Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace

Topkapı Palace

Topkapi Palace was the main residence of the Ottoman kings until the middle of the 19th century. The complex located on the Sarayburnu Cape, surrounded by the waters of the Bosphorus, takes up a large part of the historic center of Istanbul.

The palace and park ensemble erected on the site of Byzantine acropolis is considered to be founded in 1475. From time to time it was rebuilt, expanded and decorated. Nearly 400 years later, in 1854-55, the Sultan’s court left the medieval palace and moved to the more modern and refined Dolmabahce.

Auditorium

Soon after the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Topkapı was transformed into a public museum, which became one of the largest in the world by area and the second most visited in Turkey. As part of the historic districts of Istanbul, the palace was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1985.

The territory of Topkapi is surrounded on all sides by high walls, so the complex is often called a city within a city. Its name is translated as “cannon gate”, which is associated with the tradition of the Padishah’s departure from the residence to the “accompaniment” of cannon shots.

The palace complex covers an area of more than 700,000 m². The number of visitors per year – about 2 million.

Description

The territory of Topkapı Palace is divided into four courtyards and harem. The first two, the Alai Meydany and the Diwan Meydany, were considered external and were intended for communication between the ruler and his subjects. Almost any orthodox resident of the state and foreign guests could enter here. The other two courts – Enderun Awlusu and Sofa-yi Khumayun – were reserved for people close to the Padishah and his servants and guards. The padishah’s private apartments were located here. The harem housed concubines, minions, the sultan’s mother, children and servants.

Paintings and tiles

Yards (avlou) were divided between walls. To get from one to the other can be done in sequence, through the colorful medieval portals.

Alai Meydans.

The Humeyun Babs (gate of the Sultan or Lord) open the way to the first courtyard. They were guarded round the clock by specially trained guards. Inside the courtyard there was a nun’s hospital, living quarters for the “outside” servants, a bakery, a mint, a complaints office, warehouses and outbuildings. The palace was also home to a horse fountain, a tea garden, the “stones of edification” which served as a scaffold, and the hangman’s fountain where blood-stained hands were washed after an execution.

The main entrance to the 1st Topkapı Palace - Alay Meydanı

The Alai Meydana was used for solemn ceremonies, meetings with the people and Friday prayers and for the execution of death sentences. The Europeans called this part of Topkapi the court of the Janissaries. The guests of honor of the Emperor had the right to enter the Bab-i Humayun on horseback.

Saint Irene Church

In the first courtyard is one of the earliest Christian basilicas in Constantinople, built in the 4th century. It was considered the main temple of the city until the appearance of St. Sophia Cathedral. The structure has been restored more than once, so many of the unique mosaics have been lost.

After the capture of the city by the Turks, the Church of St. Irene escaped the fate of being turned into a mosque. Until the first half of the 19th century the building was used as an armory. Since 1846 the building had been home to the Archaeological Museum, and then to the Imperial and Military Museum.

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Meydana Divan

The entrance to the second courtyard is the Bab-us Selam (Gates of Welcome), with two tall towers crowned by tents. Inside there is an information point and a police station, and outside is a ticket-checking post. The rooms were formerly used for waiting for audiences, resting for ushers and the executioner. There was a prison in the basement.

The gate to the 2nd courtyard of the palace - The Meydana Divan

The gatekeepers were responsible for guarding the entrance and maintaining silence in the second courtyard. Only the ruler was allowed to ride a horse into Bab yus Selam.

Official ceremonies were held in the Divan Meydana, weddings of the sultan’s daughters were celebrated and ambassadors of other countries were received. The main building, the Diwan-yi Humayun, was the seat of the supreme authority, the chancellery and the Diwan treasury. Suleiman I gave the building its splendor by ordering to decorate the interior with gold lattices, bas-reliefs and rich decoration.

One of the palace fountains

Between the second courtyard and the harem are the Araba Kapısı (aka Karet Gate). Another portal – Meyit Kapysy (Gate of the Dead) – served for carrying out the bodies of the dead.

In the Divan Meydana were located:

  • Sultan’s stables – nowadays exhibitions are organized here;
  • Mutfaqlara Shed – a large complex of kitchens, food storerooms, and rooms for servants. Today, the halls of the Kitchen Palace house permanent exhibitions, restoration workshops, an archive, and museum services;
  • The Outer Treasury – today occupied by a huge collection of Ottoman arms.

In the courtyard there is the Beshir Agha Mosque, residential buildings and a hamam for servants.

Topkapi Terrace

Enderun Avlusu

The third courtyard belongs to the inner space of the palace complex. Entrance here was strictly limited. The private apartments of the kings were located here.

The Babus Saadet Gate leading to the Enderun Awlusu has three names – the White Eunuch Gate, the Bliss Gate and the Audience Gate. The first refers to the guarding of the gates by a unit of white eunuchs, who reported to the chief butler-ceremonial master. They served the sultan’s chambers and the reception area. There were residential outbuildings on either side of the portal.

In the 17th century the gate of the Beatitudes acquired a Rococo appearance. It was crowned with a dome and supplemented with canopies. The threshold was kissed by everyone who was allowed to enter the territory of Enderun Awlusu. At the gate the name of the new ruler was announced, and murdered Ottoman sultans were carried out through it.

Gate of Bliss

The third courtyard housed the most important palace facilities, such as:

  • Hall of Audiences – served for conducting state affairs and receiving ambassadors;
  • The Chamber of the Treasury – now housing collections of manuscripts and miniatures;
  • the Chamber of Campaigns – intended for the pageboys in charge of the Padishah’s closet. Here tourists can see an exhibition of outfits of different rulers;
  • the chamber of the Sultan – there were especially close pigs, responsible for the safety of Islamic relics. Nearby is the gallery of portraits of Ottoman rulers;
  • Fatih’s Pavilion – the building houses the world’s largest collection of treasures;
  • Sacred Mantle and Relics Pavilion – houses priceless religious artifacts. Entry is restricted to outsiders;
  • the richest palace library – closed to the public.

At Enderun Awlusu was the Kafes, a place of confinement for potential heirs to the throne, a school for training rulers, and the Alagar Mosque, built for white eunuchs.

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Sofa-y Hyumayun.

The fourth court of Topkapi, like the third, belonged to the private quarters of the Padishah. Here the rulers enjoyed complete solitude and detached themselves from their pressing problems. From the top of the hill one can enjoy the spectacular views of the Gulhane Park and the vastness of the Bosphorus.

In Sofa-yı Hümayun are:

  • Yerevan Pavilion – named in honor of the capture of Yerevan;
  • Baghdad Pavilion – named after the conquest of Baghdad;
  • Circumcision Hall – intended for the heirs to the throne;
  • Sultan’s Sofa – a terrace with a lovely fountain and decorative pool;
  • Iftariye pavilion – with a gilded bronze dome of an original shape.

Baghdad Pavilion

In the courtyard one can see the clock tower, the residence of the Sultan’s chief physician, the Sofa Mosque and the “youngest” building Topkapi, which was built in 1840. Today it houses a popular Turkish restaurant “Konyali”.

Topkapi Harem

A separately guarded section of the courtyard was divided into 4 areas – for the Sultan’s mother, concubines, the Padishah himself and the eunuchs. The harem had a total of about three hundred rooms. It had its own hospital, baths and mosques.

Khurrem’s Quarters

Most of the rooms in the Topkapi harem were of modest size and simple decorations. The most luxurious chambers belonged to Hürrem, better known as Roksolana. They are the most visited.

Harem Hall

Topkapi Sultans

Over 4 centuries, 25 rulers of the Ottoman Empire succeeded to the palace.

Construction of the complex was started by Sultan Mehmed II 22 years after the Turks seized Constantinople. This period is defined in 1475-78.

The most famous in the history of Topkapi is considered to be the greatest of the Ottoman dynasty, Suleiman I the Magnificent. Under him the harem was attached to the palace complex.

The last Sultan who lived in Topkapi was Abdul Majid I. In the middle of XIX century he changed the residence to Dolmabahce.

Mosaic

Topkapi Museum

The palace holds a huge number of treasures collected over several centuries. It is estimated that the number of exhibits on display is 65,000, which corresponds to only 10% of the museum fund.

The most interesting collections are:

  • Imperial treasures;
  • European porcelain and glass;
  • Chinese porcelain;
  • Istanbul glass;
  • kitchen utensils;
  • silver;
  • clothing of the Padishahs;
  • portraits of sultans;
  • weapons.

Tourists are attracted by the museum halls, their interior decoration and rich decorations in the oriental style.

Grand Pavilion

In addition to the main ones, the museum displays temporary exhibitions. The museum and park complex traditionally hosts various events and festivals dedicated to the history of Topkapi.

Excursions to Topkapi Palace

It is recommended to allocate a full day to explore the complex. Museum stores sell brochures and guidebooks. But the best option would be to order a tour in Istanbul in Russian.

Ticket prices

The price for a visit to the palace complex Topkapi is 200 TRY.

Group discounts at the palace and park complex are not provided. There is no museum card for admission to the Harem and St. Irene’s Cathedral.

Free admission applies to children under 8 years, Turkish citizens under 18 and over 65 years.

Tickets can be paid in cash or by credit card. The ticket office is in the first courtyard, for the Harem in the second courtyard.

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Opening Hours

Topkapi is open daily, except Tuesdays, May 1 and the first half of days that fall on important religious dates. You can visit the palace and park complex:

  • 1.04 to 1.10 – 09:00 to 18:00;
  • 1.10 to 1.04 – 09:00 to 18:00.

The ticket office closes 45 minutes before closing time.

Rules of Admission

It is not allowed to take photos in the exhibition halls. Children with baby carriages are not permitted.

Shorts, miniskirts, tank tops and bare shoulders are not permitted in the Sacred Relics area and St. Irene’s Church.

How to get to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The nearest stop of the T1 express tramway is “Gülhane istasyonu”. The first gate is an 8-10 minute walk.

You can walk 1 km from Sirkeci İstasyonu Station on the Marmaray Line to Topkapı or take the T1 streetcar.

Bus No. BN1 goes to the Akbıyık stop on Kennedy Cd. promenade. Timetables and route maps can be found here.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Palace (Tur. Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi) is the former residence of the ruling family in Istanbul, now a museum.

For 400 years (from 1475-1478) the rulers of the Ottoman Empire lived there. So in Topkapı Palace you can see the household items of the sultans and their family, a rich collection of weapons, various Muslim shrines.

  • Opening hours: Every day from 09:00 to 18:00, except Tuesdays and some holidays
  • Official website: link
  • Address: Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
  • Phone: (0212) 512 04 80

Topkapi Sultan Palace

Topkapı Palace on the map of Istanbul

History

The palace was built between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. It was the residence of the sultans and their court until the middle of the 19th century. In 1854, during the reign of Abdul Majid, the royal family moved to the more modern Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosphorus, as Topkapı was no longer adequate for official state events.

In 1924 by order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Topkapi was declared a museum and opened to the public.

What to see in Topkapi

The museum is a huge palace complex of buildings with a total area of about 700,000 square meters. This is a kind of city within the city, which was created over the centuries: 4 courtyards, several pavilions, mosques, fountains, baths, pools and stables. The entire area is divided into an outer (birun) and an inner (enderun). Birun is the First and Second Courtyards designed for official events. The enderun are the private chambers of the sultan and his family (the Third and Fourth Courts, the Topkapi harem).

The First Court

The First Court, also known as the Janissary Court or the Parade Court, was a service area for the needs of the palace. During the sultans times it housed a mint, a hospital, a bakery and a checking (roll call) point for the janissary corps.

First Courtyard

Nowadays the First Court is a park recreation area located outside the walls of Topkapi Palace. It is entered through the Imperial Gate. Right in front of them is one of the most beautiful fountains in the city, the Fountain of Ahmed II. It was built in the early 17th century in the Rococo style.

The main decoration of the First Court is the Church of St. Irene (Aya Irini) to the left of the entrance. It is a Byzantine church from the 11th century and is considered to be the oldest Christian church in Istanbul. It is unusual in that no attempt was ever made to convert it into a Muslim mosque. The church is currently inactive and is sometimes used for music concerts. There is a charge for admission.

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There is also a museum of the Imperial Mint with exhibits of the history of Istanbul. Next to the First Court is the Archaeological Museum and the entrance to Gulhane Park.

Map of the First Courtyard

The entrance to the main area of Topkapı Palace through the Gates of Welcome (Middle Gate) is through the First Court. There are ticket booths in front of it.

Second Courtyard

Go through the Middle Gate into the Second Courtyard and immediately to the right of the entrance you can see the exhibition of imperial carriages. By the way, only the Sultan and his mother could enter through this gate on horseback. The rest had to go on foot.

The second courtyard was also a service territory. The palace kitchens were located here – 10 roofed buildings, where more than 800 servants worked. Now there is an exhibition of ceramics, glassware and silverware in these buildings.

Second courtyard

In the Second Courtyard one can buy tickets to the harem and visit the souvenir and bookstore.

Map of the second courtyard

To the left of the Second Courtyard is the meeting room of the Imperial Council (Diwan). The Council met here to make important decisions and the Sultan often overheard it through a special window. Next to the Council building is the Inner Pantry, where taxes from all over the empire were collected. Nowadays there is an exhibition of arms and armor here.

The Third Court

Access to the Third Court from the Second Court is through the Gate of Bliss, also called the Gate of the White Eunuchs. The main room is the Audience Hall or Throne Room. This was the Sultan’s official chambers where he received foreign ambassadors and other important persons. The Hall was guarded by white eunuchs.

Third courtyard

Next to the Throne Room is the Library of Ahmed III. It was built in 1719 and is a small room made of marble and decorated with wooden carvings.

Third courtyard

Third courtyard

In the Third Courtyard is the richest exhibition of the Topkapi Palace – the Treasury. It contains precious decorations of sultans and viziers, ceremonial armor, and interior items. A unique piece of the collection is the 86-carat Spooner diamond. Legend has it that it was found in the 17th century in a mountain of garbage, bought by a street vendor for three spoons and then resold to the Grand Vizier for big money.

Map of the third courtyard

Next to the Treasury is the Court Costume Exhibition, a collection of the clothing of the sultans.

The Fourth Court

The fourth courtyard is a garden with several so-called “pleasure pavilions”.

The most “new” building of Topkapi is the Mejidiye Pavilion, which has a magnificent view of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The building was built in 1840 by Sultan Abdul-Medjid in accordance with 19th century European models.

Fourth courtyard

Fourth courtyard

Baghdad Pavilion was built by Sultan Murad IV to commemorate the capture of Baghdad in 1636.

The Circumcision Pavilion was used to take Islamic boys as men.

Map of the fourth courtyard

Between the Pavilion of Circumcision and the Pavilion of Baghdad is the Iftariye Pavilion. It is a covered balcony with a beautiful view of Golden Horn Bay.

Harem

Separately, you can visit the Harem, which was the residence of the Sultan’s mother, his sisters, heirs, wives and concubines.

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The Harem at Topkapi was built by Sultan Murad III in the late 16th century. It is a labyrinth of rooms, rooms and corridors, including the Sultan’s living room and bathroom, the personal chambers and prayer room of the Sultan’s mother, living quarters for wives and concubines, female baths and rooms of black eunuchs.

Harem

Courtyard of black eunuchs

Room of the eunuchs

The Harem has 6 floors and over 300 rooms. Nowadays it is possible to see only a part of the rooms on one floor.

There were up to 1000 concubines in the harem and most of them were in the position of slaves. The Sultan was allowed to have up to four wives, the most powerful were the wives who gave birth to sons.

The harem was ruled by the Sultan’s mother (Valide Sultan). Often her influence on her son and state affairs in general was very considerable. She usually occupied the best quarters in the harem.

Mother Sultan's room in the Harem

Mother Sultan's Court

The largest room in the harem was the imperial hall, where entertainment was held. The sultan watched what was going on from the throne that still adorned the hall by one of the walls.

The most beautiful rooms in the harem are the two identical adjacent pavilions of the crown prince (heir), with exquisite tiles and painted dome.

Harem Territory Map

The Topkapi harem also had the so called “Cage”, special rooms for the detention of unwanted brothers and sons of the sultan to prevent them from ascending the throne.

Video

Watch a detailed video about the Topkapi Palace and harem below.

How to get to Topkapi

The attraction is located on the third of the seven hills of Istanbul, in the heart of the historical part of the city, the Sultanahmet neighborhood, just behind the Ayia Sofia Museum. The T1 express streetcar can take the Sultanahmet or Gülhane stops to get to Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. The Big Bus Istanbul tourist bus stop is nearby.

After walking around the Hagia Sophia Museum you get to the Fountain of Ahmed III and the first gate of the palace. You have to go through them, past the guard of honor and you will get to the first courtyard.

Guards of Honor

Topkapi opening hours

The palace museum is open to the public all year round, except Tuesdays and some holidays.

Topkapi opening hours are from 09:00 to 18:00. From October to April, the visiting time may be reduced by 1 hour. The entrance to the Harem closes earlier by 1-2 hours, so plan your visits to the complex for the first half of the day.

Ticket sales stop 1 hour before closing time.

Ticket prices for Topkapi Palace

Ticket prices for foreign nationals from 6 years old when buying tickets at the ticket office:

  • 320 liras – Topkapi Palace + Church of Saint Irene;
  • 420 liras – Topkapi Palace + Harem + Hagia Irene Church;
  • 150 Liras – Topkapi Harem (only possible if you have a basic ticket to Topkapi Palace);
  • 120 liras – Hagia Irene Church (can be visited without a ticket to Topkapi Palace itself).

The price of the Istanbul Museum Card includes a visit to Topkapi Palace (including the Harem) and the Church of Saint Irene.

Cash desks in the street

You can take an audio guide on site. A document is required as a deposit (no money is allowed).

You can see Topkapi Palace on a private tour of Istanbul.

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