Topkapi Palace Museum (Topkapı Sarayı) In Istanbul
The Topkapi Palace Museum is one of the must-visit tourist attractions in all of Istanbul. Located east of the Fatih District, the modern-day museum once served as the main palace for Istanbul’s rulers. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Topkapi Palace was home to the Ottoman sultans who ruled from the immense dwelling.
As a museum, the Topkapi Palace is one of world’s richest in terms of the items on show. Travelers from all over the globe visit the Topkapi Museum today and it is ranked highly as a tourist attraction thanks to its wealth of priceless artefacts. The palace museum is situated on a promontory that looks out over the Bosphorus River and Golden Horn. The palace’s oriental design is immediately eye-catching and is considered one of the greatest pieces of architecture in all of Europe and Asia.
The museum displays the Ottoman Empire’s imperial collections. There is also an extensive range of books and manuscripts kept in the museum’s library. The museum opened in 1924 just a year after the Republic of Turkey was founded. Along with displaying a priceless collection of artefacts that showcase Turkey’s history pre-republic, the museum is notable for its architecture and material on the Ottoman Empire’s history and culture.
The History of the Topkapi Palace Museum
The Topkapi Palace was home to around 30 sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Its construction began in 1459 after Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror ordered a new palace be built. Initially called the New Palace, it was later renamed Topkapi which means Cannon Gate.
The palace was very different when it was originally finished. Over the years, its size expanded after renovations were carried out. Natural disasters damaged the palace over the centuries and each time it was renovated following these issues, the size increased.
The Topkapi Palace was an important place for around four centuries. In all, the Ottoman Empire ruled for around 600 years. The importance of the palace was high during that time and it was a centerpiece of Mehmed the Conqueror’s rule (and others) shortly after taking over Constantinople (Istanbul). Mehmed the Conqueror moved into the finished Topkapi Palace in 1478, nearly 20 year after construction began. He died in 1481 leaving his palace to the future rulers of the Ottoman Empire.
With each new sultan came expansion of the Topkapi Palace. Thanks to the different influences and renovations over the centuries, the palace features Ottoman, European, and Islamic architecture ideas and styles. At its height as the palace for the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace could house up to 4,000 people with up to 300 living the harem.
Topkapi Palace Museum Layout
The original layout of the palace consisted of four courtyards with high walls on each side. Those courtyards and walls still remain today. The courtyards had different purposes and each had restricted entry courtesy of a gate that separated them. Of the four courtyards, the third and fourth were the most private.
The palace’s buildings that still stand are mostly low. They are one to two stories tall. The functions and usefulness of each building changed over the centuries and with each subsequent sultan. Females lived in the harem portion of the complex, which could house up to 300 women. The harem was the area of the palace complex for female members of the Sultan’s family as well as female slaves and concubines. There was also the Grand Vizier, which was a meeting place inside the Imperial Council building.
The complex has three large main gates. These include the Imperial Gate, Gate of Salutation and Gate of Felicity. There are also multiple gardens to explore around the palace complex, including the Royal Gardens.
What happened to the Topkapi Palace?
The palace was key to the Ottoman Empire for around 400 years. However, in the 17th century, the Topkapi Palace slowly lost its importance amongst the sultans. By that time, the palace was no longer “new” and the sultans preferred to live in newer buildings that had been constructed along the Bosphorus River.
In 1856, Sultan Abdulmejid moved the residence to the Dolmabahçe Palace, which had recently been built. Along with moving there personally, Sultan Abdulmejid took the imperial court with him. While the sultan and others no longer lived in the Topkapi Palace, it still held various functions and remained the empire’s treasury, mint, and library.
What is inside the Topkapi Palace Museum?
On a tour of the Topkapi Palace Museum, you will see a fine selection of seals, jewelry, inscriptions, and other handcrafted goods. Inside the imperial kitchen is a collection of Chinese porcelain. It is considered one of the finest collections in the entire world.
You will also see the costumes worn by the different sultans that lived in the palace.
Inside the treasury portion of the building is a large collection of jewels, including diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. These jewels are adorned to swords, thrones, and turbans.
The harem is one of the most famous parts of the Topkapi Palace and a portion of the museum that is much-visited by guests. The Hagia Irene Church, a museum and a center of cultural activities and displays, is located in the first courtyard of the palace. To visit the Hagia Irene Church and harem, you must purchase separate tickets.
Finally, the Baghdad Pavilion is a beautiful part of the complex with its decorative blue tiles. It is home to a collection of relics from the Prophet Mohammed. There are also paintings and manuscripts inside.
Visiting the Topkapi Palace Museum in 2023
You can buy tickets to visit the Topkapi Palace Museum ahead of time. By doing so, you avoid waiting in long queues to purchase tickets at the admissions window. Waits can be up to two hours to get a ticket for entry on a busy day.
The museum is open from Wednesday to Monday each week, 9:00 AM to 6:45 PM. The museum closes on Tuesdays. Full ticket (with Harem part and Haghia Irene church) is 650 TL.