A trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without a visit to the stunning Topkapi Palace. As the oldest building of its style in existence, you can expect some truly fascinating sights on a tour around the palace, not to mention some captivating stories of times gone by. Located on the Bosphorus Strait, the iconic structure is the original sea view property Istanbul.
In our guide to Topkapi Palace, you can read all about the building’s history, which dates back to the early years of the Ottoman Empire. From there, we’ll offer an insight to what you can see and learn on a tour around today’s Topkapi Palace. Its stunning sights and intriguing history makes Topkapi Palace a must-see for everyone.
Where it all began
Topkapi Palace was created shortly after the Conquest in 1453. When Sultan Mehmet II (also known as The Conqueror) defeated the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital, Constantinople, the Ottomans became one of the most powerful empires. Fast forward a few years to 1460, and the Sultan began constructing a new palace, which would later become known as Topkapi Palace. The construction took 18 years to complete - by 1478, it was ready for the Sultan to call it his home, and he lived here until his death three years later.
The home of Sultans
After Mehmet II’s death, Topkapi Palace became the royal home to each of his Sultan successors for more than three centuries. However, it was so much more than just the royal residence and played a much bigger role within the Empire. All state business was carried out from within the palace, in the Imperial Council building, which made it the epicentre of the kingdom.
Developments, expansions and renovations were made to the palace over the years: an earthquake in 1509 and a fire in 1665 were both contributing factors to large renovations being carried out on the palace. Over time, other areas within Istanbul became much more appealing to the Sultans, particularly along the shoreline of the Bosphorus. During the 1850s, the Sultan at the time, Abdulmejid I, decided to move on from Topkapi Palace and take up residence within the newly built Dolmabahce Palace. Without its status as the Sultans’ home, Topkapi was left to fall into disrepair.
Saving Topkapi Palace It wasn’t until over 50 years later, when the Ottoman Empire came to an end, that the palace began to regain its regal beauty. Following a request from Ataturk in 1942, Topkapi Palace became a museum dedicated to offering an insight into royal life within the palace grounds, during the Ottoman reign.
Topkapi Palace today
Although restorations and renovations are still taking place throughout the palace, there is a wealth of fascinating history and architecture to be found within its walls. As one of the biggest and best tourist attractions in Istanbul, there’s no doubt that Topkapi Palace is worth visiting. Better yet, with more and more of the palace’s background being uncovered over time, there will be even more for you to learn about its history, should you wish to return in the future.
Visitors typically enter Topkapi Palace’s grounds through the impressive Gate of Salutation, which would originally would have only been used by the Sultan, or by officials on important business. From there, you’ll be greeted by the spectacular fountain of Sultan Ahmet III - this would have been used for washing, but today, it makes for a spectacular sight as soon as you head through the gates.
Did you know? Each of Topkapi Palace’s four courtyards is more private than the last as you make your way through them.
Impressive architecture and collections
The palace is made up of several courtyards, along with the main building and a number of smaller buildings surrounding it. These smaller buildings had their own particular uses, from the harem where female family members resided, to the council building for discussing important state agendas. There was also guards’ quarters and a firewood store situated within these smaller structures.
Your first stop on a tour around Topkapi Palace is the harem. It has a series of hallways which link the 400 rooms that are dotted around the various courtyards. There are only certain areas of the harem that are open to visitors, but the bright and beautiful mosaics within these areas are truly astonishing.
Up next is the treasury, a large building next to the council state building. This building would have once been the place where the Sultans would keep their spiritual, historical and other valuable possessions. Some of these items are still on show today, along with a vast exhibition of old weapons.
The Sultan's private residence
After passing through the Gate of Felicity and into the third courtyard, you will be able to make your way into the Sultan’s private residence. This would have been where the Sultan spent much of his time, and was strictly off limits to anyone without the Sultan’s invitation. This building incorporates the throne room, university and antique personal belongings. There would have been huge ceremonies held within this building, particularly when the Sultan welcomed foreign ambassadors to the palace. Bearing to the right of the courtyard is where the unique collection of original clothing, carpets and more is on show.
The Emerald Room
The second hall within the third courtyard houses the Emerald room and the most spectacular collection of jewellery. This would have been a reception room during the Ottoman Empire, with the cellars below it acting as a treasury. Only the Sultan would have been able to enter this building alone, and others would have to be escorted in order to keep the treasured items safe. Today, however, some of the most previous items of the Ottoman reign on are display for the public to see, including the symbol of the museum, the Topkapi Dagger. This is encrusted with emeralds and displayed with many other stunning pieces along with the Pigot diamond.
These are just a few of the rooms available for viewing throughout Topkapi Palace, and a guide can only begin to describe the fascinating sights and stories you will discover on a trip around the grounds.
Topkapi Palace is a truly fabulous attraction, with so much to see and with most of the contents being original. You will easily spend a day within the grounds, whether that’s soaking up the history or enjoying the beautiful scenery, so be sure to set aside enough time to really make the most of your time there.