Visiting Topkapi Palace
Fresh from his conquest of Constantinople, Mehmet II built Topkapi Sarayi as his main residence in 1459–65. He planned it as a series of pavilions in four courtyards – a tribute in stone to the tent encampments of his nomadic forebears. Mehmet’s palace was also the seat of government, and contained a college for training officials and soldiers. While government moved across the road to the Sublime Porte in the 16th century, Topkapı continued as the sultan’s palace until Abdül Mecit I moved to Dolmabahçe Palace in 1853.
Top 10 Features
- Imperial Gate
- First Courtyard
- Gate of Salutations
- Throne Room
- Third Courtyard
- Imperial Wardrobe
- Imperial Sofa
1- Imperial Gate (Bâb-ı Hümayun)
Built in 1478, this gate is the main entrance to the palace, with gatekeepers’ quarters on either side. An apart- ment belonging to Mehmet II above the gate was destroyed by fire in 1866.
2- First Courtyard (Alay Meydanı)
This vast outer courtyard takes in all of Gülhane Park, sweeping down the hill to Sirkeci and including the 6th-century church of Haghia Eirene (Aya İrini Kilisesi), the wooden houses of Soğukçeşme Sokağı and the imposing Archaeological Museum.
A maze of rooms and corridors, the Harem was a closed world occupied by the sultan’s wives, concubines and children. A guided tour is a must.
4- Gate of Salutations (Bâb-üs Selâm)
At this elaborate gate (left), built in 1524, visitors were greeted, and high officials who had upset the sultan were arrested and strangled. The gateway leads into the Second Courtyard (Divan Meydanı), where the Treasury now has a magnificent display of arms and armour.
These huge kitchens once catered for 5,000 people a day. Now they display a marvellous collection of ceramics, crystal and silver, including the Chinese celadon ware favoured by early sultans because, supposedly, it changed colour when it came into contact with poison.
6- Throne Room (Arz Odası)
In the Throne Room (right), the Sultan would consult his ministers and governors, welcome ambassadors and other dignitaries, and host smaller formal state occasions.
7- Third Courtyard (Enderûn Meydanı)
The Gate of Felicity (Bâb-üs Saadet) leads to the Third Courtyard, containing the sultan’s private quarters and those of the Harem’s white eunuchs.
8- Imperial Wardrobe (Seferli Koğuşu)
Fittingly, the Imperial Wardrobe is now the home of the costume museum, a sumptuous collection of some 3,000 elaborately embroidered royal robes (above).
9- Treasury (Hazine Koğuşu)
With exhibits including the jewel-encrusted Topkapı Dagger (below) and the amazing 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond, the Topkapı Treasury may be the most ostentatious collection of wealth ever gathered outside of the legendary Aladdin’s cave.
10- Imperial Sofa (Sofa-ı-Hümayun)
The Imperial Sofa was a place to relax, its gardens studded with pavilions built by successive sultans. The finest is the Baghdad Pavilion (Bağdat Köşkü), built by Murat IV in 1639 to celebrate his capture of the city of Baghdad the year before.
Visiting Topkapi Palace – Religious Relics
The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle (Hasoda Koğuşu) contains several of Islam’s holiest relics. Exhibits include hairs from the Prophet’s beard, one of his teeth, two of his swords and the sacred standard used during his military campaigns. The most important relic of all is the Holy Mantle, a plain black camel-hair cloak that the Prophet gave as a present to a poet. Once a year, it was displayed to high officials then doused in water; the drops squeezed from it were sent out as talismans against the plague.
Topkapi Palace Harem
It was an ‘education centre’ and a ‘service temple’. But in the end it was the residential quarters of the Sultan… People are always interested in the unknown, curious about what is hidden. This is valid as much for things in our proximity, as for mysteries hidden in the depths of history. We always want to know more, to see what is behind closed doors. And, the more blurry the dusty pages of history are, the greater are the speculations about them. One of the best examples of this is the Topkapı Palace Harem, also known as Darüssaade. This place being the Sultan’s private space; it was not allowed to reveal what was happening inside. However, the more things were kept secret; all the more stories were invented about it. Hence, it became the subject on which the greatest variety of rumours was being produced, in the past as in the present. But now, let us set aside fantasies and look at the facts of the harem…
The word harem is derived from the Arabic word “harim” meaning confidential. The Ottoman rulers lived with their families in the Topkapı Palace Harem, from the 16th century until the beginning of the 19th century. Since its structures reflect the various periods in terms of architectural styles, the complex gained gr eat importance with regard to the history of Ottoman architecture. The Harem, standing out from this angle among its existing counterparts in other Islamic palaces, was built at the second courtyard and rear gardens of the Topkapı Palace and expanded over the centuries. It was carefully hidden and separated from the “selamlık” (the quarters reserved for men) and the administrative sections of the palace, through very high walls. The complex includes more than three hundred rooms, nine baths, two mosques, a hospital, dormitories, and laundry rooms. The overall structure of the present configuration, resulting from successive renovations and expansions carried out over a time span of several centuries, can be summarized as a succession of courtyards lined up one after another. Dormitories, rooms, villas and service buildings are situated behind the entrance doors placed around these courtyards. The gate separating the main part of the harem, i.e. the actual living quarters of women, from the section of eunuchs situated right at the entrance, is called the Imperial Gate, the Main Entrance or the Sultanate Door.
The Imperial Gate opens up on the watch posts area binding the three main sections of the harem. The side walls of the guard station are covered with the famous cypress tile panels typical of the Topkapi Palace Harem. It consists o f a domed platform surrounded by an arcade, with on its left side, the door to the Co ncubines Hallway and Concubines and Kadı (Muslim judges) Masters Patio, on its middle, the door to the Sultan Mother Patio and, on its right side, the door leading to the Sultan’s Quarters through the Golden Path. The Patio of the Concubines and Matrons is the smallest courtyard of the Harem, built in the mid-16th century along with the courtyard of the eunuchs. The baths, the laundry fountain, laundry rooms, kitchen and service spaces used by concubines and the apartments of the matrons are located behind the rear porches.Related: Visiting Topkapi Palace ,
The sultan’s mother, wives, children, concubines and eunuchs lived in the harem. Inside, there was a quite animated way of life. Ladies from mainly Crimea, Russia and Circassia were brought here at young age, received a complete education at the palace and, after nine years of service, they were allowed to leave the harem with a certificate of freedom called
“Itıkname” and a nice dowry. Education occupied a primary place at the Harem. Musically gifted ladies were taught to play Turkish music instruments. Some of them like for instance Leyla Saz and Dilhayat Kalfa became even well-known composers of Turkish music. Foreigners were not allowed in here. One exception was British envoy Thomas Daloom, the first
and only foreign guest ever to enter the Topkapı Palace Harem. He came to deliver an organ which was a gift sent by Queen Elizabeth II to the Sultan during the reign of Beyazıd II. Daloom was allowed to enter the Harem in order t o set up the organ there. There are nine big baths at the Harem, equipped with water supp ly and plumbing systems of great quality, calling for admiration even today. Besides, each room has hot and cold water taps. The Harem is equipped with a multitude of doors. Doors disguise d as wardrobe doors often open up onto other rooms or courtyards. This can be regar ded as a security-related architectural detail. On the wall facing the Masters Mosque, there were windows overlooking the prayer room so that women were able to perform the “namaz” (Moslem praying ritual) by following the imam during prayer hour from those windows. Another interesting detail concerning the Harem is the fact that it was a very quiet place notwithstanding the great number of people living in this big a nd bustling place. It was bad manners to raise the voice at the harem. Everything was done in a respectful and quiet manner. A silent form of communication through eyes’ contact and eye brow signs was common practice.
All the furnishings in the Harem were very valuable. Almost every item of art was a sophisticated product. For example, there is a poem in Persian on the back of a mirror from 1520, declaring that onlookers will become one with the mirror. Topkapı Palace Harem inspired many books and films. Against the backdrop of all the military and political struggles, we are interested in the most subtle aspects of life within human history. To acknowledge that the Sultan was ultimately a human being, we like to see the silverware he used, to walk on the marble stair she climbed etc. Hence, the Harem will always continue to intrigue and radiate its charm.Related: Visiting Topkapi Palace ,
Who was the head of the harem?
A castrated male called the Master of Girls who was receiving hisorders directly from the sultan and the grand vizier. It would often be an Arab person who grew up in Egypt. A female person called Mistress Treasurer was responsible for the internal discipline of the harem.Related: Visiting Topkapi Palace ,
How were the names of concubines given?
The first thing to do when a concubine arrived at the palace was togive her a new name in harmony with her beauty, character or physical appearance. The name given, sometimes personally by the Sultan, was written on a piece of paper pinned on her garment’s chest in order to be seen and remembered by everybody. Persian names of a poetical nature with beautiful meanings were usually given; such as Çeşm-i Ferâh,Hoşnevâ, Handerû, Ruhisâr, Neş’e-yâb and Nergiz-edâ.Related: Visiting Topkapi Palace ,
Which sultan abolished the harem and for which reason?
Sultan Vahdettin decided to abolish the Harem deemed no longer compatible with the lifestyles of the modern epoch. He provided material support to those living at the harem at that time, to enable them to continue their lives outside.Related: Visiting Topkapi Palace ,