Palace, museum and underground cistern in Istanbul

{ October 2009 - Istanbul, Turkey }

After spending a wet first day in Istanbul, we woke up to another rainy. It was definitely disappointing, but unfortunately, we could arrange everything but the weather! We had breakfast in the hotel, and started walking towards Topkapi Palace. It was wet and cold. I really really hoped that the weather would get better as the days go by!

We arrived in the palace even before it opened, and there was already quite a big group of tourists waiting outside. We went straight to the harem, away from the rest of the crowd. When we talk about harem, the image would usually be sexual activities and of a polygamous king and his many wives and concubines. However, for this harem, it includes the private apartments of the sultan and the living quarters of the women in the palace including the sultan's mother, wives, concubines, children and their servants. The harem was the heart and soul of the palace.

This was the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs. Eunuchs guard the women section of the harem and there were two types: White Eunuchs and Black Eunuchs.

The royal bathrooms or the hamam are decked in marbles and gold. It looked pretty posh! I could only fully appreciate its functions after going to a hamam bath in Antalya!

After touring around the hamam which was mostly indoor, it was time to visit the courtyards. The courtyards were in open air and the rain was very heavy by then, with lots of tourists all around. It was quite a pity being in Topkapi Palace with the heavy rain and wind. We couldn't really enjoy ourselves there, or really soak in the surroundings. I would usually be very excited whenever I visit royal palaces and castles - imaging the grandeur of the days gone by.

We visited some of the buildings all around the palace, but the highlight of the tour was the Treasury which had many precious collections. My favourite would be the Spoonmaker's Diamond which was, and still is, the world's 5th largest diamond. Believe it or not, but it was originally found in a rubbish dump and purchased by a street pedlar for three spoons!

After visiting the palace, we were planning to visit either the Istanbul Archaeology Museums or the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. We ended up at the Archaeology Museum because it was nearer to the palace, and with the heavy rain, we didn't feel like walking much further! There were three museums in the compound and the collections were amazing. Some of the more memorable collections were sarcophagus, Lycian tombs, the Troy exhibit, the oldest peace treaty in the world and many statues from ancient times. We needed to rush through some of the collections as we wanted to go to Basilica Cistern before it closed.

The Basilica Cistern is definitely a weird but interesting place to be in. My expression when we walked down the slippery step was - "wow!". It was built by the Byzantine emperor during the 6th century. It has 336 columns arranged in 12 rows. The symmetry of the columns were extraordinary. The lightings and the dripping water from the ceiling makes the atmosphere surreal. And the Medusa heads made it mystical.

It was dark by the time we came up from the cistern. We walked along Divan Yolu and decided for dinner at a diner with lots of choices of food. The rice and the dishes were quite rich. It was good, but the portion was a little too much for me!

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