Topkapı Palace - History and Facts | History Hit

Topkapı Palace

Cankurtaran, Marmara Region, Turkey

Topkapı Palace is a fifteenth century former residence of the Ottoman Sultans and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Image Credit: Ruslan Kalnitsky / Shutterstock

About Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace (Topkapi Sarayi) was the seat and residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.

History of the Topkapi Palace

Construction of Topkapı Palace began in 1459 under the orders of Sultan Mehmed II following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Built in a traditional Ottoman style, Topkapi Palace measured a staggering 700,000 metres squared in volume upon its construction, made up of a series of courtyards, the main palace and several ancillary buildings. It’s thought it was completed in the mid/late 1460s – the luxurious, private residence reflected the power of the Ottoman empire.

The Palace was a focal point of Istanbul’s social and political life and once housed over four thousand people as well as a hospital, mosques and a mint. The Sultan’s harem alone contained over 400 rooms in which to house his wives and concubines.

Due to a series of fires and earthquakes, Topkapi Palace has undergone several reconstructions and renovations, but its historical origins are still visible throughout. It remained the court of Ottoman Sultans until 1853, when Sultan Abdül Mecid I moved it to Dolmabahçe Palace and it finally became a museum in 1924, which it has remained since. Today, it reflects the opulence and power of the Ottoman Court in its heyday.

The Topkapi Palace today

The palace is a popular tourist destination today, with visitors flocking to see its Ottoman architecture, courtyards and Muslim and Christian relics, even including the belongings of the Prophet Mohammed. Keep an eye out for the impressive collection of Chinese celadon porcelain favoured the emperors, not just for its quality but because it was meant to change colour if touched by poison – an ongoing fear for those in power.

The Harem is well worth the cost of the extra ticket. Whilst it’s thought to be a place of debauchery and sex today, the reality was more mundane – the harem (which literaly means forbidden or private) was the quarters of the Sultan and his family. The Sultan could take up to 4 wives according to the law, and the harem was governed by his mother, the valide sultan, who kept the rigid meritocracy firmly in place. It’s a great place to transport your imagination back in time to a world alien and exotic to modern life.

The palace is closed on Tuesdays. Audio guides are available and are worth hiring if you’re interested in the palace’s history.. The lush gardens in the middle are particularly lovely during the summer months.

Getting to the Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace is in old Istanbul, not far from Hagia Sophia. The nearest tram stop is Gülhane istasyonu (T1 line) which is roughly a 5 minute walk away. If you’re coming by taxi, you’ll want to be dropped on Gülhane Parki as the area round the palace is pedestrianised. It’s a short walk (5-10 minutes) from Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque if you’re in the area, and the next door Gülhane Park makes for a nice afternoon stroll.

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