Istanbul

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.

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Izmir

We left Katakolon passing through the Aegean Sea and sailing close to the Greek Islands, until we reached Turkish waters and Izmir. Izmir is one of the oldest settlements of the Mediterranean basin dating back to prehistoric times, and several graves have been excavated, with artefacts dating from around 3000 BC. The ancient city was known as ‘Smyrna’, thought to be named after a Queen of the Amazons, but has been internationally recognised as ‘Izmir’ since 1930.
Izmir is situated on the shore of a beautiful gulf of the Aegean Sea, so after disembarking, we ignored the taxi drivers touting for business, and took a leisurely stroll along the sea front. We stopped at a cafe, with tables spilling out onto the pavement, and I tasted my first Turkish coffee, complete with a bottle of water. Fortunately I like strong black coffee with sugar, because I discovered later that when I was asked if I’d like ‘a medium’ it was with regards to the amount of sugar, not the size of the coffee! I enjoyed the thick, dark coffee, but it is not something I’d like everyday!
We wandered on, until we reached the Republic Tree Monument in the centre of Gündoğdu Square, known locally as ‘Cumhuriyet Ağacı Anıtı’. The monument was erected in 2003 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Turkey becoming a republic. It symbolizes Atatürk and the Turkish cavalry fighting the War of Independence (‘Kurtuluş Savaşı’).
I have a quirky sense of humour, and on looking closely at one of my photographs, I was amused to find a bird sitting on his head!