Museum Piece

Francis Robinson on the collections and ornate palaces of the Top Kapi Saray museum in Istanbul.

What do we want of a museum? To be informed? Mentally stretched? Sensually ravished? Transported in the imagination! Yes, any one of these would do. But most of all we should be sorry to leave and eager to return.

Top Kapi Saray in Istanbul never fails to have this impact. Not only are many of its collections without rival but the building in which they are housed, the great palace of the Turkish sultans, offers some of the richest pastures in which the romantic imagination can browse. Its position overlooking both Bosphoros and Golden Horn is beyond compare.

First, let us approach the museum. Walking up the hill from the bus, rail and ferry terminals by the Galata bridge we come to the palace wall and soon pass the entrance to the residence of the Grand Viziers. How as a schoolboy I used to wonder at the strange name, the Sublime Porte, this gateway gave to the Ottoman government! Continuing for the 300 metres along the wall, leaving Justinian's magnificent Ayia Sophia to the right, we reach the main entrance to the palace, the Imperial Gate. Enter the first courtyard, buy a ticket, move through the Middle Gate, trying to forget that nearby severed heads were displayed, and we are there.

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