Istanbul was the next stop on our Eastern Mediterranean cruise. The ancient capital of three great empires, it is still the point where east meets west, ancient meets modern, and the only city in the world that is built on two continents. The highlight for me of our visit to Istanbul was the Topkapi Palace, which is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul, and contains Muslim holy relics, including Muhammed’s cloak and sword. Construction of the palace began in 1459 after Byzantine Constantinople was conquered by Sultan Mehmed. The Topkapi Palace, (meaning Cannon Gate), was built on a hilltop on a small peninsula, between the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus Strait. For nearly 400 years it was the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans, the seat of government, and used for the state occasions and royal entertainment. During this time the palace was greatly extended, and became the largest in the world, a city within a city, with walls 5 km long. Originally home to 700 – 800 people, at its height it would have housed 4,000 – 5,000 residents, and over 10,000 during festivals. After the 17th century the Topkapi Palace gradually lost importance, and in 1856 the court was moved to a new European-style palace, although the treasury, library and mint remained. As one of the best examples of an Ottoman palace, it is now a part of the ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site’.
The palace complex is large and varied. It contains four main courtyards, large gateways, a maze of passages, hundreds of rooms, gardens, and many other buildings including mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. It is beautifully decorated, with high gilded ceilings, intricately patterned gateways, swathes of flowing golden writing, wonderful tiled walls and panels, wide paved courtyards, and striking patterned black and white pebble paths.
All in all, a most enjoyable day out, and a palace well worth visiting.