Byzantium


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April 9th 2016
Published: April 9th 2016
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We spent the day visiting Topkapi Palace and the Archaeology Museum. Since it was Saturday, we were a little concerned about the crowds being a terrorist target, but there was tight security to get onto the Palace grounds and more to get into the Museums. A helicopter was even circling over head. When we got back home tonight, we discovered that we had missed seeing a State Department warning: "The U.S. Mission in Turkey would like to inform U.S. citizens that there are credible threats to tourist areas, in particular to public squares and docks in Istanbul and Antalya. Please exercise extreme caution if you are in the vicinity of such areas."

We are glad we didn't see the warning before we went, since it would have only made us more worried. We were very safe in the museums, and arrived and left from a less popular gate, and avoided crowds. We were going to take a ferry tomorrow, but now we will check out the crowds on the docks from a distance and decide whether to go or not.

After the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmed the Conqueror at 1453, construction of the Topkapı Palace was started in1460 and completed at 1478 . The Palace was built upon a 700,000 square meter area on an Eastern Roman Acropolis located at the Istanbul Peninsula between Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Topkapı Palace was the administrative, educational and art center of the Empire for nearly four hundred years since Mehmed the Conqueror until Sultan Abdulmecid who is the thirty-first Sultan. The Palace was abandoned by the Ottoman Dynasty by moving to the Dolmabahçe Palace at middle 19th century. Topkapı Palace was transformed into a museum in 1924.

We were surprised to see so many women in full burkas at the palace museum, and groups of Muslims from many other countries. When we entered one of the halls, the reason was clear: the most important relics of Mohammed are here (his sword, mantle, hairs from his beard). There is a holy man chanting passages from the Koran night and day, over the golden chest that holds the mantle. You walk within a few feet of him as you pass through the exhibit. A screen translates what he is chanting.

Besides the relics, there are rooms with:

Weapons

Jewels (including the 86 carat Spoonmaker's Diamond, said to have discovered in a rubbish heap)

Clocks

Costumes

Porcelain

The kitchens have been recently renovated and restored, with their huge pots for making confections. The kitchens, consisting of ten sections, were built in the 15th century and developed and enlarged during the 16th century under the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. They were restored after the fire of 1574 by Chief Architect Mimar Sinan. The low-domed structures located to the south of the kitchens date from the 15th century. The walls are built of stone and the covering system is made of brick. At one time, the staff numbered nearly 2000!

The Archaeology Museum is being renovated, but most of it was open.

I end with a favorite poem that's been in my head all day, since Byzantium was once built (in 668 BCE) where the Topkapi Palace now stands...


Sailing to Byzantium




BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS



That is no country for old men. The young

In one another's arms, birds in the trees,

—Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God's holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
HyacinthsHyacinthsHyacinths

They were planted in huge numbers everywhere, and the scent is wonderful in the warm air...

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.


Additional photos below
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Second CourtyardSecond Courtyard
Second Courtyard

The beautiful green spaces we see now were apparently once crowded with small buildings of all kinds, until a big fire cleared them out,,,,
Imperial Hall in the HaremImperial Hall in the Harem
Imperial Hall in the Harem

The Sultan would watch ceremonies here


10th April 2016
Ceiling decoration inside Topkapi Palace Museum

Spring time in Turkey
I love the details in the Topkapi palace with all of those incredible tiles everywhere and the jewel room (when I was there, a cradle and a throne of emeralds blew me away). How great to be there in spring for the flowers! I visited Turkey in the 90s when the US and European governments were warning not to go as a result of Kurdish bombings in Istanbul. However, it was fabulous--security had been stepped up, there were fewer tourists, I had a hostel dorm to myself, everyone was happy to see me, and there were no lines in the Topkapi Palace, one of my favorite places ever. You probably are more in danger of being hit by a car at home. Thanks for the Yeats!

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