On our last day in Istanbul, we had a morning to visit Topkapi Palace before an afternoon flight to Athens. Topkapi Palace was built as the administrative center of Sultan Mehmet II and then later converted to be the residence of Suleyman the Magnificent. The Palace is open Wednesday-Monday from 9:00-19:00 (until 16:45 in the off season) with the Harem open from 10:00-16:00. The price of admission to the Palace is 20 TL and 15 TL to visit the Harem. We used the Topkapi Palace Tour chapter of Rick Steve’s Istanbul as our guide.
Entrance to Topkapi Palace
We arrived around 10:00 and decided to go to the Harem first before it got too crowded which was great because we got to slowly walk around without crowds of people pushing and shoving and getting in our photos. The Harem was the home to the sultan’s wives and concubines and is well worth the extra 15 TL to see the exquisite tiles and get an inside look at what life there was like. It was fascinating to read about life and customs in the harem. Harem is an Arabic word that means “forbidden” meaning that this part of the palace is only for family members (women) and is forbidden to others. Sultans could have up to 4 wives and hundreds of concubines that were slaves who kept house and “favorites” who were selected from the concubines by the sultan’s mother and wives to have a more intimate relationship with the sultan. It was interesting to learn that the sultan’s mother’s living quarters were located between the sultan’s quarters and his wives’ quarters. Can you imagine that living situation today?
The sultan’s quarters resembling a Turkish Bath
Example of the stunning tile work in The Harem
Courtyard of the Favorites where the favorites of the sultan selected by the sultan’s mother lived
Once we left the Harem, we were slightly overwhelmed with how much more there was to see. And it was getting quite crowded with lines forming everywhere. There was so much to see so I will only mention the highlights were us. I loved the Imperial Treasury where there were thrones and jewels. There is a pretty long line for the Imperial Treasury and you walk through single file and sadly photography was not allowed in the Imperial Treasury, Sultan’s clothing collection and Muslim Relics. The highlights of the Imperial Treasury were the Topkapi Dagger, which includes an emerald on top of the handle and the other highlight for me was the Spoonmaker’s Diamond that is 86 carats and surrounded by 49 other diamonds. Wow! I also loved the Hall of Holy Relics where an imam reads verses aloud from the Quran 24 hours a day. There are also everyday items from Muhammad, Moses, Abraham, David and Joseph. If you ever wanted to see Abraham’s cooking pot or Moses’ staff, this it the place!
The view of the Bosphorus from Topkapi Palace (amazing!)
After we left Topkapi Palace, we grabbed some kebab sandwiches from a place near the tram tracks near Hagia Sophia (on Divan Yolu) where they have large chunks of meat that cooks as it rotates in front of a vertical grill. Then the chef cuts off slices of the meat and serves it wrapped in pita or bread. I had a chicken kebab sandwich, which was the cheapest meal we had in Istanbul and although it was not spectacular, it was good and certainly filling.
Chicken kebab sandwich
After one last walk by the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, we went back to our hotel and left for the airport for Athens on our way to Santorini. Stay tuned for more about our amazing time in Santorini!