The charms of Istanbul

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By Luci Lizares

www.winners

Saturday, April 5, 2014


WHEN you are the Sultan and you own the land as far as the eyes can see, you have the privilege of situating your home with the best vantage point.

The Topkapi Palace overlooks the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara so the rooms had balconies with the beautiful view of the Bosphorus. If you take the Bosphorus cruise, you will see the two diverse cultures on each side of the channel.

On one side is the Eastern culture with the Ottoman structures and right across you see the European inspired palaces.

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Then and even now, as you look out of these balconies, the view is breathtaking and even on a hot summer day, the breeze is refreshing!
With a large expanse of property, even before reaching the Palace, there are gardens everywhere.

Though the plants have a timeline, some trees have survived for centuries. There is one that has been hollowed out by fungus over the centuries but this tree has become an attraction. Everywhere in the gardens are fountains, some quite ornate.

Going around the courtyards, the Treasury Room deserves mention. It is made up of four rooms. Here you find a vast collection of works of art, jewelry, heirlooms of sentimental value and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. One of the highlights is found in the 4th Room is the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, a teardrop-shaped 86 carat diamond surrounded by smaller stones. This was worn by Sultan Mehmet IV at his accession to the throne in 1648. The story goes that this 5th largest diamond in the world was originally found in a rubbish dump and purchased by a street peddler for three spoons, hence, the name.

Also one of the most coveted pieces exhibited is the Topkapi Dagger with three enormous emeralds. The Topkapi Emerald Dagger is of mid-18th century origin. The three large Colombian emeralds of good color and clarity are exquisitely crafted. They are interspersed with smaller diamonds. It was to be a gift of Sultan Mahmud I (1730-54) to Nadir Shah of Iran, but unfortunately the Shah was assassinated so the dagger was never given and returned to the treasury.

It is rather strange that in the midst of all these bedazzling jewelries and heirloom pieces, we find exhibited the forearm and the hand of St. John the Baptist, set in a golden covering in the possession of the Ottoman Empire. In Islam, John the Baptist is Yahya, the prophet preceding Isa, Jesus.

Having consumed the most of Topkapi palace and its highlights, we bid goodbye to the Topkapi Palace, had a Turkish lunch. It wasn’t a real authentic Turkish lunch - more touristy!

From there we proceeded to a factory where handwoven carpets are made. Turkish carpets originated from nomadic Turkish people and further developed during the medieval Seljuk period where workshops were created to produce for commissions by the court and export. It was during the Ottoman Empire that distinct styles surfaced. Today, the handwoven carpets are still in demand and for the discriminating buyer, they will choose from certain cities, towns and districts in Turkey where they are handcrafted.

We were only afforded 30 minutes at the Grand Bazaar. That was sad! The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world having been established in 1455. It attracts 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily. Wish we had that many coming to Bacolod even just monthly. Today, the Grand Bazaar is still a thriving complex. It employs 26,000 people and considered one of the major landmarks of Istanbul. The head of the Grand Bazaar Artisans Association claimed that in 2011 - the year of its 550th birthday - the most visited monument in the world.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 05, 2014.

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