If you want to see how Turkish royalty lived then don’t miss visiting Topkapi Palace. Sultan Mehmet II ordered the construction of Topkapi Palace back in 1466. This Palace became a political center in the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. It lost its significance in the 17th century when the Dolmabahce Palace was built. However, it was converted into a museum in 1924. Topkapi Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and has since been one of the major tourist draws in Istanbul.
Topkapi in Turkish is translated as “Gate of Cannons”, a reasonable name because huge cannons decorate the outside gates.
Topkapi Palace is massive, even reaching the point as being the largest in the world. Inside the Palace is a maze of buildings with several courtyards secured by gates. When it became a museum, the important rooms were opened to the public. The popular treasures to see are the Spoonmaker’s Diamond and Topkapi Dagger. The former is deemed as the fourth largest diamond in the world. You’ll also find Ottoman clothing, weapons, religious relics and old manuscripts among its collection.
Divided into four main courtyards, and a Harem, Topkapi Palace is so huge, it will take roughly half a day if you want to see it all. We’ll start with the First Courtyard after passing the Imperial Gate. The courtyard is named as the “Courtyard of the Regiments.” You’ll find the Hagia Eirene, a Byzantine Church over to your left. There’s also a park, fountains and the Archeological Museum.
The next is the Second Courtyard or the “Gate of Salutation”. It was named as such since only the Sultan and his mother can pass by on horseback. Entrance to the Second Court was exclusive to the Sultan and the people working in the palace. This is where the Imperial kitchens, Imperial Council Chamber, stables and the Harem complex are located. It’s also where the Sultan will receive his audience.
The Third Courtyard is called the “Gate of Felicity” where joyful events are celebrated. Special ceremonies during religious days are held here. No one can enter the third gate without the Sultan’s permission. In the Third Courtyard, you’ll find the Audience Hall and the library behind it. This is also where the Conqueror’s Pavilion is located. This is a popular area where the Sultan’s collection of costumes and Imperial treasury can be viewed. Visitors often come here to have a look at the 86-carat Spoon Maker’s Diamond, Topkapi Dagger, large emeralds and religious relics. You’ll also find the Holy Relics section and the Miniature and Portrait Gallery.
The Fourth Courtyard is a separate section exclusive to the Sultan and his family in the past. It’s made up of several pavilions, private gardens and terraces. Roses and tulips bloom in the gardens with several kiosks (Mecidiye Kiosk, Baghdad Kiosk, Revan Kiosk) offering magnificent views of the Golden Horn, Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus. You’ll also find a small mosque and a restaurant named Konyali in this area.
If you want to visit the Harem Complex, a special part of the Topkapi Palace, you need to buy a separate ticket. The Complex is made up of six floors but only one is open to the public. You’ll pass through the Carriage Gate and the Dormitory of the Corps of the Palace Guards. Lovely Iznik tiles decorate the Dormitory. There are several halls, passageways and dormitories you can find here for the Sultan’s mother, wives, concubines and the Black Eunuchs.
The Harem is a distinct area where wives, concubines, ladies-in-waiting and eunuchs resided. Harem means ‘forbidden or private.’ The Valide Sultan (Sultan’s mother title) is in charge of the Harem Complex and has a governing power to influence the Sultan’s wives, concubines and even state matters. Under the Islamic law, a sultan can have 4 legitimate wives and can support several concubines. At one point, the sultans can support as much as 300.
Upon entering the main gate of the Harem, one can find Turkish baths, a laundry fountain, a circumcision room, dormitories and private apartments. A special highlight here is the Salon of the Valide Sultan, a marvelous part of her apartments. Other noteworthy sights to check are the Twin Kiosk/ Apartments of the Crown Prince where fantastic Iznik tile panels, eye-catching stained glass windows and early century painted canvas dome can be admired. Lastly, you’ll also view a large empty pool in the Courtyard of the Favorites where a Harem Mosque is also located.
It’s a splendid experience to visit Topkapi Palace and admire its lavish, ornate and opulent rooms. It feels like you’re transported to the 15th and 19th centuries. It gives you a powerful peek into the lifestyle of the Sultan, his family and the people who worked for him. Don’t pass up the chance to see the wonderful collection of treasures and spectacular art pieces!
Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
72 Turkish Lira per person. To visit the Harem it is an additional 42 Turkish Lira per person. It's free for children under 12 years old, and entry to the Harem is free for those under 6
Daily: 9am - 6pm
Closed on Tuesday