Thursday, April 11, 2013

Istanbul: Topkrapi Palace

Thursday and the second day I had to be a tourist in the city, I headed off to Topkapi Palace, a place which has held much fascination for me since Dingo introduced me to the 1960s caper movie, "Topkapi", a favourite fun film for both of us. Naturally, as a jeweller, I wanted to see the famous treasury and, as a metalsmith, the armoury.
I can't say that I was disappointed in the objects on display, but I can say that it was one of the most horrible tourist experiences of my life, beating even the restaurant of the Metropolitan Museum in New York for complete ignorance and rudeness of both staff and other tourists. To be fair, most of the staff were helpful and cheerful; most of the other tourists were well-mannered but the few exceptions made the whole experience dispiriting and angering.

I started off by getting there really early, so was one of the first people in the complex. It was partly my own fault that things were bad as I decided to visit the Harem first and the Treasury later: had I done it the other way around, it might have been less difficult.

The Harem is probably the most interesting part of the palace architecture, being relatively "pure" Ottoman architecture with little of the rococo and baroque excesses which later came from Europe to change the style.

Topkapi Palace - 9

After leaving the Harem, I went to the Treasury to see the jewels and jewelled objects. By this time, a sizeable queue had built up outside the place and there was a 20-minute wait to get in. Unfortunately, photography in the treasury is forbidden, so I have no images to show you, but there are plenty available online to see; not that is mattered - the aggressive guards never stopped shouting at stupid morons who insisted on taking photographs with their flashes in the dark environment against glass-fronted displays. By far the nastiest moment was when I was trying to look at an emerald pendant of some magnificence: on stopping to look, a guard barked at me, "Keep moving,.. keep moving... if you are going to stop, go home". He wouldn't listen to me when I tried to explain that the point of a museum is to LOOK at the objects therein.
It might sound strange, but I was reminded of a story I was once told about someone wanting to see Lenin's embalmed corpse: the guards wouldn't let you stop there either, so the people developed a sort of Michael Jackson "moonwalk" in order to spend more time while appearing to be moving.
What is the point of a museum in which one is not allowed the time to look at, absorb and process the objects displayed?
The general tourists themselves do not help, happy to spend less than three seconds per cabinet, unwilling to look as they have been divorced from their cameras, the medium through which they appear to need to filter their experiences. The queue whisked round and I developed strategies to allow me to study the objects without incurring the wrath of the guards. Just as I thought things couldn't get any worse, a party of about 60 Japanese children came in, all around 5 or 6, too short to ever hope to see into the cabinets, disinterested, shouting. Stepping back to look at a particularly splendid sword, I caught the back of my legs on the rope to which they were all clutching, knocking one of them over. Bring on the hysterical, screaming teacher, a female not fit to be in charge of a dog in public, let alone a party of disinterested primary-school children. Once more, the aggressive guards hastened to the scene and a fight broke out between them and the teacher. I slipped away...

Topkapi Palace - 29

Overall, the palace is well worth visiting. The metalwork in the armoury, the tiles, the harem, are all wonderful. The work in the treasury is wonderful but it was an effort to look at it, what with the numbers of people and the aggressive guards.

Topkapi Palace - 19

That evening, I went back to the gallery to see Ayse and meet with some people who were interested in the work. She met me in the town centre, not realising that the President of Turkey was going to be in the city that day and the roads would be blocked off, police everywhere. It took us 2 hours to travel less than 2 km in a taxi!

Gilded Finial

After the gallery, I went to dinner with the lovely Steven and Nevra. Steven is a Scot who married a Turk and who has lived in Istanbul for many years. It was great to be able to talk about the details of Turkish history, politics and econimics.

Bed after another long day.