The Baths of the Sultan and the Queen Mother, dating from the late 16th century, and decorated in Rococo style in the 18th, consist of multiple rooms - a caldarium, a tepidarium and a frigidarium. The ceilings were conceived to allow natural sunlight in. There is marble and golden artifacts everywhere, even in the golden lattice to protect the sultan or his mother from murder attempts.
There was a fire 1574, and the actual look comes from the reconstruction by Sultan Ahmed I.
One of the interesting details in the palace is the eating system. Each room has a fireplace, with different models but all of them well decorated, carefully matching the room. Those in the Harem are particularly beautiful.
The entrance to the second yard is made through a beautiful gate. It was the place where the foreigner visitors should dismount and wait for permission to enter thus justifying the name.
It is not dated, but it comes from the 16th century or earlier.
In the centre of the third yard there's a square building built in the 18th century to house the sultan's library.
It's a very harmonious building, with a domed large space and porches all around, embellished with a fountain.
There's a low basement to avoid moisture in the books.
Plan a lot of time to explore it, because there are a lot to see and it also offers a great views on Bosphorus. A do not miss the church of Hagia Irine at the entrance, because it is unique and event older than Hagia Sophia.
The Topkapi Palace is a huge building, partly open to the public. The area takes up 700.000 square meters.
The construction started in 1460 and was finalised in 1478. It has been the residence for all Ottoman Sultans.
In 1924 100.000 square meters were turned into a museum open to the public.
Palace visiting fee: 20 TL.
Mo, We-Su 9AM - 7PM (Tuesdays closed)
Also the Harem can be visted at an additional fee of 10TL.
Winter: Mo, We-Su - 4PM (Tuesdays closed)
Summer: Mo, We-Su 10AM - 5 PM (Tuesdays closed)
The long lines to enter the palace are only beaten by the even longer lines to enter the harem.
Of course everybody dreams with that visit, and no one gets disappointed.
The palace is fabulous, and the rich collection in display increases its appeal. To compose the perfect ensemble, the sights provided by its splendid locations are gorgeous.
Reserve several hours, even a full day, but pay a special attention to the harem scheduling, since it opens half an hour later (10AM) than the palace, and closes one hour earlier (4PM), with a separate entry control.
The palace is a large complex, with several buildings distributed in a wide and nice garden. An outer gate opens to a wide garden with several nice elements, and including the main complex where the inner gate opens again to a garden but smaller, and with the most important palaces close to each other.
Wit thousands of visitors each day, the gardens are an excellent solution to rest a while, plan the sequence of visits, and to wander around noticing the several angles of each monument.
Any visitor to Istanbul with even the slightest interest in history is bound to find themselves in the Sultanahmet area which has a wealth of historical sights. One of these is Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace was home to the Ottoman Sultans for around four hundred years from 1465 to 1856.
Topkapi Palace is located on Seraglio Point and looks out over the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. During Greek and Byzantine times, the acropolis of the Ancient Greek City of Byzantium was located here.
When Mehmet the Conqueror seized control of the city in 1453, he needed a suitable place to build his palace and selected this site. Construction of the palace began in 1459. During the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent - from 1520 to 1560- Topkapi Palace was expanded. The main person involved in this expansion was Alaüddin - a Persian architect. In 1574 after a terrible fire destroyed the palace's kitchens, Sultan Selim II employed the famous architect Mimar Sinan to rebuild the burnt down parts and expand the Harem, the baths, the Privy Chamber and several shoreline pavilions. Topkapi Palace was at one time surrounded by thick, high defensive walls.
Topkapi Palace does not look like a palace in the European sense. It is a large complex of rooms built around courtyards. Topkapi Palace consists of four main courtyards and a harem. At one time it was home to as many as 4,000 people. The Palace's original name was Yeni Saray or New Palace. The name Topkapı means Cannon Gate. This was one of many gateways into the palace.
The First Courtyard was the largest courtyard of the palace. This courtyard was also known as the Court of the Janissaries - the Sultan's armed bodyguards. Palace buildings that survive in this courtyard nowadays are the former Imperial Mint which dates from 1727 and the church of Hagia Irene. Hagia Irene, the Church of the Divine Peace, was built by the Byzantines. The Ottomans used it as an armoury.
When we lived in Istanbul, Haghia Irene was seldom open to the public, but when I found out it was being used to stage a concert, I insisted on going to it. I wanted to see inside a church that had the same name as me. We heard Mozart's Requiem here. It was an excellent performance, but a pigeon got into this former church in the middle of it and its calls and the flapping of its wings could be heard whenever there was a lull in the music.
The Second Courtyard, Divan Meydanı, was entered through the Gate of Salutation. This courtyard was at one time full of peacocks and gazelles. It was completed around 1465 and was surrounded by the palace hospital, the bakery, the Janissary quarters, the stables, the imperial harem and the Divan, which was the Imperial Council. These are all to the north of the courtyard and the palace kitchens are to the south. Underneath the Second Courtyard there is a cistern dating from Byzantine times. The Second Courtyard was mainly used by the sultan for holding audiences and for dispensing justice.
The Gate of Felicity is the entrance to the Third Courtyard. This courtyard was the Inner Palace. It is surrounded by the Hall of the Privy Chamber, the treasury, the Harem and some pavilions. The library of Ahmed III stands in its centre. The Imperial Treasury is worth seeing. Some of the gem stones on display here were so huge, it was hard to believe they were real. I remember massive emeralds and diamonds. There is also a famous bejewelled dagger which featured in a film called Topkapi. This film dates from 1964 and involves an attempt to steal the Topkapi dagger. The third courtyard also has a display of some beautiful miniature paintings. I have framed posters based on some of these in my home.
The Harem was the living area for the Sultan's wives, concubines and female relatives. It contained more than 400 rooms. I remember there was a part of the harem where the women could secretly look down on important visitors arriving for an audience with the sultan. The harem was guarded by the sultan's eunachs.
The fourth courtyard was the innermost private sanctuary of the sultan and his family. It was made up of several pavilions, kiosks, gardens and terraces.
In 1856, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move his court to Dolmabahçe Palace. This had just been built on the Bosphorus. It was the first European-style palace in Istanbul.
Topkapi was the first Ottoman palace to be built, from 1466 to 1478, in the newly conquered capital of the Empire by Mehmet II.
For about 400 years, until the construction of the Dolmabahce Palace, this palace was used as the residence of Ottoman sultans.
In 1924, this monument was turned into a museum and soon has become one of the most attractive palace museums in the world.
09:00 - 17:00
*Closed on Tuesdays.
A beautiful building from the outside and well worth going inside where you will see a beautiful dome ceiling, excellent wall decoration, beautiful windows...
The library was built during the early 18th century and completed in 1718.
You may wonder where the books are stored - they are inside the beautiful cupboards in the walls.
Well worth visiting.
In a word, the Topkapi Palace is, magnificent. It is definitely one of the highlights in Istanbul. Topkapi Palace was the residence of sultans and their harems from the 1450's until the middle of the 19th century. It was also the seat of the Ottoman rule. The original palace was built by Sultan Mehmet II shortly after his conquest of Constantinople. Over the next several hundred years, subsequent sultans added their own elaborate touches. The completed palace has four courtyards and quarters for 5,000 residents including slaves, concubines, and eunuchs. The palace was abandoned in favor of Dolmabahce Palace in 1853. It wasn't until 70+ years later that it was opened as a museum.
From the outside the palace looks very plain in comparison to the palaces of Europe. Once inside, especially the Harem, it’s completely different.
Some of my favorite buildings/rooms:
The Baghdad Pavilion - built in 1639 by Murat IV to celebrate his capture of Baghdad. Beautiful blue and white tilework!!
The Circumcision (yes, really) Pavilion - stained glass windows, fireplace, and beautiful ceiling.
The Treasury (no photos allowed) - smaller than I thought and not much on display compared to other (European) treasuries. A highlight was a stunning 86 carat diamond. Very long lines into the treasury and people were 2-3 deep peering over each other to see the displays.
However for me, the highlight of the entire palace complex was the Harem. Please see my separate tip on the Harem.
Besides the treasury, other collections in the palace include: ceramics, glass, and silverware, arms and armor, imperial costumes, miniatures and manuscripts, clocks, and pavillion of the holy mantle (holy relics of Islam).
The palace complex is huge so wear comfortable shoes and bring some water. You can easily spend 3-4 hours here, more if it's very crowded.
The ticket office is located just outside the Gate of Salutations. You can hire a guide at this point if you so desire. Cost is 10 YTL per person/per hour for 3-4 hours (total 60-80 YTL). Guides are able to go to the head of the line to purchase your entry tickets so it helps when the lines are very long. We used the audio guide which was 10 YTL per person for the day. We really enjoy the audio guides as it lets us go at our own pace.
After getting your tickets and going through the Gate of Salutations, head to the right to get an audio guide. Then head immediately to the Harem. It is very popular and will get very crowded. We were told that you had to take a guided tour of the Harem, but this is not true.
Admission 20 TL
Extra fee for entry to Harem 15 TL
Audio Guide 10 TL
Guide 10 TL per person/per hour
Palace opens at 9 a.m. Either get there very early or early afternoon to avoid the crowds as much as possible (in high season).
Hours: Wed - Mon 9-7 in summer and 9-5 in winter. Closed Tuesdays.
Harem is open Wed - Mon 9:30 - 3:30 year round.
The Palace is within walking distance of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.