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Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul Turkey

TOPKAPI PALACE MUSEUM, ISTANBUL

Used for over 400 years...

Topkapi Palace that has housed 24 sultans and their families and Harem, which now serves as one of the most important museums in Istanbul, Turkey.

It resembles an immense Otag-i Humayun (imperial state tent) as if to remind that Turkish tribes have come from the vast steppes of Central Asia. We do not see the characteristics of the symmetry and decorative arts that have completeness within itself that defines the European palace architecture.

The most important point defining the evolution of the palace history has been functionality and parallelism that kept the palace in a state of constant change throughout the 400 years it was in use. The Palace expanded as the state got larger.

The palace is like a city within a city. It is said that the attendants have developed a body language in this extensive palace with 3000 to 5000 population, where quiet and peace was appreciated very much in its history. Who knows what secrets the last of the attendants whose upbringing told her it was a shame to carry the secrets outside, took to grave with her when she died in the new Turkish Republic era after sultanate was over. She was an attendant of the Harem where the Sultan lived with his family.

You will be able to imagine life in the Ottoman official residence while we take you to the Treasury in the palace where invaluable jewelry including the famous Topkapi Dagger and Spoonmaker’s Diamond are on display, the Arms and Weapons Section and the Harem. This was where one of the most powerful states in the world and its heart, Istanbul, were administered for hundreds of years. The richest porcelain collection in the world together with Beijing and Dresden collections is in the inventory.

The History

The palace is located on the promontory of the historical peninsula in Istanbul which overlooks both the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus. The walls enclosing the palace grounds, the main gate on the land side and the first buildings were constructed during the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmet (the Conqueror) (1451 - 81). The palace has taken its present layout with the addition of new structures in the later centuries. It was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans, starting with Fatih Sultan Mehmet until 1856, when Abdulmecid moved to the Dolmabahce Palace, functioned as the administrative center of the state. The Enderun section also gained importance as a school.

The main exterior gate of the Topkapi Palace is the Imperial Gate (Bab-ı Humayun) which opens up to the Ayasofya Square. This gate leads to a garden known as the First Court. This court has the Aya Irini Church which was once used as an ammunition depot and behind the Church, there is the mint. In the past various pavillions allocated to different services of the palace were located in the First Court. In later years these have been replaced with public buildings and schools. Some of these are still existing. At the end of the 19th century, Archeology Museum and School of Fine Arts (now Oriental Works Museum) were built in the large garden which is to the northwest of the First Court. The oldest structure in this section is the Cinili Kiosk built by Fatih, which is now used as the Museum of Turkish Tiles and Ceramics. On the walls of this outer garden facing Bab-i Ali (the Imperial Gate), there is Alay Kiosk (procession Pavillion) where the Sultans used to watch the marching ceremonies. A section of the outer garden was planned by the municipality at the beginning of the 20th century and opened to the public. Known today as the Gulhane Park, the entrance has one of the larger gates of the palace. After the First Court, there is the Second Court which contains the palace buildings. It is entered through a monumental gate called Bab'us-Selam or the Middle Gate. The buildings in this court form the outer section of the palace which is called Birun. On the right, there are the instantly noticed palace kitchens with their domes and chimneys and the dormitories of those who worked there. The most important of the buildings on the left side of the court is the Kubbealti and the Inner Treasury. Behind Kubbealti rises the Justice Tower, which is one of the symbols of the palace. The Harem section, which comes all the way to the back of these buildings is entered from the Third Court. Third Court is entered through the gate called Bab'us Sa'ade (Gate of the White Eunuchs). This section of the palace is called Enderun, and it is the section where the sultans live with their extended families. Hence it is specially protected. The barracks of the Akagalar, which guard Bab'us Sa'ade are on both sides of the gate. Tere are two structures. The first which is immediately opposite the gate is the Throne Room or the Audience Hall. Here the sultans receive the ambassadors and high ranking state officials such as Grand Visier or the Visiers. Right behind the Throne Room, there is the library built by Ahmet III (1703 - 30). On the right side of the Third Court, there are the barracks of the Enderun and the Privy Treasury which is also known as the Mehmet the Conqueror Pavilion. On the side facing the Fourth Court, there is the Larder Barracks of the Enderun, the Treasury Chamber and the Chamber of the Sacred Relics. The left side starts with the Harem. The harem which covers a large part of the Palace consists of about 60 spaces of varying sizes. The main structures which are located in front of the Harem, facing the Third Court are Akagalar Mosque, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Barracks of the Sacred Relics Guards and Chambers of the Sacred Relics. Here, the sacred relics brought back by Sultan Yavuz Selim from Egypt in 1517 are kept. The Fourth Court is entered from a covered path going from both sides of the Treasury Room. Here the buildings are located in the first part of the court, which has two sections of different levels. On the left side of this section called Lala Garden or Lale Garden there is Mabeyn which is the beginning point of Harem's access to the garden, terrace for the ladies with removable glass enclosure, Circumcision Room, Sultan Ibrahim Patio and another one of the symbols of palace, the Iftariye (or Kameriye) and Baghdad Pavilion. This pavilion was built by Murad IV in 1640 to commemorate the Baghdad Campaign. At the center of the first section of the Fourth Court, there is the Big Pool and Ravan Pavillion next to it. This pavilion was also built by Murad IV in 1629, to commemorate the Revan Campaign. The side facing the second section has Sofa Pavilion (Koca Mustafa Pasha Pavilion), Basbala Tower and Hekimbasi (Chief Physician) Room. The Sofa Mosque and Esvap Chamber and the latest built Mecidye Pavilion are on the right-hand side of the Fourth Court. Out of the pavilions built on the shore of the Marmara Sea, only Sepetciler Mansion has survived until the present.

During 18th. Century when it took its final shape, it was sheltering a population of more than 10.000 in its outer (Birun) and inner (Enderun) and Harem sections. It shows no architectural unity as new parts were added in every period according to the needs. However, this enables us to follow the stages Ottoman Architecture went through from the 15th to the middle of the 19th century at the palace. The buildings of the 15th - 17th centuries are simpler and those of the 18th - 19th centuries, particularly in terms of exterior and interior ornamentation are more complex.

Topkapi Palace was converted to a museum in 1924. Parts of the Palace such as the Harem, Baghdad Pavilion, Revan Pavilion, Sofa Pavilion, and the Audience Chamber distinguish themselves with their architectural assets, while in other sections artifacts are displayed which reflect the palace life. The museum also has collections from various donations and a library.

Visiting Notes:
  • Appropriate dressing for Sacred Relics section
  • Baby rollovers are not allowed
  • You need special permission for tripods if you are a travel writer/photographer or shooting a film or documentary
  • Please don't forget to check public holidays before planning
  • Below hours are valid only if you have the ticket in advance. Otherwise, be ready at the entrance minimum 50 minutes before the closing time
  • Handicapped visitors are welcomed for free of charge and some facilities are available while some of the sections are accessible

Open every day except for Tuesday.

Museum Hours:

High Season (Apr. 15th -Oct. 30th) Open: 09:00 / Close: 18:45
Low Season (Oct. 30th - Apr. 15th) Open: 09:00 / Close: 16:45