The palace is surrounded by 5 km of walls and occupies an area of 700,000 square meters at the tip of the historical peninsula. It consists of three courtyards, each serving a different purpose and was the heart, the brain, and the very center of the Ottoman Empire. Later, the harem (private quarters) of the sultans was also located within the palace. In 1924, it was turned into a museum at the request of Ataturk.
Different craftsmanship, tiles, architectural styles, and jewelry such as the famous spoonmaker’s diamond are exhibited in Topkapı Palace, reflecting the wealth of Turkish art and the mixture of different cultures.
The Bab-I Humayun, also known as the Imperial Gate, is one of the three main gates of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. It was built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, who was also known as the conqueror of Istanbul. The gate allows citizens to easily enter the palace’s first courtyard.
An inscription dated 1478 by Ali bin Yahya Sofi, one of the first calligraphers in the Ottoman Empire, can be found above the gate. The tughras (calligraphic monograms) of Sultan 2.Mahmut and Abdulaziz also demonstrate that the gate was repaired by them.
The first courtyard is the only part of the palace open to the public and is accessed through the Imperial Gate. It is the largest courtyard in the palace. Visitors can see a beautiful monumental fountain, an example of 18th century Turkish art, outside of the gate. The palace bakery, mint, quarters of the palace guards, and firewood depots are also located in this courtyard. The Tiled Pavilion and the Archeological Museum can also be found in this courtyard.
The third courtyard was the private area of the sultan and could only be accessed with special permission. It consists of the harem and a reception area. The sultan would spend time with his family here, and it is popularly known as Harem-I Humayun. This section also housed the imperial education facilities, the throne room, the sultan’s treasury, and the quarters for sacred relics. Foreign ambassadors and high government officials were received by the sultan in the throne room, which is located directly opposite the entrance. For security reasons, those serving in the throne room were chosen from among the deaf and mute. The library of Ahmet III, located in the center of the courtyard, is an 18th century building that is a typical example of the harmonious blend of baroque and Turkish architectural styles.
The fourth courtyard is composed of a terrace, popularly known as Sofa-I Humayun, and the Tulip Garden. The Tulip Garden is surrounded by the Sofa Mansion, Sofa-I Humayun Gardens, the Sofa Mosque, the Mecidiye Mansion, and the Clothes room.
THE HAREM OF TOPKAPI
The Harem, meaning “forbidden area” in Arabic, was a private area for the sultan and other members of his family. Girls were generally brought to the harem at a young age from outside, and were educated and raised under strict conditions. The most clever and beautiful girl would be selected for the sultan and could potentially become a sultana, leading to rivalry among the women. At its inception, the Harem consisted of 400 rooms, but was later altered and expanded over the years. Only a section of the Harem is open to the public, and it is up to the visitor to imagine the colorful and lively atmosphere of the past in the dim hallways and empty rooms.
THE WEAPON COLLECTION AND THE COUNCIL HALL
The Weapon Collection and the Council Hall is a section of the Topkapı Palace Museum where a rich collection of historical weapons is displayed. The state treasure was located next to the council of state in this eight-domed building. The weapons, which were used by the Ottoman Empire, were kept and maintained in the palace armory. The collection includes not only weapons used by the sultans, but also those used by the palace and army personnel, as well as weapons captured from other countries. The Council Hall, where the council of state met, is also located in this section. The council consisted of the viziers and secretaries, and the leader vizier presided over the meetings. The sultans did not participate in the meetings, but could listen to the discussions about state matters from a high window in one of the walls, which opened to the harem section and was covered by a curtain. The hall was also used to host feasts for foreign delegations.
THE KITCHENS AND THE PORCELAIN COLLECTION
The Kitchens and Porcelain Collection section features a collection of 2,500 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The kitchen was used by over one thousand cooks and their assistants to prepare and serve meals for the various sections of the palace. One part of the kitchens has been preserved as it was, while the others are used to display porcelain and glassware produced in Istanbul. The palace holds a total of 10,700 Chinese pieces, dating from the late Sung (13th century) and Yuan dynasties (1280-1368), through the Ming (1368-1644) to the Ch’ing period (1644-1912). Many of these are now on display in the Palace Kitchens. The collection also includes up to 730 Japanese porcelains dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, mainly Imari ware produced in and around Arita in southern Japan.