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GoWithGuideFind your perfect tour guide at GoWithGuide. Relax and cherish unforgettable tours with loved ones. Create personalized tours for a truly memorable trip!

Your In-depth Guide To Topkapi Palace

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by GoWithGuide travel specialist:Denise B.

Last updated : May 14, 20248 min read

Things To Do

For almost 400 years, the Ottoman Empire was ruled from Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This royal residence and seat of government was built in the 1460s, during the second reign of Sultan Mehmed II. It is located in the historic part of Istanbul, directly behind the Hagia Sophia, and on the site of the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium. The 60 hectare compound was subsequently home to 26 Sultans and their administrations, and is currently a museum showcasing the highlights of the Empire. 

 

The palace is one of Istanbul’s premier attractions and deserves to be explored in depth. Our knowledgeable guides have a deep understanding of the significance of the city and its historic sites, and will add value to whatever time you have available. Our private tours are customizable so that you can stay as long as you feel necessary to soak it all in. 

The History of Topkapi Palace 

 

In the middle of the 15th century, Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, was the capital of the Roman Empire and the center of Orthodox Christian civilization. This changed in 1453 when the city was captured by the Turks under the leadership of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The city straddling the Bosphorus Strait was a great prize. It is strategically placed to control the flow of migration between Asia and Europe, as well as the marine traffic between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

 

Within the first decade of conquest, the Sultan began building his royal palace on Seraglio Point, a prominent hill close to the sea. Mehmed II personally designed the palace complex, premised on the concept of imperial seclusion. The private quarters are central and occupy the highest ground, surrounded by a series of courtyards with gates separating the royal residence from the government and service buildings. The more public spaces radiate out from these, down towards the sea. From his many vantage points, the Sultan had commanding views of the city, and in particular the Golden Horn, which is the point at which the Sea of Marmara enters the Bosphorus. 

 

He ordered the rarest and most expensive materials to be used, and employed the finest workmen in the land on the construction project, which lasted almost a decade. The craftsmanship is most striking in the pattern upon pattern of cobalt blue tiles that adorn the interior and exterior walls. These are complemented by gold leaf designs, textured marble and forged, cast iron finishes in an array of geometric designs. Through the centuries, the palace layout has altered little, despite a series of expansions and renovations undertaken after major fires and the earthquake of 1509. 

Must-See Attractions at the Palace 

The Harem 

Most visitors to the palace are drawn to the Harem. Not surprising then that there is an extra cost to view these most private of quarters. The complex of structures in the inner sanctum comprises more than 400 rooms, many of which are open to the public. Among these are the privy chambers of successive Sultans, the Queen Mothers’ chambers, the Crown Princes’ apartment and 14 traditional Turkish baths. The apartments are connected by a network of alleyways and private courtyards. 

   

The Imperial Harem was under the strict control of the reigning Sultan’s mother, or Valide Sultan, whose task was to secure the Sultan’s dynasty. The hierarchy of women under her jurisdiction included, in order of authority, the Sultan’s daughters, his wives, favorite mistresses, and large numbers of concubines. 

 

The number of women, as well as the seclusion of the inhabitants, was a testament to the power and prowess of the reigning Sultan. The harem was subject to its own internal politics, but also wielded considerable power in the affairs of society and the Empire at large, especially during the era from 1533 to 1656, which became known as the Sultanate of Women. The harem was guarded by a regiment of eunuchs.

Kiosks 

A number of smaller structures known as kiosks were constructed within the private quarters. The Yerevan Kiosk is a small pavilion which served as a peaceful area for religious retreat. The Terrace Kiosk is a rectangular wooden structure, designed to overlook the grounds and the sea.

 

The Iftar Kiosk features a large verandah with arched balustrades and a gilded ceiling. The resident Sultan and his family met there to break the annual fast of Ramadan. 

The Porcelain Collection and Palace Kitchens 

In terms of variety and quality, the Topkapi Palace claims to have the most valuable collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain in the world. There are over ten thousand items from the Sung, Yuan, and Ming dynasties of China, and more than 700 Japanese pieces, mostly Imari porcelain.  

 

Many of these are displayed in glass cabinets in the magnificently vaulted palace kitchens. These important hives of activity were used daily by more than 300 chefs and their assistants. They started the fires after morning prayers, and on some days prepared two full meals for four to five thousand palace residents and guests.  

The Courtyards and Outer Gardens 

The richness of the Medieval architecture is set off by the serenity of the formal gardens in the four large courtyards. These are separated from one another by ornate gates, which each held imperial significance. Roman and Byzantine artifacts that were unearthed on the site can be found on the lawns of the second courtyard. 

 

Outside the palace walls are the outer gardens, which are open to the public. These include Gulhani Park, which was the site of the old imperial rose garden. Several of the ancient trees in the area succumbed to a fungal disease that hollowed out their centers, leaving a spectacle of living statues to marvel at. In some cases, trees of different species fused together as they grew.  

Information you need to know before you visit 

 

The Palace is closed on Tuesdays and certain public or religious holidays. The premises are open from 9:00 to 18:00, but tickets can only be purchased until 16:00. There are similar time constraints on entrance to the Harem. There is a dress code which visitors need to follow. For those caught short, there are appropriate garments available for hire. 

 

The Topkapi is one of Istanbul’s premier attractions and can become busy during peak seasons. It is best to get there as the gates open in summer. To circumvent the queues, tickets can be secured online before arrival. A museum or Istanbul Tourist pass also allows you smoother access and reduces the overall cost of visiting multiple attractions.  

 

To do it justice, a visit to the palace requires that you cover a fair bit of ground. This means you will need plenty of time and a reasonable level of fitness. Supportive walking shoes and a large bottle of drinking water will be essential to your enjoyment of the excursion. The restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus is a welcome resting spot to enjoy refreshments and regain your energy. 

Conclusion

 

To experience the palace through the eyes of the Sultans and statesmen that occupied the premises, GoWithGuide recommends that you employ the services of one of our many local guides to accompany you. 

 

Whether you visit Topkapi Palace as part of a scheduled tour or you’re following a personalized itinerary, this monument to the rich history of the Ottoman Empire is a must-see.

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