Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The official residence of the Ottoman sultans for more than 400 years, the magnificent Topkapi Palace was built by Mehmet II between 1459 and 1465, shortly after his conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul). It was not conceived as a single building, but rather as a series of pavilions contained by four enormous courtyards, a stone version of the tented encampments from which the nomadic. Ottomans had emerged. Initially, Topkapi served as the seat of government and contained a school in which civil servants and soldiers were trained. However, the government was moved to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul in the 16th century. Sultan Abdul Mecid I left Topkapi in 1853 in favor of Dolmabahce Palace. In 1924, two years after the sultanate was abolished, the palace was opened to the public as a museum.



The word “harem” derives from the Arabic for “forbidden.” It was the residence of the sultan’s wives, concubines, children, and mother (the most powerful woman), who were guarded by black slave eunuchs. The sultan and his sons were the only other men allowed into the harem. The concubines were slaves, gathered from the farthest corners of the Ottoman empire and beyond. Their goal was to become a favorite of the sultan and bear him a son. Competition was stiff, for at its height a harem had more than 1,000 women. Topkapi’s harem was laid out by Murat III in the 16th century. The last women left in 1909.


Mehmed the Conqueror

Capturing the strategically important city of Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453 was one of Mehmet Il’s greatest achievements and a turning point in the development of the Ottoman empire. Mehmet (1432-81) was the son of Murat II and a slave girl. He became known as “the conqueror,” not only for taking Constantinople, but also for his successful campaigns in the Balkans, Hungary, the Crimea, and elsewhere. In 30 years as sultan, he rebuilt his new capital, reorganized the government, codified the law and set up colleges that excelled in mathematics and astronomy.


The Topkapi dagger

On display throughout the palace are the glittering treasures amassed by the Ottoman sultans during their 470-year reign. In addition to diplomatic gifts and items commissioned from palace craftsmen, many objects were booty brought back from military campaigns. The kitchens contain cauldrons and utensils used to prepare food for the 12,000 residents, and Chinese porcelain carried along the Silk Route. The Treasury holds thousands of precious and semiprecious stones: highlights include the bejeweled Topkapi dagger (1741), and the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s diamond. Mehmet II’s sumptuous silk kaftan is among the imperial costumes in the Hall of the Campaign Pages In the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle are some of the holiest relics of Islam, such as the mantle once worn by the Prophet Mohammed.



The viziers of the imperial council met in this chamber; sometimes they were secretly watched by the sultan.

Gate of Felicity


This is also called the Gate of the White Eunuchs.



These now contain an exhibition of ceramics, glass, and silverware.

Library of Ahmet III


Erected in 1719, the library is an elegant marble building. This ornamental fountain is set into the wall below its main entrance.

Baghdad Pavilion


In 1639, Murat IV built this pavilion to celebrate his capture of Baghdad. Its walls have exquisite blue- and-white tile work.

lftariye Pavilion


Under the golden roof of this pavilion, Sultan Ahmed Ill awarded g old coins to those who had entertained him during a festival to honor the circumcision of his son s in 1720.



This was a labyrinth of exquisite rooms where the sultan’s wives and concubines lived.


A new sultan would order the execution of his brothers to avoid succession contests. From the 17th century, brothers were spared, but were incarcerated 10 the notorious “Cage,” a set of rooms in the harem.


1465: The Topkapi Palace is completed.
1574: Grand rebuilding to house Murat III’s vast harem.
1640s: The Circumcision Pavilion is built.
1665: A fire destroys parts of the harem and Divan.

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