Topkapi Palace is the most visited museum in Istanbul
Topkapı Palace is a unique architectural monument of Istanbul, which is more than 5 centuries old. It is located on the picturesque Sarayburnu cape, where the famous Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara. Once the main residence of the Ottoman rulers, today it has been transformed into a museum, which is among the top most visited attractions in the metropolis.
The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul covers an incredible 700,000 square meters, making it one of the largest museums in the world. The complex includes four courtyards, each with its own unique attractions. Because of such a scale of structure the palace is often called a separate city within Istanbul.
In the halls of the castle are on display at least 65,000 items, which is only one-tenth of the total palace collection. And the decoration of the museum itself abounds with artful mosaics, paintings, marble and gold elements. If you still can’t decide to visit this place, we present you our detailed article about Topkapi Palace in Istanbul with a photo and description that will completely dispel all your doubts.
A brief history
Mehmed the Conqueror
Sultan’s Topkapi Palace began to be built in 1463 during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, the glorious Ottoman Padishah, who managed to subdue the impregnable Constantinople. The place for the future noble residence was Sarayburnu Cape, where the Byzantine imperial castle once stood, but by the 15th century it was virtually destroyed, and all that was left of it was the Church of St. Irene.
The palace was originally used by the sultans to hold official meetings and receive foreign guests. Women and children at that time did not live in the residence. But in the 16th century, during the reign of Suleiman I the Magnificent, the castle underwent major changes. At the request of his wife Roksolana (Hürrem), who wanted to live as close to her husband as possible, the Emperor ordered the harem to be moved to Topkapi Palace.
Until the mid-19th century the building served as the official residence of the Ottoman rulers. Everything changed in 1842, when Sultan Abdul Merjid I, discouraged by the medieval interiors of Topkapi, ordered the construction of a new baroque castle, able to compete with the famous European palaces. The new residence was named Dolmabahce and was completed in 1853, at which point Topkapi lost its former importance.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the President of the Turkish Republic Ataturk gave Topkapi the status of a museum (1924). And today this historical complex is visited by about 2 million tourists annually, which makes it the most popular tourist attraction in Istanbul and the second most visited museum in Turkey (1st place belongs to the Mevlana Museum in Konya).
The structure of the palace
From the photos of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, it is difficult to understand how large-scale this structure is: in fact, the castle consists of four large courtyards, each of which presents its iconic objects.
This is the largest section of the four, called the Janissary Courtyard. One of the most notable sights in this part of the castle is the Imperial Gate, through which the great Turkish sultans once entered the residence. And it was from here that the Ottoman padishahs used to go to Friday prayers in Ayia Sophia (read more about the cathedral here). Today, however, any traveler has the opportunity to pass through the once noble gates. Their doors are made entirely of marble, and the facade is adorned with golden inscriptions in Arabic.
Here the sultans used to hold various festivities and also held Friday prayers ceremonies. Interestingly, only this part of the palace was open to other visitors: foreign ambassadors and high-ranking statesmen were received here. Especially important guests were even allowed to ride in on horseback.
The Church of St. Irene
Another notable site was the Church of St. Irene in 532, which is considered one of the first Christian churches that survived to this day. After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they did not destroy the shrine but turned it into a storehouse for weapons. In the subsequent centuries the church had time to be an archaeological, imperial and military museum, but eventually all the exhibits were taken out of it, and scientists had the opportunity to make a full study of the Byzantine basilica and identify its great historical value. Today the temple serves as a concert venue.
The second courtyard welcomes guests to the palace with the Gates of Welcome, built in the classic Ottoman style, decorated with an arched vault and two towers of European type. Above the arch are black panels with gilded inscriptions in Arabic. The Gates of Welcome lead to the central part of the complex and act today as the main entrance to the palace for tourists.
Once inside, visitors are attracted by the Council Building with the towering Tower of Justice. During the reign of Suleiman I, the chamber was transformed from a simple wooden building into a structure decorated with columns, arches, gilded lattices and bas-reliefs. The viziers took part in the session, but the Ottoman padishah himself was absent. The sultan watched the council from the Tower of Justice and, if he disagreed with the decision of the officials, he closed the window, thus interrupting the meeting and summoning all the ministers to himself.
Also worth noting here is the eight-domed Outer Treasury building, which functioned until the mid-19th century. Today it serves as a gallery where various types of weapons are on display. In this part of Topkapi there are also the buildings for the court servants, the Sultan’s stables, the Hamam and the Mosque.
The palace kitchens are of great size and include 10 sections, where the dishes were prepared not only for the sultan and the harem residents, but also for the high-ranking officials. Today, within the walls of the former kitchen, visitors can see the household items of the palace cooks and the dishes in which dishes were served to the sultans and other nobles.
In the same part of the castle is the entrance to the famous Sultan’s harem, which in our days has become a separate museum. The harem once consisted of four sections: the first was reserved for eunuchs, the second for concubines, the third for the Padishah’s mother and the fourth for the Turkish ruler himself. The total number of rooms is up to 300 and includes several baths, 2 mosques and a women’s hospital. Many rooms are quite small and simple in the interior, which is not to say about the famous Hürrem’s chambers in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the photo of which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the landmark every year.
The third section of the castle is accessed by the Gate of Happiness, or, as it is often called, the Gate of Bliss, built in the Ottoman Baroque style and decorated with a wooden dome and four marble columns. The gate opened onto the innermost courtyard of the complex, where the former private apartments of the Padishah were located. Only the sultan could pass through this gate, and if someone tried to enter without permission, such an act was considered treason. The gate was strictly guarded by the chief eunuch and his subordinates.
Immediately behind the Gates of Happiness is the Throne Room, where the Sultan conducted his state affairs and received foreign ambassadors. It is noteworthy that the structure has two doors at once: one was intended exclusively for the Padishah, the other for all other visitors. The decoration of the building includes a variety of flower patterns, decoration with semi-precious stones, marble columns and gilded lattices.
In the heart of the third courtyard is the Library, which was intended for the students of the palace school. This picturesque building, surrounded by fountains and verdant miniature gardens, is crowned with a domed roof, arched openings with columns of marble. And its interior is dominated by ceramic finishes. Today the library exhibits books from the personal collections of famous sultans.
In the third section one should separately mention the Treasury, which is one of the oldest buildings in Topkapi; the Treasure Chamber, which used to be responsible for keeping all the treasures of sultan; and the Secret Pavilion which used to be the private residence of Turkish rulers. The largest mosque in the palace, the Aghalar Mosque, where the Sultan and his squires used to come and pray, is also worth mentioning.
It is from here you can see the most picturesque scenery in the castle, so this is the perfect place for a photo in Topkapi Palace. Here is the Tulip Garden, the place where the sultans used to sit and think. The garden is full of colorful colors of fragrant flowers, fruit trees and vineyards. Not far away is the Marble Terrace, offering incredible views of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn. Read about other places in the city with panoramic views in this article.
Among the notable sites in this part are the Yerevan and Baghdad Pavilions, the Hall of Columns, the Circumcision Pavilion and the Sofa Mosque. All the buildings have been preserved in good condition, and their interiors, represented by the classical Ottoman style, once again emphasize the skill of the Turkish architects.
If you want to know where Topkapi Palace is located in Istanbul we give you its exact address: Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul.
Opening hours: the museum is open daily except Tuesdays. During the winter season, from October 30 to April 15, the institution operates on a shortened schedule from 09:00 to 16:45. Tickets can be bought until 16:00. In the summer season, from April 15 to October 30, the palace is available from 09:00 to 18:45. The ticket office is open until 6:00 pm.
Cost: As of September 2018, the price for admission to the Topkapi Museum is 40 tl. To visit the Harem you must purchase an additional ticket for 25 tl. Entrance to the Church of St. Irene is also charged separately – 20 tl per person. Please note that starting October 1, 2018, Turkish officials are raising admission prices at more than half a hundred museums. Admission to Topkapı will also increase in price to 60 tl.
Official website: topkapisarayi.gov.tr/en/visit-information.
Rules of visiting
It is worth bearing in mind that there are religious institutions on the territory of the historical complex, which have special requirements for the appearance of visitors. So, for women on a tour of Topkapi, it is best to refuse frankly short shorts and skirts, too open tops and blouses. Men in T-shirts and beach shorts are also not welcome.
It is not forbidden to make photos in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul in general, although there are exceptions. For example, in the exhibition halls photography of collections is under a strict ban. The order is carefully monitored by security guards, who, noticing that you have broken the rules, will immediately demand to remove all photos.
It is also important to know that it is forbidden to enter the palace with baby carriages. And of course, you should follow the elementary rules of decency: not to laugh loudly, not to walk in the halls with food and drinks, to be respectful to the staff and other visitors.
To make your tour of Topkapı Palace in Turkey as positive as possible, you should pay attention to the recommendations of tourists who have already been there. After studying the reviews of travelers, we have collected only the most practical tips for visiting the museum:
- Before you go to Topkapi, be sure to find information about whether restoration work is underway in it. If they are underway, postpone your trip to the museum, otherwise you risk cutting out a good half of its attractions from your tour.
- Being the most visited place in Istanbul, the palace attracts thousands of tourists every day, which creates huge lines at the ticket office. Therefore, it is best to arrive at Topkapi early in the morning, even before it opens.
- Next to the ticket office there are vending machines where you can buy admission tickets with a bank card.
- If the palace complex is not the only museum you are going to see in Istanbul, it is logical to buy a special pass, valid for 5 days only in the institutions of the metropolis. Its cost is 125 tl. In addition to the fact that this card will save you some money, you will save yourself from waiting in long lines.
- The most interesting thing to explore the halls of the complex in the company of an audio guide. His price is 20 tl. We also advise you to read more information about the Topkapi Palace to understand where you go and what you look at.
- It will take at least 2 hours to completely see all the sights of the museum.
- Be sure to bring bottled water. A bottle of water costs 14 tl on the grounds, when in a simple store you will pay a maximum of 1 tl for it.
- There are several restaurants and souvenir shops within the walls of the palace, but the prices are very high. If you don’t have extra expenses in mind, it’s better not to go there.
Topkapı Palace is the national pride of Turkey, and today the authorities of the country are working hard to keep the museum complex in perfect condition. Of course, the restoration work can be a real disappointment for the curious traveler, so it is very important to choose the right time to visit the site.
Video: how the territory and interior decoration of the Topkapi Palace looks like .
Author: Catherine Unal
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For the first fifty years, Top Kapi was only a working residence. Sultan’s wives lived in a harem outside the Topkapi Palace. The harem on the grounds was built only under Sultan Suleiman I. One of his concubines, Roksolana, wishing to be closer to her husband, “pushed” the Sultan to the large-scale rebuilding of the palace.
Topkapı Palace in Istanbul (Topkapı Sarayı): description, photos, opening hours
Topkapı Palace is a splendid architectural monument of the 15th century. This majestic palace complex was constructed on the initiative of Sultan Mehmet in 1479. For several centuries in a row Topkapi was considered the main residence of the rulers of the Ottoman state. Today it is a wonderful museum complex, which should be seen by everyone who at least once will visit the Turkish lands.
The name “Topkapi” means “cannon gate. Such a name is based on a historical fact: whenever the Emperor left his cloister, the shots of the cannons exploded and resounded all around for several kilometers.
The palace architecture is extremely interesting. Topkapi includes four equal courtyards, each of which is famous for its unique attractions. The courtyards have a clear division, but they are all united by a high stone wall surrounding them.
On October 9, 1924 Topkapi Palace was opened to the public in the form of a Museum.
The First Courtyard (Alay Meydanı)
The First Courtyard (Alay Meydanı)
One of the main attractions of the First Court, called by the Europeans “Court of the Janissaries”, is the Church of St. Irene. It was one of the first Christian sanctuaries in Constantinople and for a long time served as the main dwelling of the patriarch. The church suffered several times from various disasters (fire and earthquake), but was invariably restored. Even after the Ottoman conquerors came to the area, the church was not deprived of its Orthodox status, which is surprising because the Turks usually converted Christian temples into mosques. Ottoman soldiers used the shrine as an armory for a long time (for 3 centuries). In the middle of the 19th century a museum complex of antiquities and weapons was opened there.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the museum exposition was disbanded, and today the church of St. Irene (Aya Irini or Aya Irina) is increasingly used as a concert venue because of its magnificent, fascinating acoustics. At the same time, the structure has lost none of its charm over the years and continues to attract tourists from all over the world.
The Gate of Greetings (Babüsselam)
Of particular interest are the Orta Kapa Gate (Babüsselam or Gates of Welcome), also located in the First Courtyard. This is the gate through which one can enter the Second Palace Courtyard. The arch of these gates, framed by two tower pillars, was historically known to be used only by the ruler on horseback. The rest were obliged to go on foot. Foreign guests of the residence used another gate to enter. This was carefully monitored by the gatekeepers. On one side of the gate was the waiting room, where visitors could wait for days or even weeks for an audience with the Padishah. On the other side was the room of the executioner, who, incidentally, had another position – chief gardener. Under the gate, in the dungeon, were the prison cells in which the prisoners sentenced to death were kept.
Sultan’s Entrance (Babıhümayun)
It is also interesting to admire the architecture of another gate leading to the First Court. This is the third ceremonial gate called Babıhümayun (Sultan’s Entrance).
Second Courtyard (Divan Meydanı)
Divan Meydanı Square
The second courtyard of Topkapı is known as “Divan Square”. This area was most often used for important receptions and ceremonies of state proportions.
Divan (Divan-ı Hümayun)
The Divan (Kubbealtı or Divan-ı Hümayun) was located in this courtyard where the high-ranking viziers led by the Sultan gathered several times a week to solve the issues of state importance.
Tower of Justice (Adalet Kasrı)
The beautiful and majestic Adalet Tower of Justice overlooks the Divan and originally served as a lookout point.
The Treasury (Dış Hazine)
The main asset of the Second Topkapı Courtyard after the Divan is of course the Treasury (Dış Hazine). Today in its building there is an armory museum complex, in which a whole arsenal of weapons from different historical periods, and samples of military uniforms and other paraphernalia used for uniforms are exhibited.
The Third Court (Enderun Avlusu): The Sultan’s Treasure House
The Third Court (Enderun Avlusu)
Another gate with the catchy name “Bliss Gate” leads to this courtyard. Another name for them is the audience gate. Once through it, the visitor entered a huge throne room, above which the golden throne of the Padishah, decorated with precious stones, towered. On it sat the sultan. Everyone else was traditionally seated right on the floor, on special cushions. To make sure that no one could hear outside the door what was going on in the hall, a small but loudly gurgling fountain was built right near the entrance.
Ahmet the Third Library (III. Ahmed Kütüphanesi)
The Sultan Ahmed Kütüphanesi Library (III. Ahmed Kütüphanesi) is the central part of the courtyard. This library once housed a veritable treasure trove of ancient literature. Today the books are presented in other museum expositions, but the library building is definitely worth a visit to admire the amazing Ottoman architecture. Here you can also see a stunning collection of the Padishah’s closet items. Some of the most expensive exhibits are the children’s caftan of Sultan Selim and the garment of Mehmed the Conqueror, which, according to scientists, is over 5 centuries old.
Sultan’s Treasury (Enderun Hazinesi)
But of course, the most attractive place for travelers in the Third Courtyard of Topkapi is the Sultan’s Treasury (Fatih Köşkü or Enderun Hazinesi). The variety of the collection of countless treasures of gold, silver and gems is amazing! One of the most striking and expensive items on display is the armor of Mustafa the Third. The armor is made of iron, decorated with a scattering of precious stones and covered with a layer of gilding. The shield and sword of the sultan are inlaid in the same way.
The real “pearl” of the treasury is the throne of Padishah Murat the Fourth. It itself is made of rare ebony, and all around its perimeter are scattered precious and semi-precious stones.
In another room there is another important exhibit, the Topkapı hançeri (dagger). It was made by Turkish artisans as a presentation to the Shah of Persia. A lot of diamonds and several big emeralds decorate this dagger. True, the dagger never reached its addressee. While the gift was on its way, the Shah was killed, so the Topkapi dagger went back to the treasury.
In the treasury there is also a huge diamond, the Kaşıkçı elması, the history of which is very interesting. The legend says that a poor man found this stone in a huge pile of garbage. The simpleton did not know how valuable the stone was, so he exchanged it for three wooden spoons at the market. Since then, the stone has been called the Spooner’s Diamond.
This is not all the exhibits of the treasury of Topkapi. All the magnificence of the rooms is difficult to describe in words, you have to see it with your own eyes at least once!
The Fourth Court (Dördüncü Avlu)
The Fourth Court (Dördüncü Avlu)
This courtyard is a model of harmonious beauty and peace. It was built for the rest and solitude of the Emperor and therefore looks like a garden of paradise. Magnificent views of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Prince’s Islands are visible from here.
Bağdat Köşkü Pavilion
There are many terraces and pavilions in the courtyard, of which the Baghdat and Revan Pavilions and the Syunnet Room are considered the most notable.
The Sünnet Odası room was designed for those with at least a superficial understanding of Muslim tradition to perform the obligatory rite of circumcision for the sultan’s heirs.
Revan Pavilion (Revan Köşkü)
Baghdad Pavilion and Revan Pavilion are beautiful examples of Ottoman architecture with a Persian influence. The buildings are light and graceful but also luxurious and monumental. The exquisite tiles that decorate the walls of the pavilions from top to bottom one can spend hours looking through them and finding more and more details.
Topkapi Palace Museum opening hours and prices in 2022
The museum is not open on Tuesdays, also on the first day of Bayram is open from lunch.
You can buy combined tickets:
- Topkapi Palace+Harem+Holy Irene Church – 420 liras
- Topkapi Palace and Hagia Irene Church 320 liras
- Harem – 150 liras
- Hagia Irene Church – 100 liras
Admission is free for museum card holders.
Audioguide – 45 liras.
In the winter season from October 2 to April 1 the museum “Topkapi Palace”, the Palace of the Hagia Irene and the Hagia Irene are open from 09:00 to 16:45 (tickets sold until 16:00).
In summer, from April 1 to October 2. The Museum, the Palace Palace and the Hagia Irene Palace are open from 9:00 to 18:45.
The Church of St. Irene is open to visitors from 9:00 to 17:00. The entrance fee is 30 Turkish Liras. After 4:00 p.m. the ticket office is closed.
When visiting religious sites try to adhere to the established rules in clothing: short shorts and miniskirts, as well as open blouses and strapless tops are not welcome.
Children are not allowed to enter the museum with baby carriages.
There are several restaurants on the grounds of the museum.
In the First Courtyard is a restaurant Karakol (Karakol Restaurant), as well as a small cafe BKG Müze’nin Kahvesi. There is also such a cafe in the Second Courtyard.
Konyalı Restaurant (Konyalı lokantası)
The Konyalı Lokantası (Konyalı Lokantası) restaurant is located in the Fourth Courtyard which has a great view of the Bosphorus.
How to get to Topkapi Palace:
From Sultanahmet Station, walk past the front of the Hagia Sophia Museum (Hagia Sophia Cathedral), following the signs towards Topkapı Palace.
Topkapi Palace Museum on the map:
Good afternoon! I would like to ask a couple of purely technical questions regarding Topkapi Palace. I read in the article that the harem is not included in the payment with the museum card, and you have to buy a ticket to it separately. How is this technically done. Do I have to buy this ticket before entering? Or can I buy it at the entrance to the harem itself? As I understand it, according to the museum card, there is no line to enter the palace. But if a ticket to the Harem is bought at the general ticket office, then it turns out that it is still necessary to stand in a general queue? I would be very grateful if you can clarify this question. And the second. I read that the archeological museum is in the first courtyard of Topkapi. Does it have a separate entrance? Or do you have to enter Topkapi to get there? Thank you in advance for your answer.
Good evening! There is a separate ticket office next to the entrance to the Harem and you can buy a ticket there (without buying in advance). To get to the Archaeological Museum you can go through Gulhane Park (then go up the hill) or through the First Courtyard of Topkapi Palace (then go down the hill). Here you can see its location – the Archaeological Museum. Happy New Year!
Catherine, thank you so much! Now everything is clear. By the way, it’s great that you, on the site, give the days and hours of the museums and other sites. For example, I’m arriving early Tuesday morning and now, thanks to you, I know it’s not necessary to plan the Topkapi for that day – it’s a day off. Happy New Year to you too! All the best to you!
Good evening)). I`m absolutely sure that you can go to the Harem by the museum card (the cost is LVL 85).
Good evening, so the cost of an individual ticket to the Harem is 25 Liras, the cost of admission to the Topkapi Museum is 40 Liras, the ticket to the Museum of Saint Irene is 20 Liras – a total of 85 Liras.
Hello, could you tell me how much 40 Liras is? I can’t find conversion from lira to dollars on the Internet. And is it possible to pay for tickets in dollars, or is it necessary to change dollars to lira?
Another question, where should I fly to if I am close to Topkapi? Ataturk or Sabiha?
Hello, 40 Liras is $10.50. It is better to change it into liras, because the entrance price is stated in liras. Sultanahmet district, where Topkapi Palace is located, is closer to Ataturk airport.
Hello, I would like to know whether the tickets to museums and mosques are valid only on the day of purchase or you can buy them today and come tomorrow? Thank you for your reply.
Good afternoon, you need to clarify for each individual museum, as they are closed / open on different schedules and they do not have uniform rules (opening hours, for example). This can be clarified at the ticket office. For example on Topkapi Palace I have not found such information, so you must clarify it directly when buying a ticket.
Hello! I found a site that says that the Topkapi Museum and Harem are included in the museum card (Museum Pass Istanbul). Or is it an entrance without visiting the premises?
Good afternoon, the card is not valid for the Harem section. You have to buy a separate ticket to visit this section.
Hello. As far as I know the prices of weekend tickets have risen. Could you please tell me how much the entrance fee to Topkapi and the Harem is now. Thank you very much.
Hello, The article shows the current prices for admission.
Good day Catherine. Can I buy a Museum Pass at the Topkapi box office with my card? Or do I have to buy it in cash?
Yes, they mostly accept cash, so I would not take the risk of paying by card.