Mon, June 24
By the time we had finished breakfast this morning, the ship had berthed at Instanbul and we caught a glimpse of domes and minarets before disembarking this afternoon for our tour.
We made our way straight to the Topkapi Palace – centre of the Ottomon Empire for several centuries until the last Sultan was exiled to Cairo in 1923. There are extensive grounds inside the palace walls featuring beautiful Byzantine architecture, elaborate mosaics, courtyards and stately gates.
We visited the Harem Quarter where 800 concubines once lived. It has a highly complex floor plan, consisting of several buildings and hundreds of elaborately decorated rooms. The walls were decorated with the most beautiful tiles, gold leaf and mother-of-pearl. Interesting that they did not have much furniture as they used cupboards and shelves built into the walls for storage.
We were given time to browse amongst the fine collections of gold, jade, and various items decorated with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. The pride of the Imperial Treasury is the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, which, at 86 carats, is the fifth-largest in the world. We also saw the famous Topkapi Dagger, encrusted with precious jewels. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed!
We could not leave Turkey without enjoying a carpet demonstration. Here we were able to see a carpet being made by hand on a loom as well as seeing and feeling all the different types of carpets, whilst sipping apple tea followed by a glass of Ouzo.
Our final destination was the Grand Bazaar (the rooftops of which were in the movie Skyfall) – over 4,000 colourful shops fill this covered marketplace, the largest in the world. Its origins go back to the 1400’s. We could only spend a short while here as it would have been so easy to get lost, but it was a great experience and we got the chance to haggle for a few souvenirs. While we were walking there, we could hear the muslins being called to prayer.
Given the political protests prior to our visit, we were lucky to catch a glimpse of this beautiful city. There is still so much more to discover there.