Visiting the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

This is a story about my many holidays in the beautiful city of Istanbul, capital of Turkey. In particular, it’s about my  many visits to the grand Topkapi Palace over the years, and my memories associated with it.

There are some places you just never tire of. For me, the 15th century Topkapi Palace perched on a look-out, on top of a hill in the Old Town of Istanbul, is one of these. It’s a place I have visited more times than I can count. But I still remember the first time I visited Istanbul, even if this was over 20 years ago.

At that time, Istanbul was a beautiful city of ancient markets, palaces, and mosques caught in an amazing time warp. And everyday images were like scenes from the pages of the Bible. I too was a very different person then; young and hungry for adventure.


Ten years later, I found myself back again, in this grand home of the Ottoman sultans; this time with a group of Travelife Magazine readers who had joined our tour of Turkey. Of course, the Topkapi Palace was one of our stops.

Since I’d seen the buildings and the displays before, I spent the morning in the open-air coffee shop overlooking the Bosphorus. From here, I could see the Princes’ Islands in the distance. I remember thinking then about how life must be savored with relish and without hesitation because none of us really know what the future holds.


Visiting the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The Ottoman empire is the perfect example of how neither the past nor the present is a guarantee for the future. Over a cup of Turkish coffee, I sat in the autumn sunshine feeling joyously alive in this historic palace that had witnessed the rise and fall of great civilizations.

More recently, two memorable occasions brought me back to the Topkapi Palace, making me feel like this palace has accompanied me along the chapters of my own life. Each time I pass through its threshold, following in the footsteps of the sultans and his learned men, I have been a little older and wiser; and more grateful for the lucky cards that Life has handed me. I have also been more accepting of the inevitable twists and turns that have accompanied these.


Two years ago, I spent a milestone birthday in Istanbul, gathering loved ones to stay nearby at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet which, incidentally, is one of my favorite hotels in the world.

For one happy week in Istanbul, we sailed around the Bosphorus on a private yacht, walked the streets of Sultanahmet, and of course revisited the Topkapi Palace. The allure of the Topkapi Palace truly never fades.


Then, just the other month, I was back in my beloved Istanbul for a weekend in the Old Town. For three magical days, we revisited and rediscovered all the places that I had already seen perhaps two dozen times before. 

The Topkapi Palace was its usual 500-year-old self: stately, elegant, and graceful. But this time, it was I who had changed. Between these two visits, my life had turned upside down and I now saw everything and everyone with new eyes and fresh perspectives.


Suddenly, everything was precious, including a glimpse of the sun shining ever so perfectly on the intricate roof of the sultan’s pleasure pavilion. I also remember clearly the moment I observed the majestic way an ancient tree by the entrance to the harem spread its branches protectively over it.

Of course, I tried to remember the colorful details of the tiles in the grand rooms, the designs of the sultan’s porcelain collection, and the effortless symmetry of every room and building. This is what all visitors to the Topkapi Palace do. But on this most recent trip, what I wanted most was to cherish the moment itself.


You see, I happily realized that the Topkapi Palace will always be there, serving as a reminder of the greatness of Istanbul and the Ottoman civilization.

But in the future, perhaps I would not be walking its courtyards in the same frame of mind or even with the same companions. I am sure this palace and I will meet again many more times; but the next time I cross its threshold, the world will have changed, as it continuously does, and I along with it. 

And these changes will make all the difference to me. Read more articles about Istanbul in Travelife Magazine.