Tourists take over Topkapi Palace! Details here!

Istanbul Travel Blog

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Topkapi Palace gate, where I realized my "good" camera didn't have a memory card.
Yesterday we ran into large numbers of tourists while visiting a variety of Old City sights. I said in my blog that Istanbul was “big enough for all of us.” I take it back! Something changed today, and the number of tourists was far, far higher than yesterday. Awfully high! Way too crowded! I think it was the three enormous cruise ships we saw ominously parked in the harbor this morning. Either way, we had a fairly miserable day of sightseeing and cut it short due to the crowds and pushy people. Luckily we have a good number of days here and will be able to revisit the sights we missed.

Our first destination was Topkapi Palace. This palace was the home to sultans and their harems from about 1450 until the mid-19th century. It once housed over 5,000 residents, some of whom spent their entire lives behind the palace walls.
Two ladies plotting in the harem.
It’s a big, flashy place.

When we arrived, I took out my camera to get a shot of the entrance gate. But all I got was the dreaded flashing “NO CF” message. Noooooo! I’d forgotten the memory card at home! Luckily I had my small snapshot camera as a backup…I hate this camera, can’t control anything on it or get a good shot to save my life, but at least I’ll be able to record our visit. Grumble grumble.

We paid the 10TYL (seems this is what they charge for everything in Istanbul) and walked into the Second Courtyard, which had lawns, gardens and pavilions. Directional signage does not exist at the palace, so it’s somewhat difficult to find a clear path to follow -- and it’s an extremely large complex with gardens, terraces, and many buildings, large and small.
Dome and chandelier, Topkapi Palace harem.
Luckily, my guidebook had a map, and we made our way to the Harem. Another 10YTL to get in this area! That’s robbery, but we paid it. The harem is 400 halls, rooms (including the Sultan’s private quarters), and terraces grouped together. Forty of them are open to tourists. It was a pretty interesting look at court life. There were small plain rooms for the “lesser concubines” and eunuchs, whereas the “chief wives” had more luxurious apartments with elaborate tile work and ornate detailing. Lots of marble everywhere. The sultan’s mother’s bathroom (complete with Turkish toilet, which apparently hasn’t changed at all in the last five centuries) was actually a series of ornate rooms leading into a pretty uncomfortable-looking marble bathtub.
There must be something really good in there, but we didn't battle the mobs to find out.
Poor old thing didn’t even have a Jacuzzi.

We exited this and found ourselves in the Third Courtyard. Just ahead of us was a crazed mob of people trying to squeeze into a columned, marble building. People were shoving and generally acting like animals to get into this place. Steve and I decided nothing was worth joining that group, so we walked on.

Next was the Imperial Wardrobe. Garments from various sultans were stiffly mounted and displayed in glass cases. Some were very small, some very, VERY large. The clothing looked decidedly Asian.

The most interesting rooms are to be found in the Treasury, where the opulent gems, fancy thrones, jewel-encrusted swords, and gifts from foreign dignitaries can be found.
Tourists storm the Treasury!
The line into the Treasury was chaos and seemed to be filled with sharp-elbowed ladies. We found a calm spot and were funneled into the first room. Once we got in, we were directed to march around the perimeter of the room to see the treasures displayed in glass cases. Steve turned around as soon as he saw the crowd in this relatively small space, and I didn’t last much longer. From the glimpse I got, I can tell you there were lots of diamonds and blingy things. With so much space to be had in this complex, couldn’t they have made these rooms bigger!? There were two or three more Treasury rooms, but they were all just as crowded (I tried to get into one but gave up quickly), so we bypassed them as well.

We were both fed up with the crowds and desperate to leave, but having paid 40TYL (about $35), I was determined to cover the place! So we moved quickly through the Fourth Courtyard, where some nice breezy terraces that overlooked the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
What do you get the Sultan who has everything? (This was a gift from Japan. )
People were practically fighting each other to get shots of themselves in front of the water. What a madhouse. Time to leave!

But first, a stop in the Armory on our way out. And we had it all nearly to ourselves! Wonderful! I am not a huge fan of guns, swords, and armor, but I enjoyed having space to view the displays without being pushed out of the way, so I spent time inspecting every single item. Steve really enjoyed this area as well. It was pretty interesting.

Then we walked back through it all to the main gate, and were amazed to see more and more people pouring up the path to the ticket booth. What a money-maker this must be! It’s too bad they don’t invest some of it in good signage and something to help traffic flow better. For us, Topkapi Palace wasn’t worth the cost, and neither of us enjoyed it much at all, despite the nice stop in the Armory.
Steve follows the call of the Sirens...
It was a real let-down after yesterday's wonderful day.

Next, we managed to find an equally overpriced lunch. We went to a place recommended by Fodor’s called Konuk Evi. It was very near the Palace and promised to be a “break from the hustle and bustle.” Our waiter was rude and kept forgetting about us, and the food was OK but really overpriced (about $50 for two small portions and two sodas!) Feeling suitably screwed, we decided to just head home even though we had planned to go to the Archeology Museum next.

On the way home, Steve stopped at a music store he had spotted earlier. Oddly, the owner seemed annoyed to be disturbed, and wouldn’t unwrap the instruments for Steve to look at. So we left, scratching our heads.  Back to our apartment to enjoy the balcony… no crowds there!    

cmgervais says:
Hi there - nice to hear from you!

If the place is fancy and good it might be in Fodor's. I will check it out. Thanks for the tip!
Posted on: Jul 14, 2008
lrecht says:
C & S - ok, this might be a challenge but Cindy and I had a fairly fancy dinner one evening in Istanbul at a pretty large palatial place right on the Bosphorous I think in Ortakoy that was really pretty good and romantic. It is right on the water and of course, I cant find the name of it but I do remember we walked one way from the Conrad Hilton (there are a bunch of Hilton's in Istanbul - it is the Conrad that is closest to ummm Ortakoy I guess...

Anyway, if you can find it, it was pretty fun. If I remember, it is before you get to the bridge and restaurants and all that right on the main road...

Hope you guys are having a blast!
Larry and Cindy
Posted on: Jul 14, 2008
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Topkapi Palace gate, where I reali…
Topkapi Palace gate, where I real…
Two ladies plotting in the harem.
Two ladies plotting in the harem.
Dome and chandelier, Topkapi Palac…
Dome and chandelier, Topkapi Pala…
There must be something really goo…
There must be something really go…
Tourists storm the Treasury!
Tourists storm the Treasury!
What do you get the Sultan who has…
What do you get the Sultan who ha…
Steve follows the call of the Sire…
Steve follows the call of the Sir…
Visitors to the Harem, Topkapi Pal…
Visitors to the Harem, Topkapi Pa…
Tile work and a doorway.
Tile work and a doorway.
Gold leaf and intricate detailing …
Gold leaf and intricate detailing…
Painted tiles close up.
Painted tiles close up.
Harem hallway.
Harem hallway.
Braced archways in the Harem.
Braced archways in the Harem.
Detail on a wall. Topkapi Palace.
Detail on a wall. Topkapi Palace.
Apartments in the Harem. Topkapi P…
Apartments in the Harem. Topkapi …
The Imperial Hall (I think!).
The Imperial Hall (I think!).
The Imperial Hall (I think!).
The Imperial Hall (I think!).
Fancy tile work. Topkapi Palace.
Fancy tile work. Topkapi Palace.
Hanging out in the Harem.
Hanging out in the Harem.
Self portrait in a REALLY ornate m…
Self portrait in a REALLY ornate …
Garment for a portly sultan.
Garment for a portly sultan.
Beautiful view from a Topkapi terr…
Beautiful view from a Topkapi ter…
Photographing the view.
Photographing the view.
Topkapi Palace.
Topkapi Palace.
Me and my Turkish Patriot.
Me and my Turkish Patriot.
Beautiful view from a Topkapi terr…
Beautiful view from a Topkapi ter…
Topkapi Palace.
Topkapi Palace.
The height of military fashion, in…
The height of military fashion, i…
The big guns.
The big guns.
Gotta protect the horses, too!
Gotta protect the horses, too!
Tourists still pouring in, as far …
Tourists still pouring in, as far…
Small lunch spots outside Topkapi …
Small lunch spots outside Topkapi…
A jumble of instruments on display.
A jumble of instruments on display.
Istanbul
photo by: Memo