Topkapi Palace

The oldest and the largest of the remaining palaces in the world is the Topkapi Palace, a museum since 1924. The palace is located where the acropolis of Byzantium once stood on the peninsula overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bophorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace complex covers an area of 700,000 sq m and it is surrounded by five kilometresof walls. The Topkapi Palace is the second palace built by Turks in Istanbul. After young Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 he had his first palace built at at the site where the Istanbul University stands today. Soon afterward he ordered a new palace and in 1479, after 14 years, the Topkapi Palace ( initially called the New Palace ) was ready for occupancy as the Sultan’s residence and centre of government.

The Topkapi Palace is typical of Turkish palaces. The distinctive element of its plan is a series of open courtyards with trees to provide shade. Each courtyards is for a functions and they connected to one another by monumental doors. Functional buildings are arranged on the sides of courtyards. The palaces plan today is not the same as when it was built, since Sultans succeeding Mehmet the Conqueror have made additions and annexes. In 1853 when the new and ostentations Dolmabahce Palace was completed, the Topkapi Palace lost its status as the official palace and fell into oblivion. It was only after the Rebuplic was founded that the Topkapi Palace was cared for. The repair work that went on for more than fifty years finally restored the Topkapi Palace to its original inconspicuous beauty.Today, it used as a museum to exhibit Works of art and many priceless artifacts.It is a museum with few rivals.

TopkapiThe functions of the of Topkapi Palace while it was used as the official palace of Ottoman Sultans were quite different from those of most other palaces. Although it was primarily the residence of the incumbent sultan, it also oserved as the head-quarters of the government where the cabinet of ministers met. It also housed the state mint and the archives, as well as the highest institution of education of the realm,the university of the sultan and the state. In other words, the palacewas virtually the heart, the brain, the very centre of the Ottoman Empire.It was long after the construction of the palace that the Harem quarters were added to it. The Ottoman Empire was the largest and longest-lived of the sixteen sovereign empires Turks have founded at various times.

Fatih-sultan-mehmet The giant empire that lasted for 622 years kept many countries along the shores the Mediterranean and the Black Sea under its benevolent reign, merging many peoples of different races and religions. The only other empire in history ever to have kept such a vast realm for such a long time was the Roman Empire. During the course of the Ottoman Empire, 36 sultans occupied the throne, and those reigning from the 16th century onwards also bore the title of Caliph, the religious head of Islam. Life in the Topkapi palace started at dawn and continued throughout the day with ceremonies and strict rules of protocol governing every possible situation and event. Everybody was obliged to abide by the customs and traditions of the Palace that had developed over centuries. Even during the decline of the Empire,the rules never slackened.

dagger in topkapi palaceThe protocol rules of the western world were highly influenced by those dominant in the Topkapi Palace.The seaside mansions and pavillions of the Topkapi Palace were destroyed by the end of the 19th century.

VISITING THE PALACE

THE FIRST COURT

The first and outermost court of the Palace is entered through the Bab-i Humayun ( Imperial Gate ). The monumental fountain outside the gate is a precious example of 18th century Turkish art. Surrounding the first court are the palace bakery, mint, palace guarters and stores for firewood. On the terraces below were the vegetable gardens that supplied the palace. Cinili Kosk ( The Tiled Lodge ), the first building built in the Topkapi Palace complex, is also inside this court. Immediately upon entering the court, one sees the Haghia Eirene; a Byzantine church-turned-museum dating back to the 6th century.

THE SECOND COURT

Topkapi palace in istanbulThe actual entrance to the Topkapi Palace Museum is the second gate called Bab-i Selam ( Gate of Salutation ), through which one enters the second court that was reserved fort he administrative functions of the state. To this court, only representatives of the Janissaries on paydays were admitted. Certain state ceremonies were held here. Historians have noted that during such ceremonies which were attended by as five or even ten thousend people, absolute silence prevailed. For ceremonies the Sultan himself attended, the imperial throne was placed in front of the gate at the other end of the court and all those present stood facing him with their hands clasped in gesture of reverence.To the left of the court was the administrative section where the cabinet met. The only tower in the palace grounds is called the Tower of Justice because justice in the name of the state was dispensed from these quarters. The tower was also used to watch the whole city and the port, and the only entrance to it is through the Harem.

THE HAREM

Topkapi museumThe Harem section of the Topkapi Palace is made up of about 400 rooms scattered around small inner courts. Throughout the history of the palace, the Harem quarters under-went alterations continuously. It was the private quarters of the Sultan’s residence where his mother, brothers and sisters, wives, children and other members of the family, as well as the servants and eunuchs lived. Throughout the centuries, many have been told about these private quarters of the palace, entrance to which was strictly prohibited to outsiders. However, some of these must be regarded as myth, and the information backed by evidence points to way of life in the Harem not as eccentric as people have led to believe, but nevertheless interesting. The conbucines ( Cariye ) to serve the Sultan and his family were hand-picked from the most beautiful and healty young maidens of various races or were given to the Sultan as gifts.These girls, who were admitted to Harem at an age barely out of childhood, were trained for years under the strictest discipline.

Topkapi Museum hotelAfter becoming perfectly familiar with the rules and customs of the palace,they were allowed to serve the Sultan. Some of these girls were able to attract the attention of the Sultan and hence his favours, and occasionally even to become wives. In the Ottoman Empire there was no status as an Empress. The power to run the was vasted in the Sultan’s mother. In this setting of wealth and splendor, gossip, rivalry and struggle to get closer to the Sultan were parts of daily life. When a Sultan died or was forced to abdicate and a new one assumed the throne, the harem of the former was moved to another palace. During the reign of a Sultan with a weak personality and little authority, the Harem would often emerge as a political power and indulge in power-play and intrigue. Today, only a part of the Harem section in open as a museum.While touring these empty rooms and the gloomy corridors, the visitors needs to work his imagination exhaustively to visualize the Harem as it was in its heyday.

THE KITCHEN AND THE PORCELAINS SECTION

One the right side of the second court one can see the palace kitchen with its twenty tall chimneys.In the days when the palace was living, more than 1000 assistant cooks worked in the kitchen, preparing the menus fort he different parts of the palace. A part of the kitchen has been kept in its original state,and the rest has been converted into a museum where porcelains and china are exhibited. Museum topkapi turkeyAbout 2500 of the 12000-plus pieces of chinaware of Chinese and Japanese origin in the palace collection is on display here. Furthermore, selected pieces of porcelains and glassware made in İstanbul are exhibited in chronological order. Recently this section of the Topkapi palace Museum has been rearranged to in clude also Europen porcelains and silverware from the palace collection. The entrance to the third court of the Topkapi Palace, the private court of the Sultans, is through the called Babu’s-sa’ade ( Gate of Felicity ). Nobody without special permission could pass through gate, and those with permission were admitted, only in the company of white eunuchs, to the Sultan’s private court. Topkapi palace kithcenSurrounding this court were the Palace University, the throne chamber, the Sultan’s treasury and the sanctuary of Holy Islamic relics. The Sultan met with the ambassadors of foreign countries and the high officials of his government in the throne chamber that is located directly opposite the gate.

The servants to the throne chamber specially picked from deaf-mutes for obvious security reasons. Also, certain officers of the Ottoman Army who were also prominent faculty members of palace school served the Sultans. The Library of Ahmet III located at of court is aperfect example of the blend of baroque style with Turkish architecture. museum topkapi dressThe school in the Sultan’s private courtyard trained candidates for positions os responsibility government. The graduates of the school served locally and usually successfully in the administration and organization of the vast empire. Most of the Viziers and Grand Viziers of the government graduated from this school.

THE IMPERIAL COSTUMES SECTION

There is no exhibition in the world that can cpmpare to the Imperial Costumes Section of the Topkapi Palace Museum. The costumes made of fabric woven on the palace looms and ornamented with gold and silver braids have been carefully preserved since the 15th century and are in excess of 2500 in number. Also exhibited in the same are silk prayer rugs,masterpieces of Turkish art, that were used by the Sultans.

THE TREASURY

The Treasury section of the Topkapi Palace Museum is the richest collection of its kind in the world. All the pieces exhibited in the four halls are authentic originals. Master-pieces of Turkish craftsmen from different centuries and priceless creation from the Fareast,India and Europe fascinate the visitors.In each of the four rooms there is an imperial throne used in a different period of the empire.

Ceremonial attire and accessories, weapons, water pipes, Turkish coffee cups and other vessels adorned with gold and precious stones are the main items in the first room.The second room is known as the emeralds and other precious stones. Huge uncut emeralds weighing a few kilograms each and the Topkapi dagger with four large emeralds on the hilt and embellished with diamonds that has become the symbol of the palace in this room. In the third room, enamelled pieces, medals and decoration given to the Sultans by foreign countries, the twin solid gold candelabra each weighing 48 kilograms, and the most renowned throne in palace –the golden throne used on the coronation day of the Sultans-are displayed. Connecting the third and fourth rooms is a balcony is a balcony which commands a magnificient view of the entrance of the Bosphorus and the Asiatic coast.

In the fourth room are the Grand throne of Turko-Indian origin and many pieces adorned with precious Stones which fascinate every visitor.In addition to the four rooms, there is also a very rich collection of watches, and table and wall clocks in a room across the treasury in the third court. The Holy Relics of Islam, which used to belong to the Prophet Mohammed are kept and exhibited in a special sanctuary by the third court, and in an adjoinining hall collection illustrating the consummate skill of Turkish calligraphers is exhibited.

The Topkapi Dagger

The dagger that has become the symbol of the palace and the treasury is an invaluable product of 18th century Turkish craftsmanship. There are four large emeralds on the hilt, the one the top concealing a watch. The Kasikci Diamond: The pear-shaped 86-carat Kasikci Diamond is among the largest in the world. Its origin is not known. Legend attributes its name ( the Spoonmaker’s –or Spoonseller’s Diamond ) to its sale by a pauper, who was unaware of its value, to a mer chant in return for a few wooden spoons. However, the consensus of the experts is that the Kasikci Daimond is fact the ‘’ Pigot ’’ Diamond named after an officer in the French army who is known to have bought a diamond of similar dimensions and shape in Indiain 1774. The Pigot Diamond could be traced, after numerous owners, to Napoleon Bonapate’s mother and then to an Ottoman governor. Since the Kasikci Diamond was transferred to the Ottoman treasury amond the treasure of governor Tepedelenli Ali Pasha, who was executed in the 1840’s after conviction for rebellion against the state, it is highly probable that the Kasikci and Pigot diamonds are the same.

The beautiful, specially cut Kasikci Diamond is surrounded by 49 smaller pieces of diamond embedded in gold in two rows. The Throne: This throne, made and presented to Sultan Mahmut I in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Turko-Indian art. It is actually a portable throne dismountable into 233 pieces. The most outstanding feature of the throne, even surpassing the multitude of emeralds, rubies and pearls used to from the motifs of spring, is the excellence of the gold inlay and enamel work rated by some as the ultimate in these techniques. Now the largest item being exhibited in the fourth room of Topkapi Palace Treasury, the throne has a footstool and a beautifully embroidered cushion as accessories.

THE HOLY RELICS OF ISLAM

The Holy Relics of Islam brouth from Egypt early in the 16th century after the capture of that land by the Ottoman Empire have since then kept inside a sanctuary in the Topkapi Palace. The conquest of Egypt had passed the title of Caliph Sultans, thus increasing the power of the Ottoman throne. The Holy Relics that served in part as the symbols of Ottoman power include personal articles and garments of the Prophet MOHAMMED (S.A.), one of the oldest manuscript copies of the KORAN and the keys KAABA. Apart from their religious signifiance, all these items also are prominent Works of art.

THE FOURTH COURT

Passageways connect the third court to the fourth where there are pavilions surrounded by gardens .The only wooden pavilions in the palace, the Baghdad and Revan Pavilions and the Mecidiye Pavilion, the last structure built in the Topkapi Palace complex, are found in this court. The teracce by the Baghdad Pavilion is the best place to enjoy the magnificent panorama of the Golden Horn and acros it, the Galata Section of the city, as well as the unique skyline of istanbul with its domes and minarets.

Address: TOPKAPI SARAYI
Sultanahmet, Eminonu
Istanbul, TURKEY
Tel : +90- 212- 512 04 80
Faks : +90- 212- 528 59 91

Museum hours are 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays.
Harem section can be visited only by a guided tour and tickets should be purchased separetely.
Entrance fees:
Between $10 to $15 depending on the exchange rate.
Turkish students and soldiers : Free
Entrance fee for the Harem section:
Additional $10 (Only guided tours are allowed in Harem section.)