On the third day of our visit we returned to Sultanahmet. We went first to the Blue Mosque which is a colossal building situated almost directly opposite the Aya Sofya. The grounds between the mosque and the Aya Sofya are worth walking around, especially in April when Istanbul’s Tulip Festival takes place. There’s also the outline of a hippodrome which still holds two obelisks and the lavish German Fountain, built to commemorate Kaiser Wilhelm’s visit to the city in 1898.
The Blue Mosque was built in the C17th and is truly a work of art. Its gigantic columns support a series of highly decorated and stunningly beautiful domes. Only the ground floor of the building is open to visitors (outside of prayer times) as there have been some problems with the theft of tiles.
Next we headed to the Basilica Cistern which was part of the water system built in the Byzantium period. The huge underground cavern is made of a series of columns which support vaulted ceilings. There’s not much to see but the site is hugely atmospheric and the architecture is incredibly impressive. Keep an eye out for the two Medusa heads and a tear drop column, features of other ancient sites which have been recycled to build the cistern.
Afterwards we went to the Topkapi Palace which has to be one of the most incredible buildings, or rather a series of buildings, in the world. It’s almost like something out of a work of fantasy fiction with its series of kiosks (small independent palace buildings), ornate tiles and plush divans. It’s the sort of place which has to be seen to be believed. The Palace itself is built around three courtyards which each have a number of rooms, stuffed with treasures, leading off of them. Yet, strangely enough, it is not the whole Palace but one section which is particularly fascinating: the Harem.
The Harem was where the Sultan’s private quarters, and those of his mother, were located. They are particularly lavish and the tiles, ceilings, cupboards and windows have all been painstakingly decorated. It was also where the Sultan’s wives – he was legally allowed four legitimate spouses – lived along with his concubines. Indeed, the Harem could hold up to 300 concubines who were usually slaves from Eastern Europe. These women would be presented as gifts to the Sultan by foreign dignitaries, were captives of war, or simply bought to serve the Sultan. Although some of the women became concubines, there was a hierarchy within the Harem and the women would progressively work their way up. They would be trained in Turkish culture and language before serving the Concubines, then the Sultan’s mother and finally, if they were deemed pretty or accomplished enough, they would become concubines for the Sultan. Thanks for reading x