This is rumpled ol’ Pete and the Topkapi Sarayi, the Great Palace of the sultans, where some really weird shit went on for a long, long time. If you want the Cliffs Notes version, this is where a series of entitled douchebags and their mute, brainwashed slaves were able to run much of the world for seven centuries.
For those with a greater attention span, I’m standing in front of the Imperial Gate, where the heads of trespassers would be put on display. Those who entered the harem uninvited would be skinned alive and have their skin tacked to the harem walls. Cool!
Mehmet the Conquerer, who sacked the city in 1453, had it built between 1459 and 1465. The last of the women residing in the palace’s harem would not leave until 1909. You can’t make this stuff up. The palace grounds served as much more than a private residence. It also contained a treasury, a mint, the Ottoman equivalent of a Congress and Supreme Court, an armory, bakery, pinball arcade and so forth.
Kidnapped children were brought here to work as slaves. The most brutally mean-spirited of them were sent to Janissary school, where they formed a private army for the sultan and carried out his dirty work.
The courtyard of the harem eunuchs, almost exclusively guys from present-day Ethiopia and Sudan. You can’t tell me they volunteered for these positions. (“Help wanted. Castration required.”) They used mirrors and sign language to communicate with one another. Nobody was allowed to speak above a whisper.
Photography was not allowed in a lot of areas — the treasury, in particular, where a parade of golden items dripping with emeralds, diamonds and sapphires can be found, and where the Topkapi dagger is kept. I watched the 1964 movie “Topkapi” recently, starring Melina Mercouri (think Carol Channing, only a thread less annoying), Peter Ustinov and Maximilian Schell. The first six minutes were so unwatchable I set it aside for weeks.
On revisitation it turned out to be an enjoyable caper about the theft of the Topkapi dagger from this very palace. I recommend it if you’re a
shut-in or have the flu or something.
I’d post a swipe of the dagger from the intertubes, but they’re 99 percent phony. It’s sheathed, so you can’t see the blade. The handle contains three emeralds the size of skipping stones, followed by a field of diamonds. Just before the curve there is a jeweled rendering of a cornucopia, followed by more diamonds, sapphires and a marble-sized emerald at the tip. Or do what I did and get to the museum at 8:59 a.m., when you can spend a lot of alone time with it. They sell replicas in the gift shops for $4,000. I kinda want one.
Oh, the museum also has a footprint cast of the Prophet Muhammad (looks to be a size 9).