Thats a real "must see" spot of Istanbul, whether you are a tourist or a local ...
As being the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465 - 1856) of their 624-year reign, Topkapi Palace is an amazing combination of architecture and history.
Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people and covered a large area with a long shoreline.
The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. The palace contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint.
The palace complex is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, with a good view of the Bosphorus 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 Byzantion stood here. There is an underground Byzantine cistern located in the Second Courtyard, which was used throughout Ottoman times, as well as remains of a small church, the so-called Palace Basilica on the acropolis, which have 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.
Hire a guide or get an audio guide and walk around the Topkapi palace. This is an interesting place to spend about 2 hours. There is besides the main palace, a harem, the treasury and art gallery. There are shops around and also a cafe with a beautiful view of the Bosphorous strait.
While the Audience Chamber holds interest for those in awe of power, the Imperial Treasury is, today, the big draw for tourists visiting Topkapi Palace. It is where the site’s jewels and precious items, both secular and religious, are held. Here too are items that were taken by the Ottomans after they lost control of Mecca and the Hejaz in the 20th century. While some of the artifacts are Ottoman gifts to the Grand Mosque, the Ottomans also took (read: stole) artifacts belonging to the Prophet Mohammad, including a shrine that once contained his cloak, and also some of his daily implements. The presence of these religious artifacts makes this one of the most popular spots in the entirety of the complex, and it is often so packed as to make it nearly impossible to move in the interior. As the visitor passes out from the room in which the holy objects are stored, she will be greeted by the sound of the recitation of the Qur’an, which is undertaken by four hodzas on a continuous basis, their sinuous voices intoning the exalted words of the holy scripture in perfect Arabic. Outside, in the fresh air and away from the crowds, visitors can admire the marble entrances and heavy wooden doors.
The Imperial Divan is, as its name suggests, the former site of the Imperial government. Until the Topkapi compound ceased to be the official residence of the Sultan and his entourage in the mid-19th century, this section was where the regent and his viziers met to decide the administration and policies of the Ottoman Empire. In the 1870s, the site of such meetings was moved definitively to the Sublime Porte, but until that time the Kübbealti was the main room in which the Sultan and his advisors would gather. Two more rooms are included in the divan, one for the secretaries of the former group, and one for the clerks and as a document storage area. The fact that the Imperial Divan was somewhere in which the Sultan spent a fair amount of time means that it is richly decorated with much of the famed Ottoman calligraphy still visible on the interior walls. The kubbealti (the section in which the Sultan and his viziers and advisers met) is decorated as well with ornate tiles. Outside, there is a wooden portico and the porch is decorated with green and white tiles, as well as gold inlays.
The Gate of Felicity is, by far, the most magnificent of the gates for its intricate and elaborate carvings and decoration. It marks the entrance into the inner sanctum of the Palace, to the grounds in which the Sultan’s family and closest entourage resided. It was initially erected in the 15th century, but the current structure is the product of 18th century renovations under Sultan Mustafa III that introduced Rococo innovations to the design. It has slender marble columns that hold up its wide roof, and the grills and lattice work is what really captures the eye of the visitor. It is hard not to be drawn to the delicacy and intricacy of the carvings that are exhibited here, a testament to the exacting nature of the Sultan’s household with respect to the quality of workmanship in the inner part of the palace.
The Audience Chamber is the complimentary component of governance to the Imperial Divan. Here, the Sultan would receive his vizier and ambassadors and hear their reports, often making decisions on the success of his ministers on the spot. It was thus here that the Sultan passed judgment, in contrast to the consultative function of the Imperial Divan. The building itself is located in the inner (third) courtyard, implying that those who acceded to it had indeed reached an even higher level of responsibility than those who were admitted to the Imperial Divan. The building is decorated with sumptuous detail, especially the interior, which features a blue, diamond-studded ceiling, paintings of old Turkic legends and, of course, calligraphy of Quranic verses and the tughras. Outside of the Chamber there is a small fountain that was ingeniously installed in order to make it impossible for eavesdroppers to hear the Sultan’s conversations. A passageway leads out from this Chamber into the grounds of the Sultan’s harem.
function than one might think. It was erected on its current site by Mehmet II in the late 15th century as a landmark to signal to the people the Sultan’s continuous stance against injustice. I was enlarged in the mid-16th century, and the upper portions of the tower were completely redone in the 1820s by Sultan Mahmud II, who had these built in European, rather than Ottoman styles. For this reason, the square tower is much more reminiscent of the dour steeples of Protestant churches in northern Europe or France, rather than the slender Ottoman minarets.
The Gate of Salutation is the gate through which visitors with tickets for the harem and Imperial Divan must pass. It is most notable for the manner in which it resembles European-style fortifications, and indeed the towers and the majority of the gate are said to be of Byzantine, rather than Ottoman, design. This is the gate through which official visitors and dignitaries would pass, and both Byzantine and Ottoman tradition hold that only the regent is permitted to pass through it on horseback. The towers at the gate, which are octagonal, are most reminiscent of fairy tale castles and structures in European sites, and result in a bit of a discordant note with the interior structures of the Second Courtyard, which are in much more traditional Ottoman architecture.
The Imperial Gate is the primary entrance to the Topkapi Palace complex, and it is likely the gate you will go through to access the grounds if you are coming from Hagia Sophia. It is hard to miss, as it features a massive grey façade that is made from marble and was added to the original gate in the 1800s. It is decorated with Ottoman-style calligraphy in gold that dates from the 19th century and that contains verses from the Qur’an and the monograms of the Sultans, known as tughras.
Topkapi Palace, together with the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, completes the triad of Istanbul’s monumental Ottoman/Byzantine structures. Today, the Palace, like Hagia Sophia, is a museum that houses the relics of the country’s Ottoman splendor. The Palace has benefitted additionally from its starring role in the movie Topkapi, and from being inscribed in the rolls of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It was first builtin the 1450s, following the capture of the city of Constantinople by the Ottomans, and thus is entirely an Ottoman site, despite having been constructed on the site of the old Byzantine acropolis. As it stands on the top of a hill on Seraglio Point, the Palace provides magnificent views of parts of the city as well as the southern edge of the Bosphorus and the Marmara. Topkapi Palace was initially the residence of the Sultan and the royal family, and thus it is exemplary of the royal architectural styles that dominated in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the Palace was overshadowed as the preferred residence of the royals by newer palaces on the Bosphorus, and finally in the 19th century the Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move his residence officially to Dolmabahçe. In 1924, the complex was converted to a museum by the Republic.
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