One of the most popular attractions and most visited museum in Turkey, Topkapi Palace, was built by Sultan Mehmed II in 1478 as the seat of government and the original name is Saray-I Cedid which means the New Palace as it is the second palace built in Istanbul by the Ottomans after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
With its four courtyards, today it is the second largest palace complex in the World covering an overall area of 700,000 square meters. In the first courtyard there is an old Byzantine church built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, Hagia Irene, which is being used as a concert hall for special occasions today. Next to it there is the imperial mint, for centuries gold and silver coins minted there, is closed to visitors at the moment. As you move forward you will reach the monumental gate of Topkapi palace ‘’ Bab-I Selam’’ with two high towers on its sides. This gate is where the museum starts today.
Remember to look up as you move with the crowds not to miss the beautiful 19th century Rococo ceiling. After you pass the counters on your right side you will see the imperial kitchens, for a long time was the largest kitchen in Europe, where the precious Chinese and Japanese porcelains are exhibited now. During the Ottoman era every single day about 5000 people were fed from these kitchens, and once every three months on the payday of soldiers they cooked for 15000 soldiers and served them in this courtyard. Across from the kitchens there is a very intricate hall where the Viziers, we can call them Ministers today, had meetings four days a week starting early in the morning till noon without the Sultan. That’s right, Sultan did not join these meetings but it is said he was listening to them from a window opening to this hall.
And behind the Imperial hall we have the legendary Harem, there is an extra charge for Harem, be aware. Harem is like a big maze where Sultan, his mother, his wives, his kids and their servants lived. But unfortunately in the Western World Harem is misunderstood. They always imagined that Sultan had some affairs with all the women in the Harem which is definitely wrong. Most of them were just servants, nothing more. Same thing in the White House in United States now: Do we know how many women work there? And can we say President Obama is having some sort of affairs with all of them? Of course not, they are just doing their job. Anyway, you should know that those 1001 nights’ stories are just stories, fairy tales or maybe phantasies of some guys.
In the third courtyard we have the highlights of Topkapi palace; treasury and Holy relics. Even though the relics here are the most important ones in the whole World not so many people are aware of them. I hope after I publish this article, this will change. I am sure most of you have seen the movie ‘’ TOPKAPI’’ a long time ago and still remembers the dagger with emeralds. It is still in the treasury and shining.
As for the Holy Relics, here is what we got there;
- 01The sword of David
- 02The staff of Moses
- 03The turban of joseph
- 04The cooker of Abraham
- 05The arm and the skull of John the Baptist
- 06The robes of Mohammad
- 07The old keys and locks of Holy Kaaba in Mecca
- 08The sword of Mohammad and many more important objects are kept and exhibited in this section of the museum.
People always ask me how these relics ended up here, and my answer to that question is; they were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years and they were in the possession of Caliph of Islam Mutevekkil, an Abbasid caliph ruled in Egypt and surrounding countries, and when Sultan Selim I conquered most of middle east and north Africa in 1517, The Ottomans took over the relics and brought them to Istanbul. And later on some more were sent by other Islamic countries around the World and since 1517 they are in Topkapi palace and 24 hours a day, seven days a week Koran is being resided in this section of the palace as a sign of respect and devotion. Wearing inappropriate clothes, filming and photography are strictly forbidden.
The last courtyard is maybe the most scenic place in the World. One side is facing the Golden horn, and the other side is facing the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus.
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