- Mika Vepsalainen
Topkapı Sarayı - the Wonderful Glory of the Sultan’s Palace and Harem in Istanbul
Join us for a visit of the main and one of the most beautiful sites in Istanbul, the fantastic residence of the Ottoman Sultans at the Topkapı site to see the past glory of the Ottoman Empire.
For nearly four centuries, about thirty sultans ruled from the Topkapı Palace during the Ottoman Empire’s 600-year reign. Mehmed II ordered the construction of the palace in 1453 and lived there until his death. After him, the subsequent sultans lived there until the early 19th century when Sultan Abdulmecid I (1893-1860) moved to the European style palaces on the Bosphorus shore. During the sultans' time, the buildings saw libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines and scheming eunuchs - and we shall now have an intriguing look at their lives at the different pavilions, their jewels in the treasury and the privacy of the harem - join us to see and feel the court intrigues, politics, glamour and more!
Mehmed’s original layout consisted of four consecutive courtyards surrounded by high wall. Doors and windows faced towards the courtyard in order to create an open atmosphere since it was home to some four thousand people. The palace was continually expanded and now stands at over 590,000 m2.
Let us start at the main entrance where you will see a beautiful ornate structure in the cobbled square just outside. It was Sultan Ahmet III who had the rococo styled fountain build in 1728.
The main ticket office is in the First Court, also known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court. On your the left first building is Konyali Lokantası (restaurant), the second monument is a Byzantine church of Hagia Eileen (commonly known as Aya İrini). The third building is the Imperial Mint.
The middle gate leads you the Second Court that was used for running the empire. Only the sultan and the sultan’s mother, valide sultan were allowed to go through the middle gate on horseback. everyone else had to walk in.
The court is a beautiful park. Unlike in Europe where palaces are large buildings with gardens around, Topkapı is formed of a group of pavilions, kitchens, barracks, audience chambers, kiosks and sleeping quarters built around a central enclosure. Start on the eastern side with the great Palace Kitchens. You will see there a Helvahane, a confectionery kitchen, with some of the museum’s Chinese celadon porcelain reputed to change colour if touched by poisoned food. On the western side there is the ornate Imperial Council Chamber where the council met. The sultan could eavesdrop the discussions through the golden grille high in the wall.
You definitely must check the Harem beneath the Tower of Justice on the western side of the Second Court, do not forget to buy a separate ticket. Often, a “harem” is thought to be a place where the sultans had wild carnal pleasures at will while in reality, these were the imperial family quarters. Every detail of life in a harem was governed by tradition and ceremony. The word harem means actually “forbidden”, i.e. no access to outsiders!
Next, you might wish to see the Privy Chamber of Murat III which is probably the most luxurious room in the palace. Dating from 1578, virtually all of its decoration is original. The restored three-tiered marble fountain was designed to give the sound of cascading water in order to make it difficult to eavesdrop on the sultan's conversations.
You can enter the Third Court through the Gate of Felicity. The sultan’s private domain, it was staffed and guarded by white eunuchs. The sultan received important officials and ambassadores in the Audience Chamber and right behind it, you will see the beautiful Library of Ahmet III from 1719.
Located on the eastern edge of the Third Court, Topkapı's Treasury features an incredible collection of unique objects including some of the most valuable objects in the world, such as the Spoonmaker's Diamond, a 88-carat diamond which belonged to the mother of Napoleon, or the Topkapi dagger which is the most expensive weapon in the world, made of gold, encrusted with emeralds.
We would also invite you to enjoy the extraordinarily beautiful Topkapi Palace gardens, the most important of which are the Sultan's hanging gardens inside the Palace and Gulhane Park, located on a hill at the back of the Palace featuring a variety of trees, plants, and flowers, especially the charming tulips, which were Ottoman Sultans' special interest.
After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, a government decree dated 3 April 1924 transformed Topkapı into a museum. The compound is located on the Sarayburnu (Seraglio Point), which overlooks both the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus Straight at the historical peninsula (Fatih District) of Istanbul. Getting there takes a bit of a walk, so remember to come in good shoes and have a hat or an umbrella with you!
Disabled access is possible but the cobblestone covered hills might make it difficult to move around. Entrance is free for disabled visitors. Please also note that baby strollers are not allowed in the museum.
As the museum receives more than three million visitors a year, the imperial gate security check queues can be long. You might wish to enter the first courtyard from the Archaeology Museum via the Gülhane Park. It is also advisable to buy the tickets beforehand to escape the long queues.
Wear clothes that cover your arms and knees.
There is a huge museum shop at the gate where you exit the museum, definitely worth checking.
There are loos to the right from the entrance gate but there is no facilities for the handicapped.
Beneath the Fourth Court there is the Konyalı restaurant, which offers wonderful views from its terrace but may be overrated in terms of their price/quality ratio. Keep a bottle of water with you in the museum compound and afterwards, enjoy the fantastic selection of Turkish food and drinks in Istanbul with plenty of choices at good prices.
Topkapı Palace Museum
Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey