One of the undeniable attractions of Istanbul is the opportunity to see the famous Iznik tiles, named for the town where this style of ceramics was made from the 15th to the 17th century. Although most of the vessels of that time now reside in museums outside of Turkey, the tiles can be seen in many mosques and historical buildings in the city.
On our second day, we visited the Topkapi Palace, the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. It's an enormous complex to which guidebooks suggest allotting several hours. We were there for the better part of a day, touring the kitchens, queuing up to see the knockout jewels (everything from adornments to thrones, literally encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds) and enjoying the beautiful views of Istanbul from the garden areas overlooking the Bosphorous Strait.
Our first peek at tiled rooms and entryways came in and around several small buildings in that garden area. The doors above are inlaid mother-of-pearl.
We thought these were all pretty great until we came to the complex known as the Harem, where the Sultan, his family and 300+ women in his harem resided.
The entry is gated and lined with rooms where the eunuchs lived and guarded the interior areas from outside forces. And as you continue in further and further, the rooms grow more and more opulent.
Above is a reception room between the outer apartments and that of the Sultan's mother, who actually ruled the roost. You can see that part of the ornamentation over what I think was a fireplace has been left unrestored for reference. Many of these rooms were interior spaces without windows, so photographing true color was difficult. Several had skylights, which helped.
This lavish entryway was my hands-down favorite tile motif. That blue!! Ms.FerretingOuttheFun is waiting to join me in the Sultan's apartment.
As if the tiles weren't enough, how about those stained glass windows?
Visually intoxicating. My neck was getting stiff from trying to take it all in.
Several days later, we made a beeline for the Rustem Pasha Mosque, a relatively small mosque just outside the Spice Market. Reputed to have the best representation of Iznik tiles in the city, we had to hunt it down after being dazzled at the Harem. It was a frigid day and wet snow turned to sleet as we negotiated back alleys to find our way but the quest was worth it.
Unlike the Hagia Sophia which was secularized as a museum a number of years ago, the others we visited during the week, this one included, are active mosques and thus impose numerous rules on visitors, including restricted viewing areas, a no shoe policy and headscarf requirements for all women.
Iznik tiles are clearly one of the most recognizable examples of Turkey's artistic heritage. And if you'd like to bring home a piece to remember your visit, there's no shortage of shops from which to choose a special piece.
I know what you'd like to ask ~ no, I didn't. Not that I didn't pause over tiles a number of times. (But don't worry, I didn't come home empty-handed!) I did purchase a book on the tiles of Rustem Pasha Mosque. Ironically, the definitive book on the subject, Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics, was written by Walter Denny, who taught my first art history class in college, back when we were both young pups. How funny to find his book and see him quoted all over Istanbul. If you're interested in seeing more dazzling examples of Iznik, I'd highly recommend hunting it down in your library.
***As usual, any photo can be clicked for a closeup.