After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 Fatih (the Conqueror) Sultan Mehmet moved the throne of the Ottoman Empire to this city. The first palace he set up was in the middle of the city. The second was built in 1470 and has been called Topkapi Palace since recent history. Topkapi is a classical palace as all historical Turkish palaces are. It is made up of three courtyards, one after the other, with various functions, shaded by trees and separated by monumental gates.
During the era it was used as a palace, its functions were very different from other historical palaces. It was not only the residence of the State’s single ruler, but also the center for official State business, the place for the assembly of ministers, for the State Treasury, for the Mint, and the Archives. The State’s association for higher education and the State University were in the palace.
The Ottoman Empire lasted for 622 years, ruling over a vast area surrounding the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea which included the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe for centuries. The Empire united many nations of different race and religion under its rule. The only other empire in history to encompass so much land for such a long time was the Roman Empire. Thirty-six sultans ruled the Empire, and from the 16th century when the sultan took the title of Caliph, he became the religious leader of the Islamic world as well.
The daily life of Topkapt Palace began at dawn and was bound by great ceremony and strict rules of protocol. Everyone had to conform to establish customs and traditions held for centuries. Protocol of the Western world has been influenced by the rules of this palace.
The main entrance to Topkapi Palace is the Bab-i Humayun, or Imperial Gate. The signature above the gate is of Mahmut II. who was the last ruler occupying the palace. The Imperial Gate opens into the first courtyard, called the Janissary courtyard because this special unit of the Ottoman army used to meet here, until the unit was dissolved in 1826 by Mahmut II. This first courtyard of the palace was a service area, open to the public, in which there was a hospital, a bakery, a cannon foundry, the external treasury section, the mint and a warehouse, as well as dormitories for the servants. Except for the mint, none of the above exists today. The tiled kiosk and the Archeological Museum are in the courtyard. To the left of the entrance stands the church of St. Irini.
At the farther end of the courtyard is the middle gate, the Babii’s-Selam, or Salutation Gate, which opens into the inner part of the palace. At this gate everyone except the sultan had to dismount from his horse; only the sultan could enter on horseback. The gate has towers on either side and was built in the time ofFatih (the Conqueror) in 1524-25. The outer world was closed out by this gate. Above the gate is the signature (The Tugra) of Suleyman the Magnificent, known as the Law-maker, and also an Islamic prayer: “There is no other God but Allah, and Mohammed is his slave and prophet.”
The courtyard is a huge area, 130 m. long, 110 m.wide. There is a large and peaceful arcade, with oak trees planted along the way, just as Fatih Sultan had planned. The courtyard is known as the Divan Courtyard” because of the domed rooms in the far corners where imperial councils of state were held. On the first four days of the week the sultan and his high officials gathered here to solve the domestic and foreign problems of the State. During the first years after the conquest of Istanbul, Sultan Mehmet would lead the Council himself. In later years, however, the sultan observed the meetings from his seat behind a grilled window in an adjoining room. All sultans continued this practice.
From the Middle Gate many roads opened to various parts of the courtyard. The transverse road to the left leads to the “Divan”, or Council Room” and the rooms connected to it. When viewing the palace from the Golden Horn, the cone-shaped tower, which is the trade-mark of the palace, overlooks these rooms. To the south of the Divan Tower is the carriage gate which leads to the entrance of the harem.
The largest section to the east contains the ten rooms of the palace kitchens. The cone-shaped chimneys of the kitchens are also trademarks of the palace. Today the kitchens and the palace rooms are used to exhibit the palace’s incomparable collection of Chinese porcelain, the world’s third richest collection after Peking and Dresden. Begun by Beyazit II, increased by Sultans Selim and Suleiman, the collection includes marvelous pieces from the Sung and Yuan dynasty (930-1368) up to the 18th c Ming dynasty.
At the end of the second courtyard comes the Bab-us Saade Gate, the Gate of Felicity. Here we enter the private residence of the sultan, completely closed to the outside. It is the center of the inner palace, the gate into the third courtyard. Although actually built at the time of the Conqueror, the gate was redecorated in the rococo style of the 18th century. On the eve of religious holidays, here at this gate the sultan would appear sitting on his festival throne decorated with gold and emeralds would greet his subjects.
From the Bab-us Saade one enters the “Presentation Room” where the sultan would present himself to ambassadors of foreign countries on their arrival and departure. The sultan’s door of the Presentation Room is a small, eaves structure supported by pillars of ancient marble. The foundation and design are from the time of the Conqueror. The writing above the throne has remained since the year 1596. Within the structure of the third courtyard is the “Enderun-i Humayun” which is the center for imperial administrative, religious, and military education. In the environs of the third courtyard are six large rooms. On the left side of the courtyard is the Mosque of the Agas. In the center of the courtyard is one of the palace libraries constructed in 1719 by Ahmet III. To the right is the “Military Campaign Room” where the boys who were being educated for service at court were trained to accompany the sultan on military expeditions. This is one of the largest rooms in the palace, and today it is used to exhibit the robes of the sultans.
Popular Destinations in Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia
- Topkapi Palace