The Topkapi Palace

The famous Ottoman historian Evliya Celebi describes the Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi) as "the loveliest sultanate Palace that human skill could have created."U is as if this palace was built to remind any sultan who lived here, how great their power was over their empire. While visiting this magnificent structure that is made of terraces, corridors, stairs and interior courts; you will find yourself in the world of Arabian Nights again. The palace once habited by Ottoman Sultans is visited by thousands of visitors from all parts of the World. The Topkapi Palace is considered among the most splendid monuments of Istanbul.

This palace had a peculiar concept: in conformity with the Eastern traditions, it was built to have several functions at once. Topkapi was not only the residence of the Sultan but it was also built to fulfill its roles as the administrative centre of a powerful empire, and as the religious centre of half of the world. This legendary palace was also the stage of incredible intrigues, the focus of cruel murders and the cradle of breathtaking successes. Once, 4,000-5,000 people used to live in Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace was like a smaller city inside the city itself. Fatih Sultan Mehmet decided to have a vast palace built on the ridges of old Byzantium Acropolis.

Sultan Mehmet did not choose this location only for the beauty of the ridges. He was planning to have a residential fortress built in a strategic location, which would give Istanbul the best protection. A high city wall, extending from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara, separated Topkapi Palace from the rest of the city. The Byzantium walls, beginning from the corner of the palace and stretching to the Theodosian Walls, through the shores of Marmara were protective against a possible sea attack.

The Topkapi Palace, which once was Ottoman Sultans' home, is visited by thousands ot tourists from all parts of the world. This famous palace is considered among the most splendid monuments of Istanbul.

The First Court

This front court is connected to the main entrance with the Imperial Gate (Bab-ı Humayun).This first court which once accommodated the Janissaries, today serves as the parking area for the buses and cars bringing thousands of visitors. The Chamber of Finances (Defterdar Dairesi) and the Interior Arsenal (İç Cephane which formerly was the Haghia Eirene Church), are located on the left side of this court. The Archaeological Museum and the Tiled Pavilion (Çinili Köşk) built on demand of Mehmet II are located at the back of the first court.

The Second Court

The entrance to the palace is through the next gate called Bab-iis Selam. Other than the Sultan, no one was allowed to pass through this gate on horse. When the foreign ambassadors would be welcomed to the palace; the notables of the empire, the Janissaries and the court guards dressed in showy costumes, would gather here for the arrival of those guests. The number of participants to these welcoming ceremonies could reach 10,000 persons and the foreign guests mostly expressed their bewilderment against the silence that was dominant during the ceremonies. The second court visited by thousands of people today, was once occupied by gazelles, dears, goats and peacocks strolling freely under the cypress trees. This court reflecting the spirit of the empire was a combination between a garden of silence and peace and a place for great and carefully planned ceremonies.

The State Council (Divan) used to gather in a building known as Kubbealti and located on the left side of this court. This domed, rectangular, plain place has low sofas ("divan", in Turkish) covered with carpets. The walls were also covered with carpets and kilims.

The legendary grilled window above the Grand Vezir's place is still there. In ancient times, the Sultan used to watch the discussions in Divan behind this window. Generally, the Divan used to gather four times between Sundays and Tuesdays. All sort of decisions relevant to the administration were taken here. Orders were given, feudal fiefs (timar) were delivered, complaints were listened, the decrees (firmans) were signed and the negotiations with the foreign.

Ambassadors also took place here. It was easy to understand the status of the officials and notables by looking at the arm shape and colors of their costumes. Linings, the fur on the clothes, the turban and even the shape of a beard were relevant clues regarding the status of a notable. The Viziers dressed in green. Muftis in white, Mullahs in light blue and Ulema members in purple. While the ones relating to the court used to be distinguished by their red costumes, the color code for Sheikhs was blue. Across from the State Council building, on the eastern side of the second court, were the Dolap Ocağı and the kitchens. The meals of the thousands of people living in the palace were cooked here. The kitchens possessed one of the largest porcelain collections of the world.

This large collection was composed of a variety of kitchen tools made of Chinese, Japanese and European porcelains as well as copper pots, bowls and cups. Behind the third gate, Bab-iis-Saadet, was the Throne Room (Arz Odası) where the Sultan waited for notables, ambassadors and foreign guests. In this room, furnished in the Ottoman/Turkish style, the Sultan used to accept his visitors sitting on showy pillows and precious carpets. Only the closest entourage of the Sultans was allowed in the sections beyond this building. It could be helpful to visit some part of the Harem before going in these sections of Topkapi Palace. The Harem was directed with strict rules and great care by the mother of the ruling Sultan (Valide Sultan). As a concept, Harem means the forbidden or holy place. There were many women slaves and eunuchs in the Harem along with the women ror their beauty. The most '. powerful person in the Harem was the Chief of the Harem (a Eunuch as well). That was the third important person of the Ottoman Empire, after the . Grand Vezir and Sheikhulislam.

The Third Court

The first building of this court is The Library of Ahmet III, which was built in the 18th century. The succession of buildings following the Library used to be the school of the Palace. These buildings host various thrones, valuable costumes, ornamented weapons, miniatures and the legendary treasures of the Sultans. This school was probably the most important official institution of the East, and one of the best educational institutions that survived in a feudal system. 48 of the 60 Grand Viziers whose lives are well known were educated here, including the four viziers of Suleyman the Magnificent. The costume collection of the Sultan can be seen in the Turkish bath located to the East of the Third Court. Turkish fabrics woven of silk and artificial fiber, silk caftans, the Sultan's garments and precious prayer rugs are also exhibited in this section of the palace. The treasures that were collected by Ottoman Sultans for centuries are exhibited In the four rooms of the world famous Treasury, which also was the first residence of Fatih Sultan Mehmet in Topkapi Palace.

The Fourth Court

The adjacent garden stepping down in form of terraces, will take you to the fountains, the Revan Pavilion (1636), The Bagdad Pavilion (1639), an arbor from 1641 and the Sofa Pavilion from the 18th century. The visit of the Palace ends at the terrace of the Mecidiye Pavilion and the Teras Café at its lower floor. You can enjoy the wonderful panorama from this location.

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