Thursday, 16 August 2012

Istanbul: A day of palaces

Outside the Dolmabahce Palace

Reading my friend John's travel blogs from New York, I remember thinking the idea of moving hotels mid week was excellent. It gives you the chance to try out two different areas of a city. The only the risk is if your second hotel is a lemon and you wish you'd never moved!

Despite my nagging concerns we decided to split our time between the old and new towns of Istanbul. Our first hotel in the new town two tram stops from the Dolmabahce Palace, and our second hotel was a short walk from the Topkaki Palace. It seemed rude not to visit both on the day of our transfer.

The Dolmabahce Palace was built by the Sultan between 1843 and 1856. It truly is an impressive building built on an vast scale. The palace can be roughly split into three areas; public rooms, a central ballroom and the private quarters of the palace.

Grand entrance gate of the palace

Access to the palace is only available through a rather disappointing guided tour. You can buy a ticket for just the public rooms and ballroom, or for the whole palace. I decided to go for the full monty.

Both tours route marched us through room, after amazing room. My museum tolerance isn't that high, but even I would have liked to have learnt more about the carpets, furniture and ornaments than our rather tight lipped guides deemed to share with us. As one of the cities premiere tourist sites with rather high ticket prices I found the standard of the tour incomprehensible. Surly it can't be too hard to do better?

Even without much commentary you can't help but be impressed by the palace and it's furnishings. All of the rooms are on a grand scale and even the private quarters (which the guide books seem to be unfairly rude about) struck me as rather smart.

Inside a courtyard at the Topkaki Palace

After checking into our new hotel and a short siesta it was time to hit the Topkaki Palace, which was home of the Ottoman Sultans until the moved out in 1856.

Unlike my morning experience, Topkaki was a self guided experience and we were free to roam the grounds of the palace and in and out of the various buildings that were open to the public. It was also distinctly Turkish compared with the Baroque / Neo-classical styles of the Dolmabache Palace.

Door and mosiacs in the harem

We spent the majority of our time in the harem, wandering round the private quarters of the palace. Some of the mosiacs, tiles and frescos in the bedrooms were fantastic. Although beautiful you can see that the quarters might not have been the most practical and the Sultan was yearning for some modern luxuries and so decided to build a new palace.

The Baghdad pavilion in the Topkaki Palace

After the harem I was approaching my 'culture quota' for the day so we headed for a look round some of the gardens. There are great views of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn from some of the terraces which overlook the water.

One of our final stops was the Baghdad Pavilion. I'm not quite sure of the origins of the name, but it certainly was a mighty fine summer house.

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