The Topkapi Palace of Ottoman Empire
The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the sultanMehmet II on top of a hill in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn to the north, the Sea of Marmara to the south, and the Bosphorus strait to the north east, with great views of the Asian side as well. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside.
After the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmet II ordered to built his palace in its present location on top of the ancient Byzantine ruins, meanwhile he spent some time during its construction at a smaller palace where there is the University of Istanbul today, in Bayezit square. Once they moved to Topkapi palace, the old one was called as “Old Palace” and Topkapi as the “New Palace”. But local people called it as “Topkapi” which in Turkish means “Gate of Cannons” because of huge cannons displayed outside of its gates, those which were used during the Conquest.
There were originally around 700-800 residents of the Palace at the beginning, but during the centuries it dramatically raised to 5,000 during normal days and 10,000 during festivals, approximately. Amongst these, the Janissaries were the biggest part of the population who were based within the first courtyard of the palace. The palace became the largest palace in the world, a city within a city. The walls surrounding it were about 5 kilometers (around 3 miles) long. The palace having around 700,000 m2 of area during the foundation years, it currently has only 80,000 m2 of area because of building constructions in its grounds towards the end.
During the 400 hundred years of reign at Topkapi, each sultan added a different section or hall to the palace, depending on his taste or on the needs of the time. Therefore the palace is formed by a maze of buildings centered around a series of courtyards protected by different gates. Its architecture is predominantly Middle Eastern in character. The initial construction was Cinili Mansion, a tiled kiosk finished in 1472, and the main gate (Bab-i Humayun in Arabic or the Imperial Gate) facing Sultanahmet square and Hagia Sophia church, and the Palace ramparts at the second gate (Bab-us Selam or the Gate of Salutation) were completed in 1478. A third gate, Bab-us Saade or the Felicity Gate, separates the core and most important parts of the palace from other sections, such as the Treasury for example.
At first, the Harem was left in the Old Palace and was moved to its present location only one century later by sultan Murad III, again with the addition of several buildings during many years. The Harem, literally meaning “forbidden” in Arabic, was a complex of apartments in the palace belonging to the wives, concubines and children of the sultan, guarded by the black eunuchs. At some point, its population topped to a record high of 474 ladies. Inside the Harem there were rooms dedicated to the mother of the sultan, wives of the sultan, his concubines, Turkish baths, circumcision room, apartments of the chief black eunuch, and apartments of the sultan, in total over 400 rooms. Today, the Harem is a separate museum within the palace complex and there are escorted tours at certain hours of the day.
The palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1924 by the order of Ataturk. There are many sections in the Topkapi Palace which can be visited today, these are exhibition halls and doesn’t contain any furniture. Some of the exhibition halls are closed for restorations but still the visit of the palace would take a half day for an interested person. Please note that in some of the exhibition halls you’re not permitted to take any photographs, such as Treasury, Sultans‘ costumes, and the Holly Relics.
Once you pass the first gate, Imperial Gate, you’ll be in the first courtyard called as the “Courtyard of the Regiments”. From this gate anybody could pass but only the sultan would be on the horse, while all others on foot. Here, a nice park, some ruins and columns from the Byzantine period, a 6th century Hagia Irene church which is occasionally used for some concerts and art exhibitions today, the Imperial Mint, and the Archaeological museum welcomes you. Before you get to the second gate, there are ticket boots, a change office, and a small gift shop on the right.