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Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was the main residence of 25 sultans of the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries. Once upon a time the entire political and governmental life of the country raged here.

In Topkapi Palace the most important decisions were made, negotiations were held with ambassadors from all over the world, military and economic alliances were made. The Turkish sultans not only lived here, but also worked here.

History of Topkapi Palace

“Topkapi” in Turkish means “cannon gate.” The fact is that every time the Sultan left the palace, a cannon was fired. I.e. is the external name of this complex. And for those who had access to the inner chambers, the residence is called the Palace of Tears.

Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror seized Constantinople in the mid-15th century, but first settled in a palace near today’s Bayazed Square, ordering his subjects to begin construction of the Topkapi Palace.

At that time, on the site of the future Sultan’s palace was located the temple of St. John the Baptist. It is one of the oldest in the city. It was not to be destroyed. As construction progressed, the temple simply ended up inside the Topkapi Palace.

Topkapi Palace in Turkey

Turkish historians have divided the history of the palace complex into four stages:

  • In the 1970s of the 15th century the first buildings of Mehmed the Conqueror’s Palace were erected, and it became the official residence of the Sultan.
  • In the 16th century, the harem was moved into the palace, so a major reconstruction was required.
  • In the mid-19th century a new European Baroque palace was built in Istanbul, where the sultan moved.
  • In 1924 a museum was opened in the Topkapi Palace.

The Legends of Khurrem

The palace experienced its best times under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, or more correctly, under his world-famous wife Hürrem, who persuaded the Sultan to move the harem to Topkapi.

Historians believe that Hürrem’s real name is Nastya Lisovskaya. In the 16th century, she was captured by Crimean Tatars in what is now Ukraine, sold to Turkey as a slave, and then presented to the future Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

In the harem, Nastya quickly found friends; they loved her for her cheerful disposition, intelligence, kindness, and quick wit, and gave her a new name, Khurrem, which means “cheerful” in Turkish. In Europe she was called Roxolana.

In the harem there has always been the strictest hierarchy, so it was extremely difficult to become a real wife of the sultan. The beautiful and sociable Hürrem went through all the steps of this hierarchy, winning the Sultan’s heart.

The Magnificent Topkapi Palace in Istanbul - History

Over time, she obtained a status that was higher than that of the sultan’s immediate family. Suleiman the Magnificent had a Muslim marriage with Hurem and after the wedding he did not know any woman but his wife.

Over the years, Hürrem gained enormous weight in the Topkapi Palace, became her husband’s chief advisor, received foreign ambassadors, etc. It is believed that at the end of her life Hürrem was poisoned by her court jealousies.

During the marriage she bore Suleiman the Magnificent many sons, including. heir to the throne of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Selim II. Today, the chambers where Hürrem lived are the most visited by tourists.

Description of Topkapi Palace

The palace complex has everything you need: residential buildings, outbuildings, storerooms, kitchens, Turkish baths, fountain systems, etc. One of the most important buildings in the palace was the sultan’s harem where at least 1,000 of his wives and concubines lived.

Since 1924, Topkapi Palace became a national museum. Today, any resident and guest of Turkey can come here to see the palace artifacts, monuments and sights.

The palace is located on the shore, washed by the waters of the Sea of Marmara. On the map it looks like a rectangle, inside which the harem is highlighted. The entire palace complex is surrounded by a two-tier wall.

Visitors are allowed into the palace, but they can not see everything. Many halls and bedrooms are still not accessible to the general public. But the most magnificent rooms can be viewed in their entirety.

First Yard

First Courtyard of the Topkapi Palace

The tour of the palace begins at the main gate, through which the Turkish sultans entered or left over the centuries. Entering this gate, the tourist enters the first courtyard.

Here you can see the ancient Orthodox Church of St. Irene, the building where the mint used to work, and a large fountain. Next you can enter the Gates of Welcome, through which you get into the Second Courtyard.

Second courtyard

From here you can walk to the palace and see the various administrative buildings where the Council of State, the court, the treasury, the palace kitchens, etc. met during the Ottoman Empire.

Third Yard

Then through the gate of Happiness you can go through the inner Third Courtyard to the palace harem, the most interesting place for tourists. There is also a huge library, a school for Turkish officials.

Here is the throne room, the Sultan’s chambers and the chamber of his treasures. In the Third Courtyard, separated from all others, there is a food chamber which served only the Sultan, the Agalar Mosque, where he went to pray, etc.

The Fourth Yard

Topkapi Palace has several courtyards

After opening the next gate, visitors enter the palace garden. Here the sultans spent a lot of time alone with themselves. Next to the garden is the Sofa terrace, where they were circumcised many years ago.

In the Fourth Courtyard stands the Stone Tower, where the Sultan’s chief physician lived and worked. There is a mosque Sofa, where sultans and his entourage came to pray, as well as a secret underground passage to the sea.

The Treasures of Topkapi Palace

The Treasures of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

For centuries, the sultans of the Ottoman Empire have been collecting jewels obtained in military campaigns, donated or bought in their treasuries. Today you can see it all in the palace.

Topkapi Dagger

It was supposed to be a gift for the Shah of Iran, but the Shah died suddenly, so the dagger remained in the palace treasury. It was used as a murder weapon in the struggle for the throne of the Ottoman Empire.


It is a large diamond set with many smaller diamonds. Legend has it that it was found by a Turkish peasant in a pile of garbage, sold to a jeweler who gave the jewel to the Sultan.

According to another legend, the diamond was purchased in India by a French soldier, then sold by him in his homeland. Eventually the diamond ended up in the hands of Napoleon’s mother, who auctioned it off, where it was purchased by the Vizier Ali Pasha, then Sultan Mahmud II.


In the halls of the Topkapi Palace three thrones are on public display:

  • of the purest gold, formerly belonging to the Shah of Iran;
  • of precious sandalwood with abundant gold inlays;
  • of gold, intended for the accession to the throne of the Empire.


In the palace treasury there are many Islamic shrines:

  • The Banner of the Prophet;
  • The mantle of Muhammad;
  • The Prophet’s Letter;
  • his personal seal, etc.

Opening Hours and Tickets for Topkapi Palace

The opening hours of the museum depend on the season. From November to April – from 09:00 to 17:00, from April to October – from 09:00 to 19:00. The day off is Tuesday and the first day of religious holidays in Turkey. The ticket price for an adult is 40 Turkish Liras.

Excursions to Topkapi Palace

Excursions to Topkapi Palace (Istanbul, Turkey)

Without a tour guide, a trip to the palace would not be as interesting. Guide services can be ordered online, by e-mail, phone, or directly from the palace. You have to pay for his work separately. You can buy an audio guide.

What is forbidden in Topkapi Palace?

You can’t do that here:

  • take pictures inside the exhibition halls;
  • to enter the palace with baby strollers;
  • come to the sacred relics department in revealing clothing.

How to get to Topkapi Palace?

  1. From the airport, the airport is located in the center of the city, in the center of the city. Ataturk. There is a subway entrance in the airport building. Take the subway to st. Aksaray. Next to the station there is a streetcar stop, where you have to take a streetcar to st. Sultan Ahmet. From there it’s a short walk to the palace.
  2. By the Sea. You need to take a yacht or a boat to the port of Sirkeci, walk to the Istanbul Municipality building, and then follow the signs “Gulhane Park” and “Topkapi Palace”.
  3. On the streetcar. The nearest streetcar stops to the palace are Gulhane and Sultan Ahmet. You can walk from the stops, stopping at nearby museums and parks on the way.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was for centuries the center of the great Ottoman Empire, it is one of the largest and richest palace complexes in the world, housing everything needed for the life and work of a Turkish sultan.

Video overview of Topkapi Palace

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