Starting from this post the pictures will be a bit different than my previous posts. WordPress had changed their formatting so I am trying to get accustomed to this new method.
The next day, I went to the Topkapi palace just next to the Hagia Sopia. The palace was really just next door to the museum – a left turn from the Sultan Ahmet Square with the Hagia Sophia on your left past the beautifully decorated Sultan Ahmet III Fountain and you will arrive to the first gate of the palace.
The palace, like any Royal Palaces around the world, is a sprawling estate overlooking the Bosphorus strait. It was constructed by Sultan Mehmet six year after he conquered Constantinople, in the 15th Century. It was the seat of the Ottoman Empire until mid 19th Century, when the then Ottoman ruler, Sultan Abdul Mecid I moved the court to the newer Dolmabahce Palace. However Topkapi palace still remained to function as a Library, Mint and Imperial Treasury. When the Ottoman Empire dissolved in the early 20th Century, the newly established Republic of Turkey declared the Topkapi to be a museum, just like Hagia Sophia.
The palace is divided by three distinct courtyards separated with three gates. When you first arrived at the palace, you first come to the Imperial Gate, known in Ottoman Turkish as Bab-ı-Humayun. This is where all the guests arrive and where you can access the first courtyard. If I can remember well, this space is open to the public back in the days, so anyone can come into this courtyard freely. Here you are greeted by security personnel and depending on your timing, there would be a queue going into the palace through this gate. In this first courtyard you can see another Byzantine Church, Hagia Eirene, or Aya Irini in Turkish. The church is considerably smaller than Hagia Sophia, but it size contributes to the charm. The drum of the conical dome is in my opinion, charming, it its execution. When the skyline of the city is dominated by tall rounded semi spherical domes, the conical shape of the Aya Irini is refreshing. There was very little to note about the interior of the Church. It was very plain, except for the black on gold cross above the Templon, where the altar of the church would be. The church itself is like a miniature version of Aya Sofya, with most of the original fittings intact. You can see how the Templon of the church in Aya Sofia would look like without the Ottoman addition of Mihrab and Minbar .
Back in the first courtyard, there are cafes and beautifully manicured gardens. As I had come in the early spring, flowers started blooming around the courtyard. I saw several people having picnic in the grounds and enjoying the scenery. Here there are also cafes mostly in the vicinity of Aya Irini. However, I did not bother browsing through them as I was not hungry yet and it was probably very expensive. You can also go to the Istanbul Archeological Museums from here. There is also the souvenir shops, but there are so many people there I chose to bypass it entirely. You can also get tours and audio guides from this area
After walking through the first courtyard you will eventually come across another gate. This gate is called Gate of Salutations, or the Bâbüsselam, is where one would enter to the second courtyard. This space acts as a crossroad to many of the palace’s facilities such as the kitchens (Now housing the ceramics and kitchenware exhibitions from the Ottoman times that includes curious Chinese earthenware) and the entrance to the Harem (Which I missed entirely…next time I will visit it!). On the grounds there were also several Byzantine era excavations including parts of the old Byzantine palace found under the walkways. This courtyard is a lot smaller than the first courtyard as this is the courtyard closer to the Sultan’s personal apartments, so it is not as public.
As you make your way through the courtyard you will come across the third and final gate, the imposing Bâbüssaâde, The Gate of Felicity. This is the most inner part of the palace where the people can go…on certain occasion and permission. This is where The Audience Hall is located, directly in front of the Gate of Felicity. In this area there are several galleries including the as well several kiosks including the Baghdad, Sofa and Yerevan kiosks, a library and a small mosque. All of them are highly decorated and if you study the kiosks you can realize the ever changing artistic tastes of the Ottoman Sultans. You can see the Oriental tastes that are heavily influenced by the Chinese and Persian arts to the European Baroque and Rococo tastes which is emblematic of the end of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately in most of these galleries and kiosks photography was not allowed so I could not take anything while visiting these places. Towards the end of the palace you can take in a beautiful view of the Bosphoros Strait. There is a restaurant there as well where, by this time I was quite famished, enjoyed a rather expensive meal. But the view itself was quite worth it. By the end of my self guided tour it was past afternoon already. I then made my way out of the courtyards (accidentally bypassing the Harem ) and went to my next destination which is the Istanbul Archeological Museum.