Today one of Turkey’s major tourist attractions, Topkapi Palace was the official and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 of their 624 year reign. This sprawling 175 acre complex once accommodated a community of four thousand people and is home to the most holy relics of the Muslim world. Throughout the years the complex has been expanded with many renovations done after an earthquake in 1509 as well as a fire in 1665. The palace is full of amazing examples of Ottoman architecture and its hundreds of rooms and champers house large collections of porcelain, weapons, robes, armor, murals and much more. In 1924, after the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government transformed Topkapi Palace into a museum of the imperial era.
One of the first sights during a visit to the palace is the amazing imperial gate. This massive stone gate dates back to 1478 and is covered in 19th century marble. Make sure to take a peek at the beautiful gilded ottoman calligraphy that decorates the top of the structure. The gates high-domed passage in its central arch takes visitors into the first of four courtyards. The First Courtyard is home to the former Imperial mint, the Byzantine church of Hagia Irene as well as a variety of fountains. As the palace grew, each courtyard that was added became more and more exclusive culminating in the majestic Fourth Courtyard, the sultan’s private courtyard. Each of these amazing courtyards is loaded with Ottoman history for visitors discover. The Second Courtyard was a park full of peacocks and gazelles and dates back to the reign of Suleyman I. The Tower of Justice is a hard to miss highlight of this courtyard, it is the tallest structure in the palace and was originally constructed around 1530. The Second Courtyard is also home to the Imperial Council building, where state officials held meetings and the Imperial Treasury Arms Collection, a magnificent collection of Islamic arms spanning 1,300 years from the 7th to the 20th century. The Third Courtyard, also called the Inner Palace, is the heart of the palace and where the sultan spent his time when he was not in the harem. Roughly the same size as the Second Courtyard, it is home to the largest mosque in the palace, the Mosque of the Agas. Other highlights of the courtyard include the Imperial Treasury, which exhibits a vast collection of art and jewelry within the same rooms used to store them during the Ottoman dynasty as well as the Miniature and Portrait Gallery whose lower floor houses a collection of important calligraphies and miniatures and higher floor displays thirty seven portraits of different sultans. The Fourth Courtyard, also known as the Imperial Sofa, features numerous pavilions, kiosks, gardens and terraces. The Grand Kiosk, added in 1840, was the last major addition to the palace and is an amazing structure giving panoramic view on the Sea of Marmara. Right next to the Grand Kiosk is a popular high-end restaurant that has been visited by the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Richard Nixon, Mohammed Ali and many others. The Fourth Courtyard is a popular place for tourists to take beautiful pictures of the sea and the city.
There is also the Harem, which features amazing examples of various architectural styles from the 16th century through the early 19th century. It was home to hundreds of concubines and features nearly 300 rooms, 9 hamams, 2 mosques and even a hospital. Topkapi Palace Museum also houses a variety of interesting and educational temporary and permanent exhibits. One of the most famous artifacts housed at Topkapi Palace is the Topkapi dagger, a magnificent dagger covered in massive emeralds. Another highlight is the amazing throne of Selim I which is adorned with over 25,000 precious stones. Topkapi Palace is part of the “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1985. It is open from Wednesdays through Mondays from 9 AM to 7 PM. Tickets for the museum will cost you around $13; visiting the harem requires an additional ticket that runs about $10.
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