by the same company as the last one that was not so pleasant) would be more successful. We were not disappointed.
The first thing I noticed was the preponderance of huge red Turkish flags flying at half staff. Since I can't read the newspapers or understand the TV I was concerned that something terrible had happened somewhere and I was totally unaware of it. The guide told us that today was the anniversary of the death of Ataturk. I wrote a little about him the other day but I think it is fitting to add a bit more. He was born Mustafa Kemal Pasa and rose to prominence in 1915 when he led the Turkish forces at Gallipoli. He seized the moment after WW1 and abolished the sultanate in 1922. He is like the George Washington of Turkey only he changed many of the old ways by introducing the Latin alphabet, setting up compulsory schooling, and establishing rights for women. He is idolized as the ' Father of the Turks' ( that is what his name Ataturk means). It is illegal in Turkey to criticize him. He kicked the sultan out of Dolmabahce Palace and used it himself (it's good to be the victor).
Coinciding with our visit to the palace were about 1,000 or more school children who were there to honor Ataturk and remember his passing. Most of the teachers carried bouquets of flowers which were to be presented or placed at a place of honor. The children ranged in age from pre-schoolers who were all holding on to the shoulders of the classmate ahead of them to teenage military cadets who wore black double breasted uniforms with twin rows of brass buttons down their jackets. Very snappy.
Before we could enter the palace we had to put plastic booties over our shoes. We were instructed to stay on the red carpet at all times and not to touch anything! Our group was followed around by uniformed workers who enforced these directives. Let's just say that the sultan knew how to be good to himself. The palace was built between 1843- 1856. Istanbul's influence was waning and apparently the Sultan thought he could stop the rumors of Ottoman decline by buiding a grandiose palace. Gold gilded ceiling, chairs, railings, and tables abounded. The ceilings were works of art including a 118 foot high dome with 4 ton chandelier, which was a gift from Queen Victoria, and is said to be the largest in the world. It is mighty impressive. It hovers over the largest hand made oriental carpet in the world- easily as large as half a basketball court. The grand staircase has balustrades of Baccarat crystal. You don't see that everyday! There are several ceremonial entrances that were used to welcome dignitaries. Next to the room where the Sultan saw guests was the waiting room for the guests where they would wait anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days depending upon the Sultan's wishes. Like I said, it's good to be the sultan.
Before going into the palace we had viewed it earlier from our boat. On a sunny day it is something to behold. Over 930 feet long all of white marble with 20 - 30 feet high arched gates. Both gates have a guard of honor. Yet is looks lacy and delicate and not like a fortress in any way.
Earlier on the cruise there was a surprising sight - an above the water submarine flying the Turkish flag whizzed by us. I've never seen a sub and to see one not submerged and chugging at a speedy pace was might impressive.
The cruise was lovely. We went under most of the bridges that connect the two continents. We saw the old Rumeli Fortress which was built by Mehmet ll in 1452 as he prepared for his final attack on Constantinople. He built it at the narrowest point on the Bosphorus opposite the Fortress of Asia built in 1391 in order to cut the flow of supplies reaching the city.
We got off the boat and took a bus up to Pierre Loti hill. He was a French writer and frequented a cafe in the Eyup area of the city. His story is not a happy one though as he fell in love with a Turkish woman ( she was already married). His novel Aziyade chronicles their difficult relationship. There was a fantastic view of the city from this hill and a fun cable car ride down.
if you ever come to Turkey be sure and spend some time cruising on the Bosphorus and make sure to visit the Dolmabahce palace( closed on Monday and Thursday). I didn't get to see it when I was here before so Iwas thrilled to finally get the chance to visit. To be there on the day that Ataturk was being remembered and honored made it even more special.
Tomorrow- the Grand Bazaar!