Topkapi Palace and Museum

Topkapi Palace was home to all the Ottoman sultans for nearly four centuries. Construction of the “New Palace” as it was called, began in 1459, six years after the conquest of Constantinople, on the orders of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The complex, which currently consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings, expanded significantly over the years, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and 1665 fire.

Visitors pass through the Imperial Gate to enter the First Court, also known as the Parade Court. The Middle Gate then leads to the Second Court, which was used for running the empire. On the left (west) side of the Second Court is the ornate Imperial Council Chamber (Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn). The council met here to discuss matters of state, and the sultan sometimes eavesdropped through the gold grille high in the wall. The Outer Treasury, which displays an impressive collection of Ottoman and European arms and armor, is to the north of the Imperial Council Chamber.

On the western side of the Second Court, beneath the Tower of Justice, is the entrance to the Harem, which translates to ‘forbidden’ or ‘private.’ This is where the sultan’s over 300 concubines lived. Young girls were brought to the Harem and schooled in Islam, Turkish culture and language, as well as fashion, music, art and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan’s concubines and children, and then to the valide sultan (mother of the sultan) who ruled the harem. Only the women who were extremely beautiful and talented were introduced to the sultan himself. The Harem also housed the imperial family quarters.

During the reign of Abdulmejid I (1839-1860), Topkapi gradually lost importance, as the imperial family and the court, except the imperial treasury, library and mint, moved to the newly constructed Dolmabahçe Palace. In 1924, after the end of the Ottoman empire, Topkapi was converted into a museum. The key sights in the museum today are the Harem and the treasury, which houses the Spoonmaker’s Diamond and the Topkapi Dagger. Other sights include some clothing, weapons, armor and manuscripts from the Ottoman era.


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