Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years from 1465 to 1856. It is a vast place in a very commanding part of the city. I went there today. My Turkish is still very elementary, but I think that Topkapi is translated “Top” = “cold” and “kapi” = “crowded.” I knew that the crowds can be bad there, it’s a very popular tourist destination, and for good reason. But I thought I had a strategy.
Turns out that I did have a strategy, but just not a very good one. First of all, since it was so cold today, I wanted to pick an activity that was inside. A palace seemed like a wonderful idea. However, its seems that this palace was still using the same heating system from when it was originally built in the 1400’s. Fireplaces, but they had no fires in them. Also, the main idea behind its beautiful design was the fact that the palace is built around a series of large courtyards. Courtyards, by their very nature, are outside. So, I didn’t do too well on the staying cozy and warm by being inside part.
Second, I wanted to try and beat the crowds. Today was Monday, and since this is “museum” and most museums are closed on Mondays (this one happens to closed on Tuesdays), I would I would outsmart everyone, surely everyone else in the world would just assume it was closed. Also, my thinking was that I would go early because of it’s proximity to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofya, I thought all the amatueurs would go to those two sights first, and then come over to the palace. Wrong again. Turns out that many people are smarter than I give them credit.
The crowds would not have been so bad if you were just looking at the palace…the building. But the main draw to this venue is the incredible artifacts that it contains. For example, the cloak and dagger that belonged to the Prophet Mohammed (not a big deal to Christians and Jews, but a very big deal to Muslims I learned). There were countless items of everyday use owned by the Sultans on display. There might have even been a jade, emerald-encrusted toothbrush for all I know, but I couldn’t get close enough to the display cases to see.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining, and I got to see plenty. The only reason that it is crowded is because the stuff is amazing, and it appears that the word is getting out after all these centuries.
I made the memory of the cold and the crowds go away by indulging in an extremely overly-decadent lunch: two mezes, a salad, chicken shish with rice, and the most incredible hot, flat bread I’ve ever eaten.