Commissioned by Mehmet II in 1459 A.D., the ‘Topkapi Serayi’ was constructed from 1460 to 1478 A.D. over the site of the acropolis of Byzantium. A magnificent oriental palace that sits on a triangular promontory dominating the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn housed the palace, holy relics of the Prophet(P.B.U.H.), royal treasury, administrative headquarters, an educational institution, a royal mint, state archives and was the beating heart of the Ottoman Empire from 15th until the middle of the 19th century.
Things to know about Topkapi Palace Museum:
a) The Topkapi Palace when initially built was inspired by the splendor of the ‘Edirne Palace’ built by Mehmet’s father. It covers an area of 700’000 square meters and a major part of it was dedicated to the royal gardens
b) The palace has three main gates 1. ‘The Imperial Gate or Bab-i-Humayun’, 2.’The gate of Salutation or Bab-es-salam’ and 3. The Gate of Fecility or Babussaade’, four consecutive courtyards surrounded by high walls. Each courtyard served a different purpose and was separated by a gate that incrementally restricted entry culminating into the most private third and fourth courtyards.
c) i. The First courtyard: is the largest and the only public courtyard and was used for processions and ceremonies. Traces of workshops of Topkapi artisans like calligraphers, tailors, carpenters and other organized trading guilds still survive. ‘Hagia Eirene’ originally a Byzantine Church also served as an armory where weapons were also repaired during the Ottoman era. This is one of the few churches in Istanbul that was not converted into a mosque and today operates as a museum and a concert hall.
ii. The Second courtyard: Also called the ‘Divan square’ was the administrative center of the palace. Only official visitors and members of the court had access. State affairs led by the ‘Grand Vizier – Chief Minister’ were discussed in the domed hall also called the council chamber and at times the Sultan listened in through a grilled window from within the adjacent Tower of Justice. The second courtyard was also home to the palace kitchen which now displays the imperial porcelain collection and the ‘external collection’ exhibits imperial weapons made at workshops, received as gifts from foreign dignitaries or amassed from conquered territories.
iii. The Third Courtyard: Housed the ‘Audience Chamber’ of the Sultan where high officials got audience with sultan under strict protocol, ‘The Imperial Treasury’ – has a collection of armour worn by Sultans, swords, shields, stirrups, ebony throne of Murad IV, pearl embellished Holy Quran covers’, jewels encrusted hand glasses, the Topkapi dagger, aigrettes of crowns, the famous ‘Spoon makers diamond’, heirlooms and money of the Ottoman era.
‘The Library of Ahmed III’ – a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture of the 18th century. One of the important items housed here is ‘Topkapi manuscript’, a rare copy of Holy Quran from the time of the 3rd Caliph – Uthman ibn Affan. ‘Dormitory of the Royal Pages’, ‘Chamber of Sacred Relics’ housing personal belongings of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), carpet of the Prophet’s daughter, swords of first four caliphs, the staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph and many more rare relics, ‘Mosque of the Aghas’, ‘Miniature and Portrait Gallery’. Inside the ‘Harem’ were the apartments of the ‘Queen Mother’, Sultan’s consorts, concubines, personal or Privy Chambers of the Sultan’s, Courtyard of the Favorites where women marked as favorite of the Sultan or the royal wife expected to deliver a heir stayed here, eunuchs quarters (who guarded the Sultan’s Harem) and the ‘Imperial Hall’ or throne room where the Sultan entertained confidantes, his mother, first wife, paid homage during religious festivals with family and royal wedding ceremonies were also organized here.
iv. The Fourth Courtyard: Was the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the Sultan and his family consisting of pavilions, kiosks and gardens. Visitors can view the ‘Circumcision room’ for the young princes – a religious tradition in Islam for cleanliness and purity. The ‘Yerevan Kiosk’ served as a religious retreat for Sultan and his family. The ‘Baghdad Kiosk’ was built to commemorate Sultan Murat IV’s victory over Baghdad. ‘Iftar Kiosk’ is a gilded pavilion and the Sultan used to break his fast during Ramadan here. Today this kiosk offers views of the golden horn enjoyed by the visitors. ‘The Terrace Kiosk’ overlooking the garden was from where the Sultan watched sporting events and organized entertainments. ‘The Grand Kiosk’ built by Sultan Abdul Mecit I, was the last significant addition to Topkapi. It was an imperial resting place offering panoramic views of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus. The Sultans would stay here when visiting Topkapi from their seaside palaces. ‘Tower of the Head Tutor and Chamber of the Chief Physician’, the oldest building in the 4th courtyard dates back to the 15th century. The chief physician was responsible for the health of Sultan and had his private chamber at the top while below was a store for medicines. The head tutor was responsible for the education of princes. Other notable area is ‘Gulhane Park’, the old Imperial Rose garden also open to public.