|Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001|
Friday, May 18, 2001.
No need for an alarm clock in Turkey - the singing of the muezzims (Islamic priests) at sunrise wakes you up just fine - all over the city, the loudspeakers on the minarets of the mosques (there are over 2,000 mosques in Istanbul) ring out with the singing of the muezzims, five times a day. The exact times vary, just to make it exciting. Actually, it apparently has something to do with the rising and setting of the sun, along with the length of shadows. Remember, this behavior comes from the pre-digital watch era. But there's always a call first thing in the morning when the sun rises, and one at sunset. There's also one mid-morning, one around lunch time and one mid-afternoon. In some ways its a lot like the break bell at a union shop. All this singing isn't just for fun - its calls to prayer. The Muslim faith calls for prayer five times a day, and the muezzims are nice enough to let you know when.
At any rate, the singing wasn't enough to actually get us out of bed, we lazed around for awhile. This changing time zones thing is for the birds. But we managed to get downstairs to breakfast before it was too late (maybe 9:30am, breakfast ends at 10:30am). Today we planned to explore Seraglio Point, specifically the Topkapi Palace and the Archeological Museum.
On the way to the Palace, we saw large groups of school children. It turns out that starting on May 18th, Turkey is celebrating Museum Week, where all children get to go to the country's museums for free... and here they were. Turkish children, like all children, are pretty noisy... and on top of that, they're all learning English in school, so they are very interested in having a chance to speak English. The consequence of this is that as you're walking past them, one of the less shy children will say "Hello!" to you, to which you, as a representation of English-speaking peoples, are obligated to reply "Hello!" This results in 50-200 children all yelling back "HELLO!" and knocking you over with raw enthusiasm. Actually, its kind of fun.
The Topkapi area that includes Topkapi Palace is a walled compound. We came to the Outer Courtyard by the side door, so to speak, through Gülhane Park, rather than the main entrance - the Imperial Gate (we would eventually leave through the Imperial Gate). Once in the Outer Courtyard, we made our way to the entrance of the palace at the Gate of Salutations. Here we paid an admission fee and had to have our bags x-rayed and walk through a metal detector to enter the Second Courtyard.
Once in the Second Courtyard, we took a moment to get our bearings and study the tour book to decide where we would go first. While we were studying the book, every Turkish schoolchild in the entire country poured through the Gate of Salutations and made a beeline for the Gate of Felicity, which is the entrance to the inner part of the Palace. Our immediate reaction was "Not that way." Instead, we turned toward the Divan, Tower of Justice and the Harem.
The Harem (which derives from the Arabic word for "forbidden") is the residence of the sultan's wives, concubines and children. To enter the Harem, you had to pay an additional admission fee and then were taken on a guided tour that lasted nearly an hour.
The Harem was fantastic, a vast complex of rooms, some of which were exquisite. You can take a peek at the details of the Harem on its own page. We exited the Harem on the far side, in the Third Courtyard, having bypassed the Gate of Felicity through the Harem. This exit put as near the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle - remember all those schoolchildren? This is where they were going. The line was quite spectacular. Rather than battle any crowds, we took a quick break and sat down by the fountain in the Third Courtyard.
After our short break, we headed over to the Library of Ahmet III, a small building adjacent to the fountain of the Third Courtyard.
Since the lower parts of the palace were still filled with schoolchildren, we went the opposite way toward the throne room. Unfortunately, the throne room was locked up, and the windows so thick and old that it was barely possible to see into the room, much less take a photograph. Instead, we stood on the raised part of the wall around the throne room and surveyed the area to avoid the largest crowds.
After giving up waiting out the lines of schoolchildren, we headed across the Third Courtyard toward the Fourth Courtyard. On the way we stopped to look at the ancient sundial. There we were surrounded by a group of school children and struck up a conversation of sorts. The most English-savvy of the lot had about six phrases:
Unfortunately, being learned phrases, the children didn't know any of the correct replies to these phrases, and so every time we answered a child, all the children would get VERY excited, but had no idea what our answers meant. The only effective statement back to them were the phrases they had just said to us.
The children had not yet invaded the Fourth, or Innermost Courtyard. This area has a series of smaller pavilions, most of which are dedicated to various events involving the sultans, like the capture of Baghdad by Murat IV. There is also the 104 year old Konyali Restaurant, perfectly placed for our lunch. We explored all the pavilions of the Fourth Courtyard before heading to lunch.
After lunch, the children started moving into the Fourth Courtyard, so we left. The lines in the Third Courtyard had diminished, so we entered the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. This pavilion contains some of the holiest relics of Islam. No photographs are permitted in the pavilion, and this time there was no funny business - other than Mecca, the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle is the most important place in the Islamic faiths, so no pictures.
The most sacred treasure in the pavilion is the Holy Mantle, which was once worn by the Prophet Mohammed. You cannot actually enter the room with the Mantle or see the Mantle, you can look through an open doorway of an antechamber into the room that has the Mantle in a gold chest. Twenty four hours a day, Muslim holy men chant passages from the Koran over the chest with the Mantle. In the room with the Mantle are two of Mohammed's swords. In other chambers there are imprints of Mohammed's foot, and hairs of his beard in various vessels. There is also a letter written by Mohammed himself.
Various artifacts such as the Keys of Kaaba are also stored in this pavilion. It is a quiet, somber place, even with the children in it. This is what they were all here to see - the artifacts of their faith.
From the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, we went into the Pavilion of the Sultans, which contains original paintings of all of the sultans of the Ottoman empire. This too was a highly controlled room - it was heavily air conditioned (not an easy thing to do in Istanbul), only 60 people were allowed in at a time, and again, no photographs. Inside there were oil paintings and drawings of all of the sultans of the Ottoman empire, spanning from 1300-1900. That's a lot of men.
We left the Pavilion of the Sultans and cut across the Third Courtyard to the Exhibition of Imperial Costumes. Since the beginning of the Ottoman Empire, a sultan's clothes were preserved when they died. As a result, the exhibition shows 600 years of sultan's clothing. Once again, no photographs were allowed and the rule was strictly enforced, so there's no photos to be seen of this wonderful garments. Its very obvious by the clothing that while they were stunningly wealthy and well off, the sultans of 500 years ago or so were much smaller people than later on.
The one area of the Third Courtyard in Topkapi Palace we did not explore was The Treasury, which was closed for renovations. It was time to start working our way out of the palace, so we crossed through the Gate of Felicity and into The Exhibition of Arms and Armour. Beside the Exhibition is The Divan, which we glimpsed before we went into the Harem. Our final exploration of the Topkapi Palace was the kitchens area, filled with silver and china.
That was the end of our exploration of the Topkapi Palace, but not the end of our day... back out the Gate of Salutations toward Gülhane Park is the Archeological Museum of Istanbul. There was a presentation taking place at the museum, but since it was in Turkish, it was difficult to know what it was about. The guess is that it was about "Museum Week", where schoolchildren have free access to the various museums of Istanbul.
We slipped past the presentation and into the smallest venue in the museum complex, called the Cinili (Crystal) Pavilion. Its name overstates its appearance, its full of old china in various conditions. The most beautiful thing in the pavilion is the Karaman Mihrab - brought from Karaman in southeast Turkey.
When we exited the Crystal Pavilion, the presentation was over, so we headed over to the main part of the museum. The major collection in the museum is classical archeology - busts, statues and sarcophagi from the Hellenic era. The only other building in the Archeological Museum is the Museum of the Ancient Orient, which has an amazing collection of Ancient Orient artifacts, from the Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites...
Time to start heading back to the hotel, this time via the Imperial Gate, across the Outer Courtyard.
Past the Imperial Gate and Fountain of Ahmet III, past the Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, we return to the hotel. Time for a bit of tea, a rest, and then dinner. During dinner at the hotel, live music was played by a lovely Turkish woman with a zither.
This evening also brought an answer to the Internet connectivity problem - but it wasn't a simple solution. Unable to make the local Istanbul node work, Richard used a calling card call to connect to the Vancouver node. The result was a 14.4k baud connection to Vancouver, which is too slow to do much except email and basic web pages. Using that connection it was possible to get the tech support numbers for Compuserve in Turkey - turns out that the service center is actually in Germany.
So, calling Germany, we managed to get a tech support person who spoke English (although all hold music and "you're call is important to us" type messages were in German), who said that we needed a totally different login script to connect to the service in Turkey. After humming and hawing about getting the script, it was finally revealed that we did have a goofy route online, so the tech support person gave us the URL for the location of the script file.
Going online via Vancouver, we connected to the site in Germany to get a script file for getting Internet access in Turkey (getting the giggles yet?). Unfortunately, the site was all Macromedia Flash based, which had not yet been installed on the laptop, and downloading it with a long-distance dialed 14.4k baud connection to the Internet was insane. But Mark was online and talking to us via ICQ, so he downloaded the file and sent it over, complaining about the challenges of navigating a web site in a language you don't understand.
Lo and behold, it was the right file, and we were able to get online in Istanbul. The connection was typically 28.8k, but sometimes manages 31.2k (Presumably the hotel had lousy phone lines). It was a fairly unstable connection, especially in the evening, prone to hanging up every few minutes. Half the time that you attempt to connect you fail - it just doesn't prompt for connection. However, bit by bit, we were able to update the web site.
Anyway, after all that walking, we decided we deserved to sit down for some of the next day, so we booked a boat tour up the Bosphorus Channel...