The Topkapı Palace (Turkish: Topkapı
Sarayı) is a palace in Istanbul, Turkey, which was the official and
primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans, from 1465 to 1853.
The palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments
and is a major tourist attraction today. The name directly translates as
"Cannongate Palace", from the palace being named after a nearby gate.
Initial construction started in 1459,
ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople.
The palace is a complex made up of four main courtyards and many smaller
buildings. At the height of its existence as a royal residence, the
palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, formerly covering a larger
area with a long shoreline. The complex has been expanded over the
centuries, with many renovations such as for the 1509 earthquake and
gradually lost its importance at the end of the 17th century, as the
Sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the
Bosporus. In 1853, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move the court to the
newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the
city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, mosque
and mint, were retained though.
After the end of the Ottoman Empire in
1921, Topkapı Palace was transformed by government decree on April 3,
1924 into a museum of the imperial era. The Topkapı Palace Museum is
under the administration of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The
palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most
important are accessible to the public today. The complex is guarded by
officials of the ministry as well as armed guards of the Turkish
The palace is full of examples of
Ottoman architecture and also contains large collections of porcelain,
robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic
manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasure and
A Tutorial on Topkapı Palace
Gate of Salutation
Porcelain and celadon collection
Tower of Justice
Gate of Felicity
Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force
Miniature and Portrait Gallery
(Library of Ahmed III)
Mosque of the Ağas
Dormitory of the Royal Pages
Hall of the Ablution Fountain
Courtyard of the Eunuchs
Passage of Concubines
Courtyard of the Sultan's Consorts and
Role of the concubines
Apartments of the Queen Mother
Baths of the Sultan and the Queen Mother
Apartment of Sultan Murat III
Twin Kiosk (Apartments of the Crown
Imperial Sofa Kiosk
Tower of the Head Physician
Imperial Sofa Mosque
Other notable features
Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III
Trees in Topkapi Palace
The palace complex is located on the
Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn
and the Sea of Marmara, with the Bosphorus in plain sight from many
points of the palace. The site is hilly and one of the highest points
close to the sea. During Greek and Byzantine times, the acropolis of the
ancient Greek city of Byzantium stood here. Some of its remains are
still visible in the area now known as the Second Courtyard of the
palace. There is an underground Byzantine cistern, located in the Second
Courtyard, which was used throughout Ottoman times. Remains of a small
church on the acropolis have also been excavated in modern times. The
nearby Church of Hagia Eirene, though located in the First Courtyard, is
not considered a part of the old Byzantine acropolis.
After the Ottoman conquest and the Fall
of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II found the imperial Byzantine
Great Palace of Constantinople largely in ruins. The Ottoman court
initially set itself up in the Eski Sarayı, today the site of Istanbul
University. The Sultan then searched for a better location and chose the
old Byzantine acropolis, ordering the construction of a new palace in
1459. It was originally called the New Palace (Yeni Sarayı) to
distinguish it from the previous residence. It received the name "Topkapı"
in the 19th century, after a (now destroyed) Topkapı shore pavilion.
The palace is an extensive complex with
an assortment of various buildings constructed around courtyards,
interconnected with galleries and passages, rather than a single
monolithic structure. Interspersed are trees, gardens and water
fountains, to give a refreshing feeling to the inhabitants and provide
places where they could repose. The palace compound when seen from a
birds-eye view has the shape of a rough rectangle, divided into four
main courtyards and the harem. The main axis is from south to north, the
outermost (first) courtyard starting at the south with each successive
courtyard leading up north. The first courtyard was the one that was
most accessible, while the innermost (fourth) courtyard and the harem
were the most inaccessible, being the sole private domain of the sultan.
Access to these courtyards was restricted by high walls and controlled
through gates. Apart from the four main courtyards, various other
mid-sized to small courtyards exist throughout the complex. The
buildings enclosed the courtyards, and life revolved around them. Doors
and windows faced towards the courtyard, in order to create an open
atmosphere for the inhabitants as well as provide for cool air during
Sultan Mehmed II established the basic
layout of the palace. This basic layout governed the pattern of future
renovations and extensions. He summoned experienced craftsmen,
especially former inhabitants of Constantinople who had fled to Edirne
and Bursa after the fall of the city. He used the most expensive and
rare materials of that time, trying to restore the city its former
glory. The palace was completed in 1465. Contrary to other royal
residences which had strict master plans, such as Schönbrunn Palace or
the Palace of Versailles, Topkapı Palace developed over the course of
centuries, with various sultans adding and changing various structures
and elements. The resulting asymmetry is the result of this erratic
growth and change over time.
On the southern and western sides borders
the large former imperial flower park, today Gülhane Park. Surrounding
the palace compound on the southern and eastern side is the Sea of
Marmara. Various related buildings such as small summer palaces (kasrı),
pavilions, kiosks (köşkü) and other structures for royal pleasures and
functions formerly existed, at the shore, but have since disappeared
over the course of time due to neglect and the construction of the
shoreline railroad in the 19th century. However, the last remaining
structure of the outer limits that still exists today is Sepetçiler
Palace, constructed in 1592 by Sultan Murad III. Thus the total area
size of Topkapı Palace was in fact much larger than what it appears
Topkapı Palace was the main residence of
the sultan and his court. It was initially the seat of government as
well as the imperial residence. Even though access was strictly
regulated, inhabitants of the palace rarely had to venture out since the
palace functioned almost as an autonomous entity, a city within a city.
Audience and consultation chambers and areas served for the political
workings of the empire. For the residents and visitors, the palace had
its own water supply through underground cisterns and the great kitchens
provided for nourishment on a daily basis. Dormitories, gardens,
libraries, schools, even mosques were at the service of the court.
The main gate is called the Imperial Gate
(Arabi: Bâb-ı Hümâyûn or Greek: Porta Augusta), also known as Gate of
the Sultan (Turkish: Saltanat Kapısı) located to the south. This massive
gate, originally dating from 1478, is now covered in 19th-century
marble. The massiveness of this stone gate accentuates its defensive
character. Its central arch leads to a high-domed passage. Gilded
Ottoman calligraphy adorns the structure at the top, with verses from
the Holy Koran and tughras of the sultans. Identified tughras are of
Sultan Mehmed II and Abdül Aziz I, who renovated the gate. On each side
of the hall are rooms for the guard. The gate was open from morning
prayer until the last evening prayer. No one apart from viziers and
foreign dignitaries was allowed passage through the gate.
According to old documents, there was a
wooden apartment above the gate area until the second half of the 19th
century. It was used first as a pavilion by Mehmed, later as a
depository for the properties of those who died inside the palace
without heirs and eventually as the receiving department of the
treasury. It was also used as a vantage point for the ladies of the
harem on special occasions.
The Imperial Gate is the main entrance
into the First Courtyard.
The First Courtyard (I. Avlu or Alay
Meydanı) spans Seraglio Point and is surrounded by high walls.
In 1509 a massive earthquake destroyed
these walls from the water's edge to the garden gate. They required
extensive renovation. This First Courtyard functioned as an outer
precinct or park. The steep slopes had already been terraced under
This court was also known as the Court of
the Janissaries or the Parade Court.
The First Courtyard contains the former
Imperial Mint (Darphane-i Âmire, constructed in 1727), the church of
Hagia Eirene, the Istanbul Archaeology Museum (constructed during the
19th century) and various fountains, pavilions (for example, the Çinili
Pavilion, or Tiled Pavilion) and gardens (including Gülhane Park, the
old imperial rose garden).
The Çinili Pavilion is set within the
outer walls and dates from 1473. It was built by Mehmed II as a pleasure
The exterior glazed bricks show a Central
Asian influence, especially from the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
The square, axial plan represents the four corners of the world and
symbolizes, in architectural terms, the universal authority and
sovereignty of the Sultan. As there is no Byzantine influence, the
building is ascribed to an unknown Persian architect. The stone-framed
brick and the polygonal pillars of the façade are typical of Persia. A
grilled gate leads to the basement. Two flights of stairs above this
gate lead to a roofed colonnaded terrace. This portico was rebuilt in
the 18th century. The great door in the middle, surrounded by a tiled
green arch, leads to the vestibule and then to a loftily domed court.
The three royal apartments are situated behind, with the middle
apartment in apsidal form.
These apartments look out over the park
to the Bosphorus. The network of ribbed vaulting suggests Gothic revival
architecture, but it actually adds weight to the structure instead of
sustaining it. The blue-and-white tiles on the wall are arranged in
hexagons and triangles in the Bursa manner. Some show delicate patterns
of flowers, leaves, clouds or other abstract forms. The white
plasterwork is in the Persian manner. On both wings of the domed court
are eyvans, vaulted recesses open on one side. The pavilion contains
many examples of İznik tiles and Seljuk pottery and now houses the
Museum of Islamic Art.
The Fountain of the Executioner is where
the executioner washed his hands and sword after a decapitation. It is
located on the right side in front of the Gate of Salutation.
The large Gate of Salutation (Arabic:
Bâb-üs Selâm), also known as the Middle Gate (Turkish: Orta Kapı), leads
into the palace and the Second Courtyard. This crenelated gate has two
large octagonal pointed towers. The date of construction of this gate is
not clear, since the architecture of the towers is of Byzantine
influence rather than Ottoman. An inscription at the door dates this
gate to at least 1542 during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II. In a
miniature painting from the Hünername from 1584, a low-roofed structure
with three windows above the arch between the towers is clearly visible,
probably a guards' hall that has since disappeared. Only the sultan was
allowed to pass this gate on horseback. The gate is richly decorated on
both sides and in the upper part with religious inscriptions and
monograms of sultans.
The Second Courtyard (II. Avlu), or Divan
Square (Divan Meydanı) was a park full of peacocks and gazelles, used as
a gathering place for courtiers. Only the Sultan was allowed to ride on
the black pebbled walks.
This courtyard is surrounded by the
former palace hospital, bakery, Janissary quarters, stables, the
imperial Harem and Divan to the north and the kitchens to the south.
Numerous artifacts from the Roman and Byzantine periods have been found
on the palace site during recent excavations. These include sarcophagi,
baptismal fonts, parapet slabs and pillars and capitals. They are on
display in the Second Courtyard in front of the imperial kitchens.
Located underneath the Second Courtyard
is a cistern that dates to Byzantine times. It is normally closed to the
Directly behind the Gate of Salutation,
on the northeast side, the imperial carriages are exhibited in the
former outer stables and harness rooms. This is a relatively low
building, altered in 1735 when a new ceiling was installed. Its roof is
one of the few undomed roofs to retain its 15th century shape. Many
carriages were destroyed in a fire in the previous stables in the late
19th century. The carriages on display are some of the sultan's
carriages including the state carriage, the carriage of the Valide
Sultan (Queen Mother), and minor court carriages. Some of the carriages
were foreign made vehicles that were imported for the court. Located
next to the carriages to the north are the extensive palace kitchens.
Blue-and-white Chinese porcelain-ware
from the porcelain collection in the palace kitchensThe elongated palace
kitchens (Saray Mutfakları) are a prominent feature of the palace. Some
of the kitchens were first built in the 15th century at the time when
the palace was constructed. They were modeled on the kitchens of the
Sultan's palace at Edirne. They were enlarged during the reign of Sultan
Süleyman the Magnificent but burned down in 1574. The kitchens were
remodeled and brought up to date according to the needs of the day by
the court architect Mimar Sinan.
Rebuilt to the old plan by Sinan, they
form two rows of twenty wide chimneys (added by Sinan), rising like
stacks from a ship from domes on octagonal drums. The kitchens are
arranged on an internal street stretching between the Second Courtyard
and the Sea of Marmara. The entrance to this section is through the
three doors in the portico of the Second Courtyard: the Imperial
commissariat (lower kitchen) door, imperial kitchen door and the
confectionery kitchen door.
The palace kitchens consist of ten domed
buildings: Imperial kitchen, Enderûn (palace school), Harem (womens
quarters), Birûn (out service section of the palace), kitchens,
beverages kitchen, confectionery kitchen, creamery, storerooms and rooms
for the cooks. They were the largest kitchens in the Ottoman empire. The
meals for the Sultan, the residents of the Harem, Enderûn and Birûn (the
inner and outer services of the palace) were prepared here. Food was
prepared for about 4,000 people. The kitchen staff consisted of more
than 800 people, rising to 1,000 on religious holidays. As many as 6,000
meals a day could be prepared.
Apart from exhibiting the kitchen
utensils, today the buildings contain the world's third largest
collections of Chinese blue-and-white, white, and celadon porcelain.
Chinese and Far East porcelain was highly valued and was transported by
camel caravans over the Silk Road or by sea. The 10,700 pieces of
Chinese, Japanese and Turkish porcelain displayed here are rare and
precious. The Chinese porcelain collection ranges from the late Song
Dynasty (13th c.) and the Yuan Dynasty (12801368), through the Ming
Dynasty (13681644) to the Qing Dynasty (16441912). This museum also
contains one of the world's largest collections of 14th-century Longquan
celadon. The collection has around 3,000 pieces of Yuan and Ming Dynasty
celadons. Those celadon were valued by the Sultan and the Queen Mother
because it was supposed to change colour if the food or drink it carried
was poisoned. The Japanese collection is mainly Imari porcelain, dating
from the 17th to the 19th century. Further parts of the collection
include white porcelain from the beginning of the 15th century and
"imitation" Blue-and-White and Imari porcelain from Annam, Thailand and
The Imperial Council (Divan-i Hümâyûn)
building is where the Divan, the Imperial Council, consisting of the
Grand Vizier (Paşa Kapısı), viziers, and other leading officials of the
Ottoman state, held meetings. It is also called Kubbealtı, which means
"under the dome", in reference to the dome in the council main hall. It
is situated in the northwestern corner of the courtyard next to the Gate
of Felicity. It was constructed in the 15th century by the
architect-in-chief Alseddin, by the order of Sultan Süleyman the
Magnificent. This place lost its importance after the 18th century, when
the Grand Viziers had started to run the affairs of state independently.
At this time, important state issues were transferred to the Sublime
Porte (Bâb-ı Âli) of the Grand Viziers.
The council hall has multiple entrances
both from inside the palace and from the courtyard. The porch consists
of multiple marble and porphyry pillars, with an ornate green and
white-coloured wooden ceiling decorated with gold. The floor is covered
in marble. The entrances into the hall from outside are in the rococo
style, with gilded grills to admit natural light. While the pillars are
earlier Ottoman style, the wall paintings and decorations are from the
later rococo period. Inside, the Imperial Council building consists of
three adjoining main rooms. Two of the three domed chambers of this
building open into the porch and the courtyard. The Divanhane, built
with a wooden portico at the corner of the Divan Court ("Divan Meydani")
in the 15th century, was later used as the mosque of the council but was
removed in 1916. There are 3 domed chambers:
- The first
chamber where the Imperial Council held its deliberations is the
- The second
chamber was occupied by the secretarial staff of the Imperial Divan.
- In the adjacent
third chamber called Deferhane, records were kept by the head
clerks. The last room also served as an archive in which documents
The Kubbealti, which suffered damage
during the Great Harem Fire of 1665, was restored by the order of Sultan
Mehmed IV. On its façade are verse inscriptions which mention the
restoration work carried out in 1792 and 1819, namely under Sultan Selim
III and Mahmud II. The rococo decorations on the façade and inside the
Imperial Council date from this period.
In the Imperial Council meetings the
political, administrative and religious affairs of the state and
important concerns of the citizens were discussed. The Imperial Council
normally met four times a week. The meetings of the Imperial Council
were run according to an elaborate and strict protocol. The council
members, the Grand Vizier, the viziers, and the Chief Military Judges of
Anatolia and Rumelia met here to discuss the affairs of the state and
submitted their resolutions to the Sultan. They also held court
hearings. Sometimes the Grand Müfti (Sheikh al-İslam) also took part in
important meetings. The other officials of the Council were the Nişanci
(officers whose duty it was to inscribe the Sultans imperial monogram
on imperial letters) and the Minister of Finance (Defterdar), the
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Reis-ül-Küttab), the officials charged with
the duty of writing official memoranda (Tezkereciler), and the clerks
recording the resolutions.
It was also here that the Grand Vizier
received ambassadors and wedding ceremonies of the Sultans daughters
The fountain in the middle of the room,
when running, enabled secret conversations to be held. From the window
with the golden grill the Sultan or the Valide Sultan was able to follow
deliberations of the council without being noticed. The window could be
reached by the adjacent Tower of Justice (Adalet Kulesi).
The Tower of Justice (Adalet Kulesi) is
located in-between the Imperial Council and the Harem. The tower is
several stories high and the tallest structure in the palace, clearly
visible from the Bosphorus. Sultan Mahmud II rebuilt the lantern of the
tower in 1825 while retaining the Ottoman base (attributed to Mehmed
II). The tall windows with engaged columns and the Renaissance pediments
evoke the Palladian style (see larger view: Image:Courtyard Topkapi
The present Armory Exhibition Hall (Silah
Seksiyonu Sergi Salonu) was formerly the inner treasury of the Ottoman
Empire. It is a hall built of stone and brick with eight domes, each 5 x
11.40 m. It was transformed into a museum in 1928, displaying a rich
collection of about 400 weapons (dating between the 7th and the 19th c.)
from several countries, including swords of many Sultans. The collection
shows the sword of Sultan Mehmed II. It also includes samurai armor, a
present from Japan to the Sultan. During excavations in 1937 in front of
this building, remains of a religious Byzantine building dating from the
fifth century were found. Since it could not be identified with any of
the churches known to have been built on the palace site, it is now
known as "the Basilica of the Topkapı Palace".
The Gate of Felicity (Bâbüssaâde or
Bab-üs Saadet) was originally constructed in the 15th century.
This monumental gate is the entrance into
the Inner Court (Enderûn), also known as the Third Courtyard, comprising
of the strictly private and residential areas of the palace. It
represents the presence of the Sultan in the palace. No one could pass
this gate without the authority of the Sultan. Even the Grand Vizier was
only granted authorisation on specified days and under specified
It was redecorated in the rococo style in
1774 under Sultan Mustafa III and during the reign of Mahmud II.
The Sultan used this gate and the Divan
Meydanı square only on special ceremonies. The Sultan sat before the
gate on his Bayram throne on religious, festive days and accession when
the subjects and officials perform their homage standing. The funerals
of the Sultan were also conducted in front of the gate.
On either side of this passage under
control of the Chief Eunuch of the Sultans Harem (called the Bâbüssaâde
Ağası) and the staff under him were the quarters of the eunuchs as well
as the small and large rooms of the palace school.
The small, indented stone on the ground
in front of the gate marks the place where the banner of the Prophet
Muhammad was unfurled. The Grand Vizier or the commander going to war
was entrusted with this banner in a solemn ceremony.
Beyond the Gate of Felicity is the Third
Courtyard (III. Avlu), also called the Inner Palace (Enderûn Avlusu),
which is the heart of the palace, where the Sultan spent his days
outside the harem. It is a lush garden surrounded by the Hall of the
Privy Chamber (Has Oda) occupied by the palace officials, the treasury
(which contains some of the most important treasures of the Ottoman age,
including the Sacred Trusts), the Harem and some pavilions, with the
library of Ahmed III in the center.
The Third Courtyard is surrounded by the
quarters of the Ağas (pages), boys in the service of the sultan. They
were taught the Arts, such as music, painting and calligraphy. The best
could become Has Odali Ağa (Keepers of the Holy Relics of the Prophet
and personal servants of the Sultan), or even become officers or
The Audience Chamber, also known as
Audience Hall or Chamber of Petitions (Arz Odası) is located right
behind the Gate of Felicity. It is an old building, dating from the 15th
century, renovated in 1723 by Sultan Ahmed III and rebuilt in its
present form after it was destroyed by fire in 1856. This square
building is surrounded by a colonnade of 22 columns, supporting the
large roof. The Sultan, sitting on his gilded throne, covered with
embroidery and encrusted with gems and pearls, received here the Grand
Vizier and the Council members, who presented their resolutions for
ratification, high-ranking officials and foreign ambassadors. There is a
small fountain at the entrance, used to prevent others from overhearing
secret conversations in this room. Behind the Audience Chamber on the
eastern side is the Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force.
The Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force
(Seferli Koğuşu) houses the Imperial Wardrobe Collection (Padişhah
Elbiseleri Koleksiyonu) with a valuable costume collection of about
2,500 garments, the majority precious kaftans of the Sultans. It also
houses a collection of 360 ceramic objects.
The dormitory was constructed under
Sultan Murad IV in 1635. The building was restored by Sultan Ahmed III
in the early 18th century. The dormitory is vaulted and is supported by
14 columns. Adjacent to the dormitory, located northeast is the
The Conquerors Pavilion, also called the
Conqueror's Kiosk (Fatih Köşkü) and the arcade of the pavilion in front
is one of the pavilions built under Sultan Mehmed II and one of the
oldest buildings inside the palace. It was built circa in 1460, when the
palace was first constructed, and was also used to store works of art
and treasure. It houses the Imperial Treasury (Hazine-i Âmire).
The pavilion originally consisted of
three rooms, a terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara, a basement and
adjoining hamam, or Turkish bath. It consists of two floors raised on a
terrace above the garden, built at the top of promontory on a cliff with
a magnificent view from its porch on the Sea of Marmara and the
Bosporus. The lower floor consisted of service rooms, while the upper
floor was a suite of four apartments and a large loggia with double
arches. The first two rooms are covered with a dome of considerable
height. All the rooms open onto the Third Courtyard through a monumental
arcade. The colonnaded portico on the side of the garden is connected to
each of the four halls by a door of imposing height. The capitals of the
imposing capitals are shrunken Ionic in form and date probably from the
18th century. The pavilion was used as the treasury for the revenues
from Egypt under Sultan Selim I. Before this period, under Mehmed II and
Bayezid II, these apartments must have been the most agreeable rooms in
the palace. During excavations in the basement, a small Byzantine
baptistery built along a trefoil plan was found.
The Imperial Treasury is a vast
collection of works of art, jewelry, heirlooms of sentimental value and
money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. Since the palace became a
museum, the same rooms have been used to exhibit these treasures. Most
of the objects in the Imperial Treasury consisted of gifts, spoils of
war, or pieces produced by palace craftsmen. The Chief Treasurer (Hazinedarbaşı)
was responsible for the Imperial Treasury. Upon their accession to the
throne, it was customary for the sultans to pay a ceremonial visit to
The objects exhibited in the Imperial
Treasury today are a representative selection of its contents, which
mainly consist of jeweled objects made of gold and other precious
materials. Among the many treasuries that are on exhibition in four
adjoining rooms, the first room houses one the armours of Sultan Mustafa
III, consisting of an iron coat of mail decorated with gold and
encrusted with jewels, his gilded sword and shield and gilded stirrups.
The next display shows several Holy Koran covers belonging to the
sultans, decorated with pearls. The ebony throne of Murad IV is inlaid
with nacre and ivory. The golden Indian music box, with a gilded
elephant on top, dates from the 17th century. In other cabinets are
looking glasses decorated with rare gems, precious stones, emeralds and
The second room houses the Topkapı
Dagger. The golden hilt is ornamented with three large emeralds, topped
by a golden watch with an emerald lid. The golden sheath is covered with
diamonds and enamel. In 1747, the Sultan Mahmud I had this dagger made
for Nadir Shah of Persia, but the Shah was assassinated before the
emissary had left the Ottoman Empire's boundaries and so the Sultan
retained it. This dagger was the subject of the film Topkapi. In the
middle of the second room stands the walnut throne of Ahmed I, inlaid
with nacre and tortoise shell, built by Sedefhar Mehmet Ağa. Below the
baldachin hangs a golden pendant with a large emerald. The next displays
show the ostentatious aigrettes of the sultans and their horses, studded
with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. A jade bowl, shaped like a vessel,
was a present of the Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
The most eye-catching jewel in the third
room is the Spoonmaker's Diamond, set in silver and surrounded in two
ranks with 49 cut diamonds. Legend has it, that this diamond was bought
by a vizier in a bazaar, the owner thinking it was a worthless piece of
crystal. Amongst the exhibits are two large golden candleholders,
weighing each 48 kg and mounted with 6666 cut diamonds, a present of
Sultan Abdülmecid I to the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca. They were
brought back to Istanbul shortly before the fall of the Ottoman Empire
and the loss of control over Mecca. The golden ceremonial Bayram throne,
mounted with tourmalines, was made in 1585 by order of the vizier
Ibrahim Pasha and presented to Sultan Murad III. This throne would be
set up in front of the Gate of Felicity on special audiences.
The throne of Sultan Mahmud I is the
centerpiece of the fourth room. This golden throne in Indian style,
decorated with pearls and emeralds, was a gift of the Persian ruler
Nader Shah in the 18th century. Another rather curious exhibit shows the
forearm and the hand of St. John the Baptist, set in a golden covering.
Several displays show an assembly of flintlock guns, swords, spoons, all
decorated with gold and jewels. Of special interest is the golden shrine
that used to contain the cloak of the prophet Mohammed.
As of 2007, taking photographs in this
hall is strictly forbidden. Permission for research purposes has to be
granted before by the authorities.
Adjacent to the north of the Imperial
Treasury lie the pages dormitory, which have been turned into the
Miniature and Portrait Gallery (Müzesi Müdüriyeti). On the lower floor
is a collection of important calligraphies and miniatures. In the
displays one can see old and very precious korans (12th-17th c.),
hand-painted and hand-written in Kufic and also a bible from the 4th
century, written in Arabic. A priceless item of this collection is the
first world map by the Turkish admiral Piri Reis (1513). The map shows
part of the western coasts of Europe and North Africa with reasonable
accuracy, and the coast of Brazil is also easily recognizable. The upper
part of the gallery contains 37 portraits of different sultans, most of
which are copies since the original paintings are too delicate to be
shown public. The portrait of Mehmed II was painted by the Venetian
painter Gentile Bellini. Other precious Ottoman miniature paintings that
are either kept in this gallery, the palace library or in other parts
are the Hünername, Sahansahname, the Sarayı Albums, Siyer-ı Nebi,
Surname-ı Hümayun, Surname-ı Vehbi, and the Süleymanname amongst many
The Neo-classical Enderûn Library (Enderûn
Kütüphanesi), also known as Library of Sultan Ahmed III (III. Ahmed
Kütüphanesi), is situated directly behind the Audience Chamber (Arz
Odası) in the centre of the Third Court. It was built on the foundations
of the earlier Havuzlu kiosk by the royal architect Mimar Beşir Ağa in
1719 on orders of Sultan Ahmed III for the use of the officials of the
royal household. The colonnade of this earlier kiosk now probably stands
in front of the present Treasury. The library is a beautiful example of
Ottoman architecture of the 18th century. The exterior of the building
is faced with marble. The library has the form of a Greek cross with a
domed central hall and three rectangular bays. The fourth arm of the
cross consists of the porch that can be approached by a flight of stairs
on either side. Beneath the central arch of the portico is an elaborate
drinking fountain with niches on each side. The building is set on a low
basement to protect the precious books of the library against moisture.
The walls above the windows are decorated with 16th - 17th century İznik
tiles of variegated design. The central dome and the vaults of the
rectangular bays have been painted. The decoration inside the dome and
vaults are typical of the so-called Tulip Era, which lasted from
17031730. The books were stored in cupboards in the walls. The niche
opposite the entrance was the private reading corner of the sultan.
The library contained books on theology,
Islamic law and similar works of scholarship in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic
and Persian. In those days the library contained more than 3,500
manuscripts. Some are fine examples of inlay work with nacre and ivory.
Today these books are kept in the Mosque of the Ağas (Ağalar Camii),
which is located next to the library in the western direction. One of
the important items is the so-called Topkapi manuscript, a copy of the
Holy Koran from the time of the third Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan.
The Mosque of the Ağas (Ağalar Camii) is
the largest mosque in the palace. It is also one of the oldest
constructions, dating from the 15th century during the reign of Sultan
Mehmed II. The Sultan, the ağas and pages would come here to pray. The
mosque is aligned in a diagonal line in the courtyard, in order to make
the minbar face towards Mecca. In 1928 the books of the Enderûn Library
amongst other works were moved here as the Palace Library (Sarayı
Kütüphanesi), housing a collection of about 13,500 Turkish, Arabic,
Persian and Greek books and manuscripts, collected by the Ottomans.
Located next to the mosque to the northeast is the Imperial Portraits
The Dormitory of the Royal Pages (Hasoda
Koğuşu) houses the Imperial Portraits Collection (Padişah Portreleri
Sergi Salonu) is located in the , which were part of the Sultan's
chambers. The painted portraits depict all the Ottoman sultans and some
rare photographs of the later ones, the latter being kept in glass
cases. The room is air-conditioned and the temperature regulated and
monitored to protect the paintings. Since the sultans rarely showed
themselves in public and in order to respect Islamic sensitivities
surrounding the artistic depictions of humans, the earlier portraits of
them are actually only an idealisation, they do not reflect the reality.
Only starting with the rule of the moderniser Sultan Mahmud II and his
modern reforms were realistic portraits of the rulers made. An
interesting feature is a large painted family tree of the Ottoman
The domed chamber is supported by
pillars, some of which are of Byzantine origin since a cross is clearly
visible engraved on one of them. As of 2007, taking any photographs in
this hall is strictly forbidden. Permission for research purposes has to
be granted before by the authorities. Located next to the collection in
the north is the Chamber of the Sacred Relics.
The Privy Chamber houses the Chamber of
the Sacred Relics (Kutsal Emanetler Dairesi), which includes the
Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. The chamber was constructed by Sinan under
the reign of Sultan Murad III. It used to house offices of the Sultan.
It houses the cloak of the prophet Muhammad, his sword, one tooth, a
hair of his beard, his battle sabres, an autographed letter and other
relics which are known as the Sacred Trusts. Several other sacred
objects are on display, such as the swords of the first four Caliphs,
the staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph and a carpet of the daughter of
Mohammed. Even the Sultan and his family were permitted entrance only
once a year, on the 15th day of Ramadan, during the time when the palace
was a residence. Now any visitor can see these items and many Muslims
come on pilgrimage for this purpose.
The Arcade of the Chamber of the Holy
Mantle was added in the reign of Murad III, but was altered when the
Circumcision Room was added. This arcade may have been built on the site
of the Temple of Poseidon, that was transformed before the 10th century
into the Church of St. Menas.
The Harem was home to the Sultan's
mother, the Valide Sultan; the concubines and wives of the Sultan; and
the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. There
are approximately 300 rooms of which only about twenty are open to the
public. The Harem housed as many as 500 people, which sometimes amounted
up to 300 women, their children, and the eunuchs. The harem wing was
only added at the end of the 16th century. Many of the rooms and
features in the Harem were designed by Sinan. The harem was decorated
again under the sultans Mahmud I and Osman III in an Italian-inspired
Ottoman Baroque style. These decorations contrast with those of the
Ottoman classical age.
One enters the harem through the Gate of
Carts (Arabalar Kapısı), located at the end of the Second Court, leading
into the Domed Cupboard Room (Dolaplı Kubbe). Empty shelves and
cupboards used to keep the records of deeds written by the eunuchs.
The Hall of the Ablution Fountain (Şadirvanli
Sofa) was renovated after the Harem fire of 1666. This second great fire
took place on 24 July 1665. This space was an entrance hall into the
Harem, which was guarded by the Harem eunuchs. The Büyük Biniş, and the
Şal Kapısı, which connected the Harem, the Privy Garden, the Mosque of
the Harem Eunuchs and the Tower of Justice from where the Sultan watched
the deliberations of the imperial council, led to this place. The walls
are riveted with 17th century Kütahya tiles. The horse block in front of
the mosque served the Sultan to mount his horse and the sitting benches
were for the guards. The fountain that gives the space its name is now
in the pool of the Privy Chamber of Sultan Murad III.
On the left side is the small mosque of
the black eunuchs. The tiles in watery green, dirty white and middle
blue all date from the 17th century (reign of Sultan Mehmed IV). Their
design is of a high artistic level but the execution is of minor quality
compared to previous tiles.
Another door leads to the Courtyard of
the (Black) Eunuchs, with on the left side their apartments. At the end
of the court is the apartment of the black chief eunuch (Kızlar Ağası),
the fourth high-ranking official in the official protocol. In-between
lies the school for the imperial princes with precious tiles from the
17th and 18th centuries and gilded wainscoting. At the end of the court
is the main gate to the harem (Cümle Kapısi). The narrow corridor on the
left side leads to the apartments of the odalisques (white slaves given
as a gift to the sultan).
Eunuchs at the Ottoman court were
preferably taken from Africa, especially Sudan. Since lighter skin was
considered more aestheticly pleasing than dark skin, the sultans felt
the chances of an affair developing between their, mostly Eastern
European, concubines and their dark-skinned eunuch caretakers extremely
The Passage of Concubines (Cariye
Koridoru) leads into the Courtyard of the Sultan's Chief Consorts and
Concubines. On the counters along the passage, the eunuchs placed the
dishes they brought from the kitchens in the palace.
The Courtyard of the Sultan's Consorts
and the Concubines (Kadın Efendiler Taşlığı / Cariye Taşlığı) was
constructed at the same time as the courtyard of the eunuchs in the
middle of the 16th century. It underwent restoration after the 1665 fire
and is the smallest courtyard of the Harem. The porticoed courtyard is
surrounded by baths, a laundry fountain, a laundry, dormitories and the
apartments of the Sultan's chief consort. The three independent tiled
apartments with fireplaces overlooking the Golden Horn were the quarters
where the consorts of the Sultan lived. These constructions covered the
site of the courtyard in the late 16th century. At the entrance to the
quarters of the Queen Mother, wall frescoes from the late 18th century
depicting landscapes, reflect the western influence. The staircase,
called the "Forty Steps" (Kirkmerdiven), leads to the Hospital of the
Harem (Harem Hastanesi), the dormitories of the concubines at the
basement of the Harem and Harem Gardens.
For the perpetuation of the dynasty and
service to the Ottoman Dynasty, beautiful and intelligent girls were
brought in from the neighbouring countries to become imperial concubines
(Cariyes). The concubines who were introduced into the Harem in their
tender age were brought up in the disciplines of the Palace. They were
promoted according to their capacities and became Kaftas and Ustas. The
concubine, with whom the Sultan shared his bed, became a member of the
dynasty and rose in rank to attain the status of Gözde (the Favourite)
or Kadınefendi (one of the Sultans consorts). The highest position
herself was the Queen Mother (Valide Sultan), the mother of the Sultan,
who herself used to be a concubine of the Sultans father and rose to
the supreme rank in the Harem. No concubine could leave or enter the
premises of the Harem without the explicit permission of the Queen
Mother. The powers of the Queen Mother even extended to questions of
life and death of a concubine, with eunuchs directly reporting to her.
The concubines either lived in the halls beneath the apartments of the
Consorts, Queen Mother and the Sultan, or in separate chambers. The
Kadınefendis who had borne children to the Sultan and whose number
varied between four to eight formed the group which was next in rank to
the Queen Mother.
The Apartments of the Queen Mother (Valide
Sultan Dairesi) consists of forty rooms of the Valide Sultan (mother of
the ruling sultan), which were also rebuilt in 1667 after the second
fire. Some rooms, such as the small music room, have been added to this
section in the 18th century. Only two of these rooms are open to the
public : the dining room with, in the upper gallery, the reception room
and her bedroom with, behind a lattice work, a niche for prayer. These
are all enriched with blue-and-white or yellow-and-green tiles with
flowery motifs and İznik porcelain. The panel representing Mecca or
Medina, signed by Osman İznikli Mehmetoğlu, represents a new style in
İznik tiles. The paintwork in the dining room was executed by foreigners
during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid I.
The next rooms are the Baths of the
Sultan and the Queen Mother (Hünkâr ve Vâlide Hamamları). This double
bath dates from the late 16th century and consists of multiple rooms. It
was redecorated in the rococo style in the middle of the 18th century.
Both baths present the same design, consisting of a caldarium, a
tepidarium and a frigidarium. Each room either has a dome, or the
ceilings are at some point glassed in a honeycomb structure to let the
natural sunlight in. The floor is clad in white and grey marble. The
marble tub with an ornamental fountain in the caldarium and the gilded
iron grill are characteristic features. The golden lattice work was to
protect the bathing Sultan or his mother from murder attempts. The
Sultan's bath was decorated by Sinan with high-quality İznik polychrome
tiles. But much of the tile decoration of the harem, from structures
damaged by the fire of 1574, was recycled by Sultan Ahmed I for
decoration is his new Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. The walls are now
either clad in marble or white-washed.
The Imperial Hall (Hünkâr Sofası), also
known as the Imperial Sofa, Throne Room Within or Hall of Diversions, is
a domed hall in the Harem, believed to have been built in the late 16th
century. It has the largest dome in the palace. The hall served as the
official reception hall of the Sultan as well as for the entertainment
of the Harem. Here the Sultan received his confidants, guests, his
mother, his first wife (Hasseki), consorts, and his children.
Entertainments, paying of homage during religious festivals, and wedding
ceremonies took place here in the presence of the members of the
After the Great Harem Fire of 1666, the
hall was renovated in the rococo style during the reign of Sultan Osman
III. The tile belt surrounding the walls bearing calligraphic
inscriptions were riveted with 18th century blue and white Delftware and
mirrors of Venetian glass. But the domed arch and pendantives still bear
classical paintings dating from the original construction.
In the hall stands the Sultan's throne.
The gallery was occupied by the consorts of the Sultan, headed by the
Queen Mother. The gilded chairs are a present of Emperor Wilhelm II of
Germany, while the clocks are a gift of Queen Victoria of the United
Kingdom. A pantry, where musical instruments are exhibited and certain
other apartments, opens to the Imperial Hall which gives access into the
Sultan's private apartments.
A secret door behind a mirror allowed the
Sultan a safe passage. One door admits to the Queen Mothers apartments,
another to the Sultan's hammam. The opposite doors lead to the small
dining chamber (rebuilt by Ahmed III) and the great bedchamber, while
the other admits to a series of ante-chambers, including the room with
the fountain (Çeşmeli Sofa), which were all retiled and redecorated in
the 17th century.
This great bedchamber of Murat III is the
oldest and finest surviving room in the harem, having retained its
original interior. It was a design of the master architect Sinan and
dates from the 16th century. Its dome is only slightly smaller than that
of the Throne Room. Its hall has one of the finest doors of the palace
and leads past the wing of the crown princes (Kafes). The room is
decorated with blue-and-white and coral-red İznik tiles. The rich floral
designs are framed in thick orange borders of the 1570s. A band of
inscriptional tiles runs around the room above the shelf and door level.
The large arabesque patterns of the dome have been regilded and
repainted in black and red. The large fireplacwith gilded hood (ocak)
stands opposite a two-tiered fountain (çeşme), skilfully decorated in
coloured marble. The flow of water had to prevent any eavesdropping,
while providing a relaxed atmosphere to the room. The two gilded
baldachin beds date from the 18th century.
The Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown
Prince (Çifte Kasırlar / Veliahd Dairesi) consists of two privy chambers
built in the 17th century, at different times. The two rooms date from
the reign of Sultan Murat III, but are more probably from the reign of
Ahmed I. These chambers represent all the details of the classical style
used in other parts of the palace. The pavilion has been completely
redecorated and most of the Baroque woodwork has been removed. The
decorative tiles, reflecting the high quality craftsmanship of the İznik
tile industry of the 17th century, were removed in accordance with the
original concept and replaced with modern copies. The paintwork of the
wooden dome is still original and is an example of the rich designs of
the late 16th/early 17th centuries. The fireplace in the second room has
a tall, gilded hood and has been restored to its original appearance.
The window shutters next to the fire place are decorated with nacre
intarsia. The windows in coloured glass look out across the high terrace
and the garden of the pool below. The spigots in these windows are
surrounded with red, black and gold designs.
The crown prince (Şehzadeler) lived here
in seclusion, therefore the apartments were also called kafes (cage).
The crown prince and other princes were trained in the discipline of the
Ottoman Harem until they reached adulthood. Afterwards, they were send
as governors to Anatolian provinces, where they were further trained in
the administration of state affairs. From the beginning of the 17th
century onward, the princes lived in the Harem, which started to have a
voice in the palace administration. The Twin Kiosk was used as the privy
chamber of the crown prince from the 18th century onward.
On the other side of the great bedchamber
are two smaller rooms : first the Library of Ahmed I, richly decorated
with İznik glazed tiles. The cabinet doors, the window shutters, a small
table and a koran lectern are decorated with nacre and ivory. Next to it
lies the small but spectacular dining room of Ahmed III with wall
painted with panels of floral designs and bowls of fruit and with an
intricate tiles fireplace (ocak).
Next to the carriage entrance to the
harem lies the barracks of the royal guard of the Halberdiers of the
Long Tresses. It was their duty to carry, with eyes blinkered, logs and
heavy loads to the private quarters. These barracks were rebuilt after
the fire of 1574 by Sultan Murat III. The main barrack hall is still
close to the original state. It is a long, lofty hall surrounded by
wooden galleries. The lofty hall located next to the dormitory served as
the armoury where the halberds could be stored.
The Golden Road (Altınyol) is a narrow
passage that form the axis of the Harem, dating from the 15th century.
It extends between the Courtyard of the Harem Eunuch (Harem Ağaları
Taşlığı) and the Privy Chamber (Has Oda). The Sultan used this passage
to pass to the Harem, the Privy Chamber and the Sofa-i Hümâyûn, the
Imperial terrace. The Courtyard of the Queen Mother (Valide Sultan
Taşlığı), the Courtyard of the Chief Consort of the Sultan (Baş Haseki),
the apartments of the Princes (Şehzadegân Daireleri), and the apartments
of the Sultan (Hünkâr Dairesi) open to this passage. It is believed that
the attribute "golden" is due to the Sultan's throwing golden coins to
be picked up by the concubines at festive days. The walls are painted in
plain white colour.
The Fourth Courtyard (IV. Avlu), also
known as the Imperial Sofa (Sofa-i Hümayun) was more of a private
sanctuary of the Sultan and his family, and consists of a number of
pavilions, kiosks (köşk), gardens and terraces.
In 1648 Sultan Ibrahim I added the
Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odası), a kiosk dedicated to the circumcision
of young princes, which is a primary rite of passage in Islam. Its
interior and exterior are decorated with a mixed collection of recycled
tiles such as the blue tiles with flower motifs at the exterior. These
once embellished ceremonial buildings of Sultan Süleyman the
Magnificent, such as the building of the Council Hall and the Inner
Treasury (both in the Second Courtyard) and the Throne Room (in the
Third Courtyard). They were moved here out of nostalgia and reverence
for the golden age of his reign. These tiles then served as prototypes
for the decoration of the Yerevan and Baghdad kiosks. The room itself is
well-proportioned and spacious with windows, each with a small fountain.
The windows above contain some stained-glass panels. On the right side
of the entrance stands a fireplace with a gilded hood. Ibrahim also
built the arcaded roof around the Chamber of the Holy Mantle and the
upper terrace between this room and the Baghdad kiosk.
The royal architect Hasan Ağa under
Sultan Murat IV constructed during 16351636 the two Yerevan Kiosk (Revan
Köşkü) and in 16381639 the Baghdad Kiosk (Bağdat Köşkü) to celebrate
the Ottoman victories at Yerevan and Baghdad. Both have projecting
eaves, a central dome and interior with recessed cupboards and woodwork
with inlaid nacre tesserae. Both are based on the classical four-iwan
plan with sofas filling the rectangular bays.
The Yerevan Kiosk (Revan Köşkü) served as
a religious retreat of forty days. It is a rather small pavilion with a
central dome, three apses for sofas. The fourth wall contains the door
and a fireplace. The wall facing the colonnade is set with marble, the
other walls with mediocre İznik blue-and-white tiles, patterned after
those of a century earlier.
The Baghdad Kiosk (Bağdad Köşkü) is
situated on the right side of the terrace with fountain. It closely
resembles the Revan Kiosk. The three doors to the porch are located
between the sofas. The façade is covered with marble, strips of porphyry
and verd antique. The marble paneling of the portico is executed in
Cairene Mamluk style. The interior is an example of an ideal Ottoman
room. The recessed shelves and cupboards are decorated with early 16th
century green, yellow and blue tiles. The blue-and-white tiles on the
walls are copies of the tiles of the Circumcision Room, right across the
The inlaid doors are among the finest in
the palace. On the right side of the entrance is a beautiful fireplace
with gilded hood. In the middle of the room is a silver mangal (charcoal
stove), a present of King Louis XIV of France. This pavilion was used
for some time as a library. Both kiosks have become typical of Islamic
and Ottoman palace architecture.
The gilded İftar Pavilion, also known as
İftar Kiosk or İftar bower (İftariye Köşkü or İftariye Kameriyesi)
offers a view on the city and the harbour and is a magnet for tourists.
Its ridged cradle vault was a first in Ottoman architecture with
charming echoes of China and India. The sultans used to come here after
sunset during the ramadan.
The rectilinear Imperial Sofa Kiosk
(Sofa-i Hümâyûn Köşkü) or Imperial Sofa Pavillon, also known as Kiosk of
Kara Mustafa Pasha, was a belvedere built in the second half of the 16th
century. It was to be used by the successive sadrazams (grand vizier or
chancellor). It was restored in 1704 by Sultan Ahmed III and rebuilt in
1752 by Mahmud I in Rococo style. It is the only wooden building in the
palace. It consists of two large rooms with the backside supported by
columns. This open building with large windows was originally used as a
restroom and later, during the Age of Tulips (17181730) as a lodge for
guests. It is situated next to the Tulip Garden.
The square Tower of the Head Physician (Hekimbaşı
Kulesi or Baş Lala Kulesi) dates from the 15th century, probably from
the reign of Mehmed II, and is the oldest building in the Fourth
Courtyard. These square towers were at that time quite common in Europe.
It has few windows and its walls are almost two metres thick. The
physician had his private chamber at the top, while below was a store
for drugs and medicaments.
The Grand Kiosk, also known as the Grand
Pavilion or Kiosk of Abdül Mecid I (Mecidiye Köşkü), built in 1840, was
the last significant addition to the palace. It was built by Sultan
Abdül Mecid I as a seaside palace because of its splendid location,
giving a panoramic view on the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus. The
architect Sarkis Balyan constructed it in an eclectic Europeanized
style, mixed with traditional Ottoman style. It was used occasionally to
accommodate foreign guests.
The small, white Dressing Room (Esvab
Odası) building, next to the Grand Kiosk, now holds a collection of the
kaftans of the sultan.
The Imperial Sofa Mosque (Sofa-i Hümâyûn
Camii) is a small, white mosque located next to the Esvab. It dates to
the 16th century and was built for the nearby dormitory of the pages.
Located next to the Grand Kiosk is the
Konyalı Restaurant, a popular and high-end restaurant. The restaurant
has been visited by guests such as Queen Elizabeth II of the United
Kingdom, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, President Richard Nixon, and boxer
Mohammed Ali, amongst many. Visitors can also order coffee and dishes at
the outside veranda, which has a panoramic view of the Bosphorus and the
Asian side. Most tourists come here to take pictures of the sea and the
The great square fountain is a Rococo
building in front of the palace gate that was built under Sultan Ahmed
III in 1728. It was a social centre and gathering place. Each of the
four façades contain a drinking fountain (çeşme), flanked by niches and
decorated in low relief with foliate and floral designs. On each corner
is a triple-grilled sebil (water tank from which an attendant issued
cups of water from behind a grille). Above the drinking fountains is an
elegant frieze with a long poem in calligraphy, dedicated to water,
framed in blue and red bands. The roof is formed by a central dome,
rising from an octagonal drum, and a little turret on each of the four
corners. The ceiling is elaborately panelled.
Many of the trees in the Topkapi Palace
are remarkable since most of them fell victim to a fungus that
completely hollowed the trunk out over the centuries, even though the
trees still survive until today and are standing. In other cases, two
trees of a different kind have grown and fused together, such as a fig
tree that grew in the hollow of a tree and effectively fused together.
This phenomenon can be seen in the Second Court.