It’s all in the details

We thought we would spend a leisurely afternoon walking through the Topkapi Palace, but it became more hectic than we had expected. The building of the palace started in 1450 CE, soon after the sultan Mehmet conquered Istanbul, and continued until the 17th century. The result is that there is a lot to see, and three hours may feel a little rushed. It is hard to make sense of the palace complex as a whole (a feeling I’ve also had in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and also in the palaces of India), so it is best to concentrate on parts separately. Today I thought I would post a few photos of the Imperial Hall (Hünkâr Sofası) in the harem.

The harem was the private palace of the Sultan and his family, and was controlled by the Queen Mother (Valide Sultan). Like in Indian palaces, the Topkapi Palace had multiple throne rooms, and the one here was for private audience. It was built in the 16th century, burnt down in the fire of 1666, and rebuilt immediately after that. The side gallery (featured photo), where the family sat, is an example of this. The Delft tiles and the Venetian mirror in the photo above was added in the 18th century, The gilded sofa was a present from Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. I have no idea where the tall Chinese vases came from, and no photo of the gilded clock donated by Queen Victoria.

The central dome of the room is supposed to be the largest in the palace complex. In this view you can see the incredibly ornamental interior of the dome. This is original, from the rococo style redecoration of sultan Osman III, executed immediately after the fire. I looked up at it until I got a crick in the neck. The Family was engaged in a minute inspection of the tiles. This is a room which reflects the aesthetics of the whole palace: a single look cannot encompass it, you really have to examine the details.

In that spirit, I stop with details of two sets of tiles that caught my eye. This trip was my first exposure to Ottoman ceramics. It seemed to me that the first step in recognizing Iznik tiles could be to examine the bright cobalt blue, white, and red colours under a hard colourless glaze. I would get to see more of these tiles in coming days.

Art in an ancient city

After a week seeing the natural wonders of Turkey, and the ruins of ancient cities, I thought I’d forgotten what a living city feels like. When I got off the taxi in the middle of bustling Eminönü, it felt like jumping into the shockingly cold water of a Finnish sauna. A moment of shock, and then it was wonderful. An exhibition of photos at Istanbul’s new airport had introduced me to the work of the photographer Ara Güler. As I walked through the exhibition (a selection in the gallery below; for a better view follow the link), I realized that many photos of Istanbul are influenced by his vision.

Walking through the streets I realized that Istanbul has superb street art. I’ll have more to say about this later, but a sampler is the featured photo. It could be an early Braque were it not for the fact that it was a guerilla work in a boarded off lot in Eminönü.

Fountain

From the sunwashed ruins of ancient Greek towns to one of the world’s major cities, the transition was stark. After a week in small towns and villages, Istanbul was a delight: the crowds, the bad traffic, loud noises. It was like coming home! Our hotel was closer to the Topkapi Palace than I’d realized.

So we had a quick lunch at a kabab shop outside the hotel and walked up a massive gate which was the entrance to the park known as Gülhane, rose garden in translation. Lavender was in bloom (featured photo). This was more interesting than roses for us, since lavender does not grow in India. And then we discovered an interesting fountain!

Only Connect

If you thought literature doesn’t move society, you should think again. E. M. Forster’s words have been taken very seriously by almost every living human. “Only connect” is now an epigraph to live by. There is now a clear answer to the ancient question, “What does it mean to be human? What sets us apart from all animals?” A cell phone, and a burning desire to post instantly.

This photo was taken an aeon ago (by Instagram time) in the Hagia Sofia. Looking at it I wonder whether the definition of being human has really changed. Isn’t this just another expression of being a social animal? Each of the people you see here is connected to their social network. Connections grow stronger the more you connect.