Monday, 20 August 2012

Istanbul: Palaces and pounding the pavement.

Exterior of Domabache Palace.
After a quick ride on the tram we arrived at the waterfront and walked along to the Dolmabahce Palace which is in the Beskitas area of Istanbul right on the Bosphurus.  Work on Dolmabache, which means filled-in garden, started in 1843 and was completed in 1856 just after the Crimean War. The palace was built by Sultan Abdul Mecid to replace the old and outdated Topkapi Palace and he went all out. The exterior of the building has a European feel.  Unfortunately on entering the building we learnt that photography inside the palace is forbidden so, as a result, this blog will be more words than pictures. The upside was that we didn't have to take our shoes off, we got to wear natty pink plastic bags on our feet during the tour hehe.

 The interior feels a bit overblown and theatrical (even for a palace!) but that's not surprising as the interiors were the work of the designer of the Paris Opera at that time.  The interior of the palace is in original condition in some places particularly in the harem even with the original drapes in some places.

Covering over 250,000 square metres, Dolmabahce Palace served as the official residence of the sultan until 1924 when the caliphate was abolished and the Republic of Turkey established.  The palace has three functions: ceremonial, administrative and family residence (harem).  The ceremonial hall is utterly breathtaking.

The founder of the republic, Kemal Ataturk, used the palace as both his office and his home on his trips to Istanbul from Ankara, the newly appointed capital of Turkey.  All the clocks in the palace show the same time, 9.05(am), which is the time that Kemal Atatürk died on 10 November 1938. When touring the harem you'll be shown the small bedroom in which he died.  Access to the balance is as part of a guided group only.  Usually different languages are catered for with their own group and guide but as it was the Eid holiday we were in one large mixed group.  The guide did a great job, jumping between 5 or 6 languages to make sure that everyone knew what they were looking at.

After the palace visit we took the funicular from Karaköy station, up the hill to the Beyoğlu area exiting at Taksim Square.  There are only the two stations on the funicular. In the centre of Taksim Square is the Monument of the Republic commemorating the forming of the Turkish Republic in 1923. 
 İstiklâl Caddesi
We then walked the length of İstiklâl Caddesi, a major shopping and people watching area.  Before 1923 Istanbul was the capital of Turkish and this was the centre of the fashionable part of town.  After the capital relocated to Ankara in 1923 the  İstiklâl Caddesi area suffered a serious slump for several decades, its nadir being in 1955 when the avenue was ravaged during riots aimed at the Greek minority (it was all to do with Greek-Turkish friction over Cyprus).  Greek houses and shops were looted and burnt, churches desecrated, people raped (1204 all over again but with different perpetrators?)  At least 30 people were killed during the riots that only ended with the involvement of the Turkish military.  Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, covered the riots for the Sunday Times, I guess it was a better paying gig than his usual work with MI5.   The area recovered and has now been been gentrified.  Its become Istanbul's restaurant, bar and nightclub hub.

Galata Tower
We continued our walk downhill stopping at the Galata Tower. Built in around 1348, the tower is now isolated but used to be part fortifications of the city walls.  We stopped to take some photos and have a much needed coffee break and it was here our friends Kelly and Andrea left us to return to the hotel to catch their flight home. 

Yuksek Kaldirim. Its steep!
Colin and I walked down the steep Yuksek Kaldirim, a cobbled street that used to be Karaköy's main pedestrian thoroughfare before the opening of the funicular.  The area has been the first stop for immigrants to Istanbul from the Genoese in the 1200s, Spanish Jews escaping the Inquisition, Greeks, Armenians and in 1917 a wave of Russian émigrés fleeing the Bolshevik revolution.

There are music shops with window displays of darbeckis, mizmar, nay, kemence, ouds etc.  I bought a new pair of zills (finger cymbals) and listened to one of the shop workers play the saz and he was good!
Q: What's the difference between a mizmar and a trampoline?
A: You take off your shoes when you jump on a trampoline.
Ok, moving along.....

Once at the bottom, we walked over Galata Bridge checking out the success of the fishermen who hang their lines over the sides of the bridge. 
Wall to wall people at the Galata Bridge.

Back on the old side of the bridge, it was heaving with people out with their families and enjoying the first day of the Eid.  Most were buying food from the floating restaurants which moor next to the wharf.

We did a short walk in the Spice Bazaar but it was so crowded that it wasn't much fun so we headed back to the hotel after another wonderful day.

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