One of the most astounding and popular places to visit in İstanbul is Topkapı Palace, the symbolic and political centre of the Ottoman Empire in between the 15th and 19th centuries. It stands on the tip of land where the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the İstanbul strait come together, and is a maze of buildings centered around a series of courtyards, typical of Islamic tradition. Such is the complexity of each building, it will take many hours in order to be explored properly.
It was built in between 1466 and 1478, a couple of years before the death of Fatih. Unlike any European Palace, its architecture is predominantly Middle Eastern in character. The initial construction was Cinili Mansion, a Glass Palace finished in 1472, and the imposing main gate facing Sultanahmet, Bab-I Humayun, and the Palace ramparts, were completed in 1478.
There were originally 750 residents of the Palace, during Fatih’s period, which became drastically more congested reaching 5000 during normal days and 10,000 during festivals. Extensions had to be built, and the harem was completed in 1595 during the third Sultan Murad’s era, after which the harem residents were moved in from the palace at Beyazit, with a total of 474 concubines. Special tours of the Harem are available. The Harem, literally meaning “forbidden” in Arabic, was the suite of apartments in the palace belonging to the wives, concubines and children of the head of the household.
Around the Harem there were, Circumcision Room, the apartments of the Chief Black Eunuch, and apartments of the sultan – in total over 400 rooms. Other highlights in the Palace are the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (the fourth largest diamond in the world), the Topkapi Dagger, (a gift from Mahmut I), a vast collection of paintings and miniatures, and the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle (including a footprint, a tooth and a hair of the Prophet Mohammed).
Opening hours: Daily 09.00 – 17.00, winter closed Tuesday.
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