Topkapi Palace is one of those tourist attractions that you can’t miss in Istanbul. But why? What are we going to find there?
A little bit of background
Istanbul was conquered Istanbul by Mehmet the Conqueror who order to build it in 1460. It only took 18 years to finish, later each sultan enlarged it and built more rooms into the palace. This surface of 700000 square meters is located on the peninsula that joins the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn. It is not by chance, as from here you can control all maritime traffic. The Palace, besides being home of the sultans for almost four centuries was also and an administrative building where viziers and foreign emissaries were listened to.
Just as we said when we talked about Dolmabahçe Palace, the last 6 sultans of the Ottoman Empire did not live in Topkapi, but it was preserved as a historical palace. Once the empire was ousted and with the beginning of the Turkish Republic in 1924, Topkapi turned into the museum that it is today with an extension of 400000 square meters.
Distribution of the palace
The palace, located just behind Hagia Sophia Museum, has four big courtyards with its well-maintained gardens. In the first courtyard (where you’ll find the ticket office) there is Hagia Irene’s Church. Once you cross the gate with your ticket in hand you’ll be on the Justice Square, here there are administrative buildings, the kitchens and the entrance to the harem. You’ll be able to buy your audio guides here too. Cross the next gate towards the third courtyard where there are dormitories, the palace of hearings or the library and the Aghas’ mosque. In the last courtyard, there are small kiosks, some with sofas and a great view to the Marmara, all surrounded by gardens and fountains. One thing that stood out was the Room of Circumcision for the princes, all decorated and similar to the rest, we had to read the sign twice.
In many of these buildings, there are exhibitions of objects and utensils used in those times (but before you go, check which areas are open) for example the jewelry, the dresser, or the kitchen. In those areas photograph is forbidden, so you’ll have to see them for yourself, those china or crystal crockery, those brass pots, and those jewels…
The Harem or the family home
The Harem is probably the most interesting area. The harem is just the family area where not everyone had access to. The entrance is just by the Tower of Justice, on the left wall of the second courtyard. The sultan could legally have up to four wives but he could have up to 300 concubines in the harem. These concubines were educated in the palace both Islamic and about the culture, the tradition, and the Turkish language; and they were promoted from sitters of the sultans, later ladies of the Mother of the Sultan’s court (lacking a better word for it) and if the sultan thought they were talented and attractive enough they could be Sultan’s concubines as we understand this term. But not all 300 will get to that position obviously, they were mostly in charge of taking care of the sultan and his family’s needs and desires.
The harem was ruled by the Mother of the Sultan and she could give orders even to viziers, she influence in decisions such as the wives of the sultan or in state matters. The harem had 6 floors but you can only visit one of them today. You’ll see that there is an area reserved for the black eunuchs brought from Egypt and in charge of guarding the doors and wait for the women in the harem. We were surprised to see a small counter where, according to the sign, the eunuchs left the food coming from the kitchen or the laundry. From there the concubines took charge of it. While you are walking around the harem you’ll see the rooms the sultans built for themselves; or the prices apartments.
Costs (October 2016):
Entrance to the Museum: 40TL
Entrance to the Harem: 25 TL
Joint ticket: 65TL (yes, I also had to look twice to make sure there was no discount)