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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Islamic Art at the Topkapi Palace

Following our end of tour breakfast and before our rooms were ready at the hotel, Nat and I still bleary eyed from the train took ourselves off to the Topkapi palace, home of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years. We got the audio tour which has been a welcome addition to Turkish museum attractions and to my mind adds a lot to a visit to anywhere unless you have an excellent personal guide. I often cant be bothered to read all the English signs and its nice to have someone explain things to you, occasinaly you get bonus amusing musical introductions to each piece or mispronounced words to keep you entertained. Perhaps that should be a travel philosophy...yes...lets, i think thats um, Travel Philosophy Number 5 - Fork out the extra for the audio guide if there is one!. 5 Philosophies in all this travel, thats not much is it - I will have to get my thinking cap on,

Apart from the musuem collections in the Palace, containing all the treasures and some fantastic Sultans Kaftans which were perfectly preserved, the most interesting part of the palace was the Harem. A big labyrinth of rooms reserved for the wives and concubines, the entrance strictly guarded in both directions by the highly influential Black Chief Eunuchs. The only males allowed in there were the Sultan and his brothers and sons, the latter mostly being kept locked up in there both for their own protection and for the protection of the Sultan as everyone of them was essentially a threat to his power. Amongst the females the main power base was the Queen Mother and the Mother of the legitimate male heirs. It reminded me a lot of the descriptions of the Zenana in Indu Sundaresans novels of Mughal Indian court life and harem politics. Nat coincidentally had been reading a non-fiction account of a French woman who had wound up in the harem and ended up being the mother of a sultan and a powerful figure who brought a French influence to the court and told her story afterwards. Actually it was interesting to note that allot of the wives were abducted from the West, so there would have been few 100% Turkish Sultans.

I had cause to think of my Mother a fair amount walking round the palace - She used to be a ceramics teacher with a love of Islamic designs and in fact we very nearly had a holiday to Istanbul when I was in my teens and had a period of spending a week a year in a European city and taking day trips out. I would have liked her to see the beautiful Iznik tiles everywhere - Mum if your reading, I was thinking of you when i took those tile shots. I always remember her explaining to me that theres few depictions of people or animals in traditional Islamic art, as it was frowned upon to re create the image of something only God could. Hence the traditions for creating intricate patterns as the basis of their art instead. That said Nat did spot one or two animals depicted in the tiles, theres plenty of floral designs and they certainly did depict people in portraiture. The Sultans often had minatures of themselves.

I really love the Islamic style - its very tasteful and invokes a peaceful atmosphere with gentle arches and often water trickling from fountains. The detail on the walls and ceilings is stunning.

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