Even if you are not an avid admirer of the arts, architecture or history, the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul is still worth a visit.
Go straight to the areas facing the sea and enjoy some stunning views of Istanbul’s skyline.
For those interested in the museum’s collections and walking through its courtyards and rooms radiating with treasures, it would be an exhilarating cultural trip.
Overlooking the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea, the Topkapi Palace was built in the 15th century on the orders of Mehmet II, also known as Fatih the Conqueror.
It occupies a special place among Istanbul’s must-see attractions, which include the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and the Hagia Sophia Museum within a short walking distance.
This is where Ottoman sultans lived for hundreds of years. But Topkapi showcases much more than Turkish history.
Your curiosity about the exhibits may grow and you would probably end up spending more time than budgeted.
Each collection is special, telling the stories of society, governance and diplomacy during the Ottoman period.
A throne is among the many magnificent gifts sent by South Asia’s Mughal rulers to the sultans.
The museum’s Chinese porcelain collection is said to be the largest outside China.
Also displayed are Japanese porcelain items and thousands of wares made in Germany, France and Russia.
Royal kaftans, swords, jewellery, vessels and numerous gifts are part of the huge imperial collection.
One section of the museum that left me awe-struck was the Privy Room (“Has Oda” in the Turkish language).
The sultans deserve much admiration for protecting and preserving the heritage of Islam.
They represented what a philistine would resent; they took care of and preserved what indeed belonged to posterity.
Among the items displayed are the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) seal, a letter with his signature and swords. The swords of the Prophet’s companions, the keys to the Kaaba, and various other objects associated with the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are kept as well.
The Ottoman sultans served and protected three holy cities — Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem, with utmost reverence.
The sacred chamber also contains other holy relics, including a tray used by prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), the sword of Dawud (David) and the robe of Yusuf (Joseph).
A separate ticket is needed to enter the Harem section, were the sultans and their families lived.
If you get the impression that the rulers of such a vast empire lived rather modestly, that’s mostly right.
The architectural work is stupendous and it is fascinating to learn how private living and state activities were organised.
Due to the ongoing restoration works the full range of collections are not available to visitors.
The restoration project involves extensive and intricate work that will recreate the places’s past glory and present a more pleasant experience to tourists when finished.
Knowingly or unknowingly, some tourists also do what the sultans did when they lived in the palace: admire the beauty of Istanbul’s skyline from the seafront.