Topkapi Palace was once the official residence of the sultans for almost 400 years. Between 1459 and 1465, shortly after his conquest of Constantinople, Mehmet II built Topkapi Palace as his primary residence. Initially this palace also served as the seat of government but in the 16th century the goverment was moved to Sublime Porte. In 1924, Topkapi Palace was opened to the public as a museum.
It’s located on a hilly, wooded promontory above that which is the meeting point of the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus - no doubt, a natural strategic position.
Topkapi Palace is a sprawling museum consisting of four parts - the first(outer) court, second (inner) court, third court (the sultan’s private domain) and the fourth court (the Tulip Garden). Within the First Court there is a public park (Gülhane Park), once a rose garden and now a wooded, shaded park for locals and visitors alike. Also within the outer courtyard (First Court) is the Imperial Mint (a museum housing exhibits on Istanbul’s historical background), the Archaeological Museum (housing some of the world’s greatest collections of antiquities) and Hagia Eirene, a Byzantine church dating from the 6th century. It has never been converted into a mosque.
Hagia Eirene, a Byzantine church is located just inside the Imperial Gate in the First Courtyard of Topkapi. Today the building is used as the setting for concerts (such as the Istanbul Music Festival) because of its great acoustics.
As we walk through the outer courtyard, we arrive at the Gate of Salutations also known as the Middle Gate: the entrance to the palace. This gate dates back to the mid 16th-century when the towers were used as defence as well as decoration. Notice the slits for archers. As visitors now pass through security and ticket control, you glance up at the ornate decor on the underside of the eave.
Passing through the Gate of Salutations brings you to the palace complex, the Second Court. Walking through the grassy and treed area brings us our first stop - the Divan, the Imperial Council Chambers of the viziers (ministers). This was where the Ottoman Empire was governed for almost 400 years.
Shown are two of the three gates into the Divan.
One of the entrances into the Divan with its ornate decoration.A closer look at the Divan and Tower of Justice.
The Imperial Divan (council) met in this ornately decorated Imperial Council Chamber to discuss matters of the government. Note the grille high above the red seating area. The sultan could eavesdrop through this grille at the base of the Tower of Justice in the Harem next door.A closer look at the grille from where the sultan could eavesdrop on the proceedings in the council chamber.Spectacular decor in the Imperial Council Chamber.
Leaving the Divan, we visited the Inner Treasury - an exhibition of arms and armoury - although interesting, no photos were allowed to be taken.
From there we made our way to the Gate of Felicity (the Gate of the White Eunuchs) which took us into the Third Court - the sultan’s private domain. Here are housed the Audience Chamber, various exhibitions now housing rich collections of imperial robes and uniforms as well as the Treasury - an incredible collection of jewel-encrusted items amongst many other precious objects. Again, no photos allowed.
Also housed in the Third Court is the multidomed Library of Ahmet III built in 1719. Here is a look at the ornamental fountain set into the wall below the main entrance of the Library facing yet another gorgeous courtyard.Roses bloom next to the side wall of the Library.From the Third Court, we entered into the Fourth Courtyard - a series of gardens dotted with pavilions such as the Circumcision Pavilion and the Baghdad Pavilion, both of which we missed seeing due to time constrants.
One structure on the furthest northest corner is the Konyali Restaurant with an amazing viewing deck from which one can see the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.
Spectacular views of the Sea of Marmara from the Fourth Courtyard at Topkapi Palace. The Istanbul Cevre Yolu Bridge spans the Bosphorus - Istanbul (the European side on the left to the Asian side on the right).Unfortunately we were limited timewise to see all of Topkapi Palace and one of the areas we missed out on seeing was the Harem among many other sites. Although we spend 2.5 hours at Topkapi, it is not enough time to see all of this expansive museum. I guess this means another trip to Turkey sometime in the future to spend more time discovering Istanbul and all it has to offer (as well as another trip to Topkapi Palace!).
Friendly Planet - Best of Turkey tour