Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, photo and description

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul: the residence of the Ottoman sultans

The palace and park ensemble of Topkapi is a great landmark of Istanbul and all of Turkey. Within its walls the main historical events of the Ottoman Empire were pondered. It is the residence of the sultans keeping secrets and intrigues. Only in 1924 a museum was opened here, which today is available to tourists from all over the world.

Description of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul can not be limited to architectural features: each structure is associated with certain periods of history. The palace complex is twice the size of the Vatican, at certain times there were about 50,000 people living here at one time. In the buildings were mosques, baths and zoos. Being in the palace, tourists realize how lived the sultans, their courtiers. It gives an idea of the vast era of the existence of the Ottoman Empire.

How the palace was built and enriched

The history of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul begins in the 15th century, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Sultan Mehmed II needed a new residence: after the conquest he lived in the building where Beyazit Square is located now. Nothing remained of the old palace.

It was decided to build a new palace on the ruins of the former imperial residences. Topkapi was used for “work tasks”, as was the case with the old palace. The harem, on the other hand, was outside the palace complex. This was the case until Sultan Suleiman’s concubine in the mid-16th century took advantage of her position to move the harem to the palace grounds. This resulted in the remodeling of Topkapi, the largest since its founding.

Later the palace and park ensemble became larger, richer and more beautiful. Its history goes back 400 years – it was the home of 25 Ottoman sultans. It lasted until Abdul-Medjid began to live in a new palace – Dolmabahce. Subsequently, this building became the residence of the Turkish rulers.

The structure of the palace: the result of centuries of construction

The layout of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul changed regularly. During the construction of the ensemble there were no global projects: each building was built for a specific purpose. If the rulers had a priority to build, it was carried out. This makes the palace original, unlike others.

Topkapi is arranged as follows: Four courtyards, separated from each other by monumental gates. The harem is worthy of special attention.

The First Courtyard

After passing through the Imperial Gates the visitor enters the first courtyard – Alai Meydany. It was through this that the sultans entered on their horses. Inside is a mint, a fountain, and a structure that has survived from the time of Constantinople – the Church of St. Irene. The imperial gates resemble the doors of medieval castles. They are distinguished by their two-storey structure and vaulted ceiling. The upper floor was the lodge for the rulers: from here they could watch the events that took place there. There are inscriptions on the facade – verses from the Koran.

The imperial gate has a special grandeur. It is the arch through which all visitors passed on foot, some important guests arrived on horseback. All other areas were closed to the public.

The Alai Meydany is the outer courtyard and occupies the largest area. It was here that ceremonies were held, the gathering of sultans on campaigns. Friday prayers and festivities were also held here. If foreign representatives and other important guests came to visit the Ottoman ruler – the courtyard was intended for waiting.

Christian Church

The Church of Saint Irene in Topkapi is notable for the fact that they decided not to convert it into a mosque. After Constantinople fell during the Ottoman conquests, it was turned into an armory. But some changes are still present: Ahmed III added marble tablets on which the writing was contained. Only during the reign of Mahmud I did the church become a military museum; for the rest of the time it served as a storehouse.

The Second Courtyard

The Gates of Welcome were built during the reign of Mehmed II and restored by Suleiman, they became the entrance to the second courtyard. The two towers are reminiscent of European castle architecture, the arch is in the classic Ottoman style. A sultan could pass through them on his horse, others were forbidden. Today it became the main entrance to Topkapi Palace Museum.

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The State Council building is one of the main buildings: here imperial affairs were discussed and decrees were written down. The meetings were held four times a week.

The peculiarity of the building is the gilded lattice. The interior was visible through it, which meant that the decisions that were made here were not confidential. The Sultan could also observe the Council and control what was going on. Also important in the courtyard are the following buildings.

The Tower of Justice. This is an interesting cone shaped building. It was high enough to look out over the city and see what was going on in the palace. From here the sultan could watch the decisions of the Council of State – through the window.

The outer treasury. The building was intended to hold the collected taxes, gifts to the ruler of the Ottoman Empire and other valuables. The architectural object has eight domes, which are supported by three columns.

The courtyard also contains a room for the court servants of the Topkapı Palace. The servants were required to clean the women’s and men’s parts of the house, maintained the sultan’s correspondence, and tended the throne before important ceremonies were held. Sultan’s stables were built in the courtyard. The treasury of the rulers, including saddles and harness, was stored here. The palace kitchens were low buildings made of stone and covered with bricks. Here meals were prepared for the high-ranking officials involved in the administration of the empire.

A separate mosque was also in the second courtyard: it is not too conspicuous building in the neoclassical architectural style. The standing manuscript of the fortress of Sukhumi, built by Ahmed III, attracts attention. It was located on the Black Sea coast, but during the war it was decided to move it to Topkapi.

The Third Court

The main palace of Istanbul Topkapi inside is a mysterious place. The Enderun courtyard is the “innermost courtyard.” At the entrance stands the Happiness Gate, separating the courtyard from the outside. Only the sultan, his family and special individuals could pass through them. The gate is built in the Rococo style, its decorations date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. And the wooden dome is made in the Turkish Baroque style. In the third courtyard there are several notable buildings:

  • Chamber of Audiences – ambassadors came here and brought gifts from other countries.
  • Ahmed III Library – a building surrounded by fountains, here are the bookshelves with silver trim.
  • The Chamber of Treasures is where the treasures obtained in battles and accumulated by the rulers were kept.
  • The Agalar Mosque is the largest mosque. This is where the sultan, his squires and pageboys came.

The fourth courtyard

In the Sultan’s Tulip Garden, the rulers spent a lot of time. Here they were alone with themselves, could ponder important events and make decisions. There are other objects of interest as well:

  • The Hall of Circumcision. It was built under Suleiman – here the ceremony was held in accordance with the well-known Muslim tradition.
  • Yerevan Pavilion. An unusual building in the form of an octagon. It was created to commemorate the conquest of Yerevan. Here important materials of the palace library are kept.
  • Baghdad Pavilion. Built to commemorate the conquest of Baghdad. A beautiful building with white letters carved on a blue background.
  • Iftariye Pavilion. A beautiful kiosk from which the sultans could admire sunsets. They also dined here.
  • The pavilion of Sopha. Inside, the rulers received guests and could watch sporting events.
  • The Mosque of Sopha. In this shrine the Sultan’s servants who were employed in the Chamber of the Treasury and the Treasury prayed.

The Sultan needed a physician so that he could improve his health. This is why the fourth courtyard has the Medicine Kiosk and the Tower of the Chief Physician. There is also a dressing room nearby.

The Harem and the Chambers of Suleiman’s Wife

One of the most interesting places that the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul hides is the rooms of Hürrem Sultan. It is known that Roxolana, who became Suleiman’s main wife, achieved a special position, and the harem was placed as close to the Sultan’s chambers as possible.

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The old harem was in the place of Topkapi. Then it was converted into the tiled pavilion that survives to this day.

What visitors need to know

Having carefully studied the plan of the palace, we conclude: to see the entire ensemble, it will take a whole day. It should be taken into account and come in advance, under the opening for the visit.

The stories of tourists, who have been there by themselves, often contain a lot of gaps and inconsistencies. To avoid misunderstandings, it is best to visit the Topkapi Palace on a guided tour. He will tell you interesting facts, lead you through the whole territory and show you the main sights. Then the tourist will have a holistic perception of this amazing place.

Children are given discounts, the youngest can pass for free. The cost of visiting the Topkapi Palace varies, many tourists are advised to exchange currency and visit the cultural and historical sites with liras. Entrance to some buildings is paid extra – this applies to the Harem and the church.

Rules of visiting

Tourists are not allowed to take pictures inside the halls. Girls need to be sure to take care of the headgear, cover the legs. Men can not pass into the sacred departments in shorts. But this rule is customary if you have visited mosques. It is not allowed to enter with a baby carriage. If you want to use additional equipment (such as a tripod) when taking pictures – this requires permission from the administration.

The opening hours of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul depend on the period of the visit. In the winter season, from late October to April, the facility is open from 9 am to 16:45. In summer – for two hours longer. Do not come here at closing time, as the ticket office closes 45 minutes before closing time.

If you do not know where the Topkapi Palace is in the city, look at the map: come here by streetcar, get off at the Sultanahmet stop. From there it’s not a long walk. But better – go to the palace as part of an organized tour of Istanbul.

The museum is closed on Tuesdays. During public and religious holidays it opens only in the afternoon.

Topkapi Palace – the most visited museum in Istanbul

Topkapi Palace is a unique architectural monument of Istanbul, which is more than 5 centuries old. It is located on the picturesque Sarayburnu cape, where the famous Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara. Once the main residence of the Ottoman rulers, today it has been transformed into a museum, which is among the top most visited attractions in the metropolis.

Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul has an incredible 700,000 square meters, making it one of the largest museums in the world. The complex includes four courtyards, each with its own unique attractions. Because of such a scale of structure the palace is often called a separate city within Istanbul.

The palace is adorned with intricate mosaics.

In the halls of the castle are on display at least 65,000 items, which is only one-tenth of the total palace collection. And the decoration of the museum itself abounds with artful mosaics, paintings, marble and gold elements. If you still can’t decide to visit this place, we present you our detailed article about Topkapi Palace in Istanbul with a photo and description that will completely dispel all your doubts.

A brief history

Portrait of Mehmed the Conqueror

Mehmed the Conqueror

Sultan’s Topkapi Palace began to be built in 1463 during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, the glorious Ottoman Padishah, who managed to subdue the impregnable Constantinople. The place for the future noble residence was Sarayburnu Cape, where the Byzantine imperial castle once stood, but by the 15th century it was virtually destroyed, and all that was left of it was the Church of St. Irene.

The palace was originally used by the sultans to hold official meetings and receive foreign guests. Women and children at that time did not live in the residence. But in the 16th century, during the reign of Suleiman I the Magnificent, the castle underwent major changes. At the request of his wife Roksolana (Hürrem), who wanted to live as close to her husband as possible, the Emperor ordered the harem to be moved to Topkapi Palace.

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Reception at Ahmed III

Until the mid-19th century the building served as the official residence of the Ottoman rulers. Everything changed in 1842, when Sultan Abdul Merjid I, discouraged by the medieval interiors of Topkapi, ordered the construction of a new baroque castle, able to compete with the famous European palaces. The new residence was named Dolmabahce and was completed in 1853, at which point Topkapi lost its former importance.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the President of the Turkish Republic Ataturk gave Topkapi the status of a museum (1924). And today this historical complex is visited by about 2 million tourists annually, which makes it the most popular tourist attraction in Istanbul and the second most visited museum in Turkey (1st place belongs to the Mevlana Museum in Konya).

The structure of the palace

From the photos of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, it is difficult to understand how large-scale this structure is: in fact, the castle consists of four large courtyards, each of which presents its iconic objects.

An aerial view of Topkapi Palace

This is the largest section of the four, called the Janissary Courtyard. One of the most notable sights in this part of the castle is the Imperial Gate, through which the great Turkish sultans once entered the residence. And it was from here that the Ottoman padishahs used to go to Friday prayers in Ayia Sophia (read more about the cathedral here). Today, however, any traveler has the opportunity to pass through the once noble gates. Their doors are made entirely of marble, and the facade is adorned with golden inscriptions in Arabic.

Imperial Gate

Here the sultans used to hold various festivities and also held Friday prayers ceremonies. Interestingly, only this part of the palace was open to other visitors: foreign ambassadors and high-ranking statesmen were received here. Especially important guests were even allowed to ride in on horseback.

Hagia Irene Church, 532

The Church of St. Irene

Another notable site was the Church of St. Irene in 532, which is considered one of the first Christian churches that survived to this day. After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they did not destroy the shrine but turned it into a storehouse for weapons. In the subsequent centuries the church had time to be an archaeological, imperial and military museum, but eventually all the exhibits were taken out of it, and scientists had the opportunity to make a full study of the Byzantine basilica and identify its great historical value. Today the temple serves as a concert venue.

The second courtyard welcomes guests to the palace with the Gates of Welcome, built in the classic Ottoman style, decorated with an arched vault and two towers of European type. Above the arch are black panels with gilded inscriptions in Arabic. The Gates of Welcome lead to the central part of the complex and act today as the main entrance to the palace for tourists.

Gates of Welcome

Once inside, visitors are attracted by the Council Building with the towering Tower of Justice. During the reign of Suleiman I, the chamber was transformed from a simple wooden building into a structure decorated with columns, arches, gilded lattices and bas-reliefs. The viziers took part in the session, but the Ottoman padishah himself was absent. The sultan watched the council from the Tower of Justice and, if he disagreed with the decision of the officials, he closed the window, thus interrupting the meeting and summoning all the ministers to himself.

Tower of Justice

Also worth noting here is the eight-domed Outer Treasury building, which functioned until the mid-19th century. Today it serves as a gallery where various types of weapons are on display. In this part of Topkapi there are also the buildings for the court servants, the Sultan’s stables, the Hamam and the Mosque.

Weapons in the Gallery

The palace kitchens are of great size and include 10 sections, where the dishes were prepared not only for the sultan and the harem residents, but also for the high-ranking officials. Today, within the walls of the former kitchen, visitors can see the household items of the palace cooks and the dishes in which dishes were served to the sultans and other nobles.

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Throne room, the Sultan's resting place with his concubines

In the same part of the castle is the entrance to the famous Sultan’s harem, which in our days has become a separate museum. The harem once consisted of four sections: the first was reserved for eunuchs, the second for concubines, the third for the Padishah’s mother and the fourth for the Turkish ruler himself. The total number of rooms is up to 300 and includes several baths, 2 mosques and a women’s hospital. Many rooms are quite small and simple in the interior, which is not to say about the famous Hürrem’s chambers in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the photo of which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the landmark every year.

The third section of the castle is accessed by the Gate of Happiness, or, as it is often called, the Gate of Bliss, built in the Ottoman Baroque style and decorated with a wooden dome and four marble columns. The gate opened onto the innermost courtyard of the complex, where the former private apartments of the Padishah were located. Only the sultan could pass through this gate, and if someone tried to enter without permission, such an act was regarded as treason. The gate was strictly guarded by the chief eunuch and his subordinates.

Gate of Happiness

Immediately behind the Gates of Happiness is the Throne Room, where the Sultan conducted his state affairs and received foreign ambassadors. It is noteworthy that the structure has two doors at once: one was intended exclusively for the Padishah, the other for all other visitors. The decoration of the building includes a variety of flower patterns, decoration with semi-precious stones, marble columns and gilded lattices.

In the heart of the third courtyard is the Library, which was intended for the students of the palace school. This picturesque building, surrounded by fountains and verdant miniature gardens, is crowned with a domed roof, arched openings with columns of marble. And its interior is dominated by ceramic finishes. Today the library exhibits books from the personal collections of famous sultans.

Topkapi Library

In the third section one should separately mention the Treasury, which is one of the oldest buildings in Topkapi; the Treasure Chamber, which used to be responsible for keeping all the treasures of sultan; and the Secret Pavilion which used to be the private residence of Turkish rulers. The largest mosque in the palace, the Aghalar Mosque, where the Sultan and his squires used to come and pray, is also worth mentioning.

It is from here you can see the most picturesque scenery in the castle, so this is the perfect place for a photo in Topkapi Palace. Here is the Tulip Garden, the place where the sultans used to sit and think. The garden is full of colorful colors of fragrant flowers, fruit trees and vineyards. Not far away is the Marble Terrace, offering incredible views of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn. Read about other places in the city with panoramic views in this article.

Marble Terrace

Among the notable sites in this part are the Yerevan and Baghdad Pavilions, the Hall of Columns, the Circumcision Pavilion and the Sofa Mosque. All the buildings have been preserved in good condition, and their interiors, represented by the classical Ottoman style, once again emphasize the skill of the Turkish architects.

Tulip Garden

Practical information

If you want to know where Topkapi Palace is located in Istanbul we give you its exact address: Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul.

Opening hours: the museum is open daily except Tuesdays. During the winter season, from October 30 to April 15, the institution operates on a shortened schedule from 09:00 to 16:45. Tickets can be bought until 16:00. In the summer season, from April 15 to October 30, the palace is available from 09:00 to 18:45. The ticket office is open until 6:00 pm.

Topkapi Museum entrance fee is 40 tl

Cost: As of September 2018, the price for admission to the Topkapi Museum is 40 tl. To visit the Harem you must purchase an additional ticket for 25 tl. Admission to the Church of St. Irene is also charged separately – 20 tl per person. Please note that starting October 1, 2018, Turkish officials are raising admission prices at more than half a hundred museums. Admission to Topkapı will also increase in price to 60 tl.

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Official website: topkapisarayi.gov.tr/en/visit-information.

Rules of visiting

Dress code on Topkapi tours

It is worth bearing in mind that there are religious institutions on the territory of the historical complex, which have special requirements for the appearance of visitors. So, for women on a tour of Topkapi, it is best to refuse frankly short shorts and skirts, too open tops and blouses. Men in T-shirts and beach shorts are also not welcome.

It is not forbidden to make photos in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul in general, although there are exceptions. For example, in the exhibition halls photography of collections is under a strict ban. The order is carefully monitored by security guards, who, noticing that you have broken the rules, will immediately demand to remove all photos.

It is also important to know that it is forbidden to enter the palace with baby carriages. And of course, you should follow the elementary rules of decency: not to laugh loudly, not to walk in the halls with food and drinks, to be respectful to the staff and other visitors.

Useful tips

To make your tour of Topkapı Palace in Turkey as positive as possible, you should pay attention to the recommendations of tourists who have already been there. After studying the reviews of travelers, we have collected only the most practical tips for visiting the museum:

It is more interesting to explore the halls of the complex in the company of an audio guide

  1. Before you go to Topkapi, be sure to find information about whether restoration work is underway in it. If they are underway, postpone your trip to the museum, otherwise you risk cutting out a good half of its attractions from your tour.
  2. Being the most visited place in Istanbul, the palace attracts thousands of tourists every day, which creates huge lines at the ticket office. Therefore, it is best to arrive at Topkapi early in the morning, even before it opens.
  3. Next to the ticket office there are vending machines where you can buy admission tickets with a bank card.
  4. If the palace complex is not the only museum you are going to see in Istanbul, it is logical to buy a special pass, valid for 5 days only in the institutions of the metropolis. Its cost is 125 tl. In addition to the fact that this card will save you some money, you will save yourself from waiting in long lines.
  5. The most interesting thing to explore the halls of the complex in the company of an audio guide. His price is 20 tl. We also advise you to read more information about the Topkapi Palace to understand where you go and what you look at.
  6. It will take at least 2 hours to completely see all the sights of the museum.
  7. Be sure to bring bottled water. A bottle of water costs 14 tl on the grounds, when in a simple store you will pay a maximum of 1 tl for it.
  8. There are several restaurants and souvenir shops within the walls of the palace, but the prices are very high. If you don’t have extra expenses in mind, it’s better not to go there.
Conclusion

Topkapı Palace is the national pride of Turkey, and today the authorities of the country are working hard to keep the museum complex in perfect condition. Of course, the restoration work can be a real disappointment for the curious traveler, so it is very important to choose the right time to visit the site.

Video: how the territory and interior decoration of the Topkapi Palace looks like .

Author: Catherine Unal

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For the first fifty years, Top Kapi was only a working residence. Sultan’s wives lived in a harem outside the Topkapi Palace. The harem on the grounds was built only under Sultan Suleiman I. One of his concubines, Roksolana, wishing to be closer to her husband, “pushed” the Sultan to extensive rebuilding of the palace.

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