All about TOPKAPI PALACE
Topkapi Palace is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist sites, and understandably so. Serving as the main residence to the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856), the palace is today part of Istanbul’s UNESCO World Heritage site. The sprawling structure comprises four main courtyards and numerous smaller buildings. The palace doubles as a museum, which holds vast collections, from arms and weapons to European, Japanese and Chinese porcelain; silverware to sultan portraits and caftans; plus significant Muslim sacred relics. The palace museum was visited by over 3.3 million people in 2013, making it the most visited site in all of Istanbul last year. (Hagia Sofia came in a very close second with 3.2 million).
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Topkapi Palace is open between November 1 and April 15 from 9 am to 4:45 pm (ticket booths close at 4pm), and from April 15 to November 1 between 9 am to 6:45 pm (ticket booths close at 6pm). The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Photography is not permitted inside the exhibition halls. Pushchairs are also prohibited. Visitors to the Sacred Relics Department should be dressed appropriately: those wearing shorts, mini-skirts, tank tops, or strapless clothing will be denied admission.
Topkapı Palace is accessible via Marmaray train service or T1 tram line. If you are taking Marmaray, Sirkeci is the nearest station to the Museum. From Sirkeci station, follow the path to the Gülhane Park entrance of the palace. By tram (line T1), Gülhane station and Sultanahmet station are the closest; both are just a short walk from one of the palace entrances.
Topkapi Palace is built on a hillside, accessible either through Gulhane Park which is a public park or through Sultanahmet neighborhood. We would recommend wearing comfortable shoes and clothes as you will have to walk a long way through the palace’s courtyards.
Topkapi Palace has 4 courtyards and a Harem section. During summer the weather can be very hot but it is not too hard to find a shade around the Palace. There is a cafe and a restaurant in the first courtyard, another cafe in the third courtyard and a restaurant in the fourth courtyard that you may rest.
TOPKAPI PALACE WALKING TOUR
One of the best ways to experience the former royal residence is to join one of our local scholars on a walking tour of Topkapi Palace. On any given day our focus may tend toward the architecture and symbolism of the complex, toward the political history of the Ottomans, or toward daily life in the court, owing to the area of expertise of our docent and the interests of the group. Regardless of our course—and, often, we pursue many—the palace itself provides the textbook and background for this fascinating exploration of Ottoman history.
TOPKAPI PALACE FOR CHILDREN
Visiting Istanbul with your children and want to arrange a tour that is fun and educational? Our Sultan’s Way walking seminar is designed for families traveling with children under 12 years of age. Our three-hour, child-friendly walking seminar will take your family on an exciting journey through this sprawling complex as we get a first-hand glimpse into Ottoman court life. Using the Sultan as our main character, we will weave a story about his life within the Topkapi Palace in order to gain a greater understanding of the space.
In addition to the four courtyards, the Harem is a huge building, itself set around a courtyards, and consists of hundreds of rooms. It was the living space of the sultan, his mother (who ascended to the title of Queen Mother), his women, children, brothers, sisters, servants, concubines, plus the protectors of the Harem (typically eunuchs). The word “Harem” can refer both to the sultan’s family, and the space where they lived. The Harem building was developed and expanded over the centuries, and contains well-restored and ornately furnished spaces such as the prestigious Queen Mother Apartments and Concubines Corridor.
The Audience Chamber, also known as the House of Petitions (Arzhane), holds a number of relics of the Prophet Mohammed, including a piece from his tooth, hair from his beard and his swords and bow. These relics, among others, are known collectively as the Sacred Trusts. The Koran is recited continuously by a mufti, and Islamic scholar, in this room. Other rooms with sacred relics include the Destimal Chamber (Abraham’s Pot, Joseph’s Turban, Moses’s Staff, David’s Sword, scrolls belonging to John, and Muhammad’s footprint), Şadırvanlı Sofa (keys to the Kaaba, the gutters of the Kaaba, the Door of Repentance, and the swords of Muhammad’s companions) and the Chamber of the Blessed Mantle.
Avlu: Means courtyard. Topkapi Palace consists of 4 courtyards.
Babüsselam: The great door which links the 1st Avlu to the 2nd. Only the sultan was allowed to go inside this door on the horseback.
Cülus: The coronation ceremony of the Ottoman Sultan
Hazine: The imperial treasury.
Harem-i Humayun: The space where Sultan’s family, concubines, servants and Eunuchs live.
TOPKAPI PALACE TIMELINE
1453 – Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmed II found the imperial Byzantine Great Palace of Constantinople largely in ruins. The Ottoman court initially set itself up in the Old Palace (Eski Sarayı), today the site of Istanbul University.
1459 – Sultan Mehmed II ordered construction of Topkapi Palace which was referred to as the New Palace after finding it to be a better location than the Old Palace.
1460s – Accounts differ as to when construction of the inner core of the palace started and was finished. Kritovoulos gives the dates 1459-1465; other sources suggest a finishing date in the late 1460s.
1509 – earthquake destroyed part of palace, underwent major renovations
1520-1560 – Reign of Sultan Suleiman. With the rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman wanted its growing power and glory to be reflected in his residence, and new buildings were constructed or enlarged. The chief architect in this period was the Persian Alaüddin, also known as Acem Ali. He was also responsible for the expansion of the Harem.
1574 & 1665 – Istanbul is known for its great fires through its history. 2 great fires destroyed parts of the palace including the kitchens, which were renovated and expanded, as were the Harem, baths, the Privy Chamber and various pavilions.
1924 – In the late 19th century Dolmabahce Palace is started to be used as a residence as a new palace. After the establishment of The Republic of Turkey, Topkapi Palace was transformed by new government into a museum of the imperial era, administered by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
1985 – given UNESCO World Heritage status as one of the “Historic Areas of Istanbul”
2013 – the Harem received one million visitors for the first time in its history