Topkapi Palace in Historical Peninsula, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace is a magnificent oriental palace that is situated on a triangular promontory dominating the Bosphorus & Golden Horn in Istanbul. It was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 15th century to mid-19th century. Topkapi Palace is one of the best palaces in Istanbul worth a visit and see. It is also one of the best places to see in Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace Highlights...

- In Topkapi Palace, you will find the finest samples of seal, book binding, jewellery and box craftsmanship. Inscriptions should not be forgotten. The Palace was supporting all these arts.

- In the Treasury Department, discover the Kasikci Diamond, the famous Topkapi Dagger, the box of the Divan of Sultan Murad III, sultan badges, Ottoman helmets and jade ink.

- The tallest hackberry tree in Istanbul is found in front of Bab-üs Selam gate of Topkapi, by the historic sycamore tree. The hackberry is 5.57 meters long from top to bottom, and 3.39 meters at chest level. This, and the 3.50 meter-long hackberry in the garden of Tiled Kiosk right below the Palace, both survive from the Ottoman era.

- Topkapi Palace is said to have sycamores 500 years old. The oldest one is in the second courtyard just by the fountain to the left. Its circumference is 10 meters and has a huge cavity inside.

Topkapi Palace is open each day except Tuesdays 9am - 5pm. Harem requires a separate ticket. , Tel: 0212-512 04 80

Topkapi Palace was in use for 350 years and it was meant to be the idol of the East. Topkapi Palace is an outstanding collection of buildings that are built in different times and is surrounded by a garden and an outer wall.Today Topkapi Palace is one of world's richest museums. The former imperial kitchen houses the world's finest collection of Chinese porcelain and there is a display of the Sultans' costumes. The Treasury is a breathtaking blaze of jewels. Emeralds, rubies and diamonds adorn turban crests, swords and even tea cups and there are golden thrones encrusted with gems and satins embroidered with seed pearls. The Baghdad Kosk (Pavilion) is very beautifully decorated with blue tiles with a sanctuary containing relics of the Prophet Mohammed. There are also exhibitions of paintings and manuscripts. Finally, the outstanding Harem, where all the wives and concubines of the sultans were lived.

In Küçükerman’s words, “Topkapi Palace was a giant design centre built upon an identity based in the East,” because each sultan created his own institutional identity. De facto employees of this centre were the Ahl-i Hiref, a special team of Grand Bazaar artisans and Ottoman craftsmen. Their talents were directed at the Eastern arts and they created many prototypes in the Topkapi Palace. For instance, when the sultan needed a new dress, Ahl-i Hiref would design a prototype for approval, and then it would be sent to the Bursa looms, for Bursa was the city where Ottoman silk fabrics were produced. Palace designs quickly became fashion trends and enlivened the economy. So Topkapi Palace may be called a product catalogue. As Küçükerman puts it, “The most obvious sign of this situation is that every piece in the Palace is unique. Nothing compares to another. If a place is filled with singular pieces, that place is a research laboratory.

Sultan’s bedroom

Now that we are well informed, we might move on to visit the Palaces. This will be an expedition. We will discover details and objects you have not known about or paid attention to. The Harem is whole different world. Having seen love, intrigue and jealousy, the Harem was a close witness to the Ottoman history. One of the most beautiful rooms of the Harem is the Privy Chamber of Murad III, designed and built by Architect Sinan in 1578. Decorated with blue and red tiles, the sultan’s private room reflects the whole glory of the 16th century. These tiles were never used elsewhere. I also suggest you to look up at the dome. It has marvellous classical patterns. Right in front of the veiled copper hearth is a built-in marble fountain with three levels. The water still runs, bringing echoes from the past. Back in the time, it would be left open to prevent outsiders from hearing what is spoken inside. The mother of pearl inlaid cabinets and the best examples of wooden doors also attract attention.

Three centuries, three rooms
If you would like to compare three centuries of the Ottomans, you should visit three rooms in the Harem: Sultan’s Sofa, Privy Chamber of Ahmet I and the Dining Room of Ahmet III. Built by Sinan at the request of Murad III at the end of 16th century, Sultan’s Sofa is the largest and most impressive room in the Harem. Ahmet I’s private chambers reflect the 17th century.

The Dining Room, built between 1705 and 1706 on the orders of Ahmed III, is also known as the Fruit Room because of the paintings of plates full of flowers or fruits on the walls. It reflects the most brilliant era of a new style in the Ottoman decorative arts.

Trio of porcelain, carpet, glass
The size and significance of the carpets and ceilings of the Palace had to match one another. Carpets had been produced for Anatolian families until then, but now with Topkapi Palace, Istanbul had a brand new concept of Palace carpets. Artisans working at the Palace developed exclusive designs beyond the traditional.

The best samples of Eastern glassworks are also found in Topkapi Palace, the imperial centre of glaziers.

Always look up when you are inside the palace, because you will be greeted by the ‘Light at the Top’ according to the time of day: “500-year old windows of this palace created the concept of Light at the Top. That light was reflected through the stained glass windows on the domes. At first they were made with few small pieces of coloured glass. Dried in small glass furnaces, these small glass plates were glazed with great technical difficulties.

Light at the Top brought a new dimension into spatial design”, writes Küçükerman. The dome of the sultan’s bath, the entrance of the Harem, Mother Queen’s Sofa, Sultan’s Sofa, Circumcision Room and Corridor of Harem Aghas are the parts in which you can see the Light at the Top.

According to Küçükerman, Topkapi Palace has a Chinese porcelain collection of 10,700 pieces: “In the times when they did not have glass, the Palace used chinaware. The Palace has items that still have tags on them. Some others were broken, but they were so valuable that the broken pieces were not thrown away. Court artisans used them later on to make censers, etc.”

The tiles of Topkapi Palace lay before your eyes the entire period of Ottoman tile art in bulk before your eyes. Built by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1472, The Tiled Kiosk is a monumental building. Today it stands in the garden of the Archaeology Museum. Another structure with the best quality tiles of the second half of 16th century is the H›rka-i Saadet Room. The walls of the Circumcision Room, dated 1640, are also decorated with tiles belonging to various periods.

Charmed shirts
Among the most popular collections of Topkapi Palace are the charmed or ‘curative’ shirts. The collection consists of nearly 100 pieces including 87 charmed shirts, one attached collar, five caps and 100 inscribed cloths. Before they went to the battlefield, sultans wore under their armours these shirts that had the Koran section on Conquest encrypted. Believed to protect from all evil and heal the sick, the ‘charmed shirts’ embody history itself. The shirts were first mentioned in the Joseph Section of the Koran. The text tells of a shirt Joseph gave his brothers to send to his father, Jacob. When Jacob held the shirt to his face, his eyes, which were blinded of crying, healed. Another version of the story is that when Prophet Abraham was to be thrown into the fire, Gabriel came down with a shirt from Heaven and made him wear it, and so no fire or coldness affected him. Abraham left the shirt to his son Isaac, and Isaac left it to Jacob, and Jacob put the shirt secretly into an amulet for Joseph. When his jealous brothers threw Joseph into a well, Gabriel took the shirt out of his charm and made him wear it. The oldest shirt of the collection is that of Sultan Cem. The inscriptions on the shirts are mostly written in geometric figures or as plain lines. Some shirts have squares, rectangles, diamond shapes, circles, half circles, triangles drawn on them; these are divided into smaller sections in which numbers or letters are written. These are samples of the Abjad writing system used for isopsephy (i.e. assigning numeric values to individual letters). Any verse of the Koran was thus encrypted onto the shirt.

Topkapi Palace is where the oldest known Eastern identity was further developed against the West, and also where important industrial decisions to facilitate this quest were taken.” Carpets and sofas have superiority in the Palace. Have you ever noticed that the Palace does not have stairs or furniture? Topkapi is the palace of nature, built among the sounds of birds, horses, people and the wind. As you walk through, you are accompanied by quietness or birdsong.

You hear the clip clops of horseshoes from afar. As Istanbul was adorned with the glory of all Eastern buildings combined in this single-storey Palace, the West was going through the Industrial Revolution. Topkapi was no exception in getting its share. The winds of change had already begun to blow during the reign of Selim III, making it necessary to build Dolmabahçe Palace. “Dolmabahçe too is a catalogue of identities established to bring 1850’s industrial revolution to Turkey”, remarks Küçükerman.

by AYSE DURAL - Photos by ALI KONYALI - Istanbul 2010 ECOC Agency

Topkapi Palace Visitor Information
Opening hours:
open btwn 09.30-17.00 except Tuesdays
Phone: (0212) 512 04 80

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