At the height of the Ottoman Empire, its territories spanned from Hungary in the north, to Somalia in the south, to Algeria in the west, and to Iran in the east. Pretty much central within this Empire was the city of Istanbul, and this was where the successful Ottoman sultans resided in their lavish and decorated palaces. One of the most famous of these palaces was Topkapi.
Topkapi Palace was built in the 1400s and was the centre of the Ottoman Empire until well into the 1800s. The ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the time suddenly decided that Topkapi was no longer grandiose enough for his liking, and ordered another residence to be built on a much grander scale nearby. This was known as Dolmabahce Palace.
As well as nowadays being arguably the most visited tourist attraction in Istanbul (would be a close call with Hagia Sophia), Topkapi Palace is known as being one of the most important sites for holy relics in the entire Muslim World, for Mohammed’s cloak and sword are on display here!
The design of the Topkapi Palace is effectively a harem surrounded by 4 intricate courtyards. Unlike some other royal residences that had strict masterplans, Topkapi Palace developed over the course of centuries, with sultans adding and changing various structures and elements. The resulting asymmetry is the result of this erratic growth and change over time.
Even though access was strictly regulated, inhabitants of the palace rarely had to venture out since the palace functioned almost as an autonomous city. Audience and consultation chambers and areas served for the political workings of the empire. For the residents and visitors, the palace had its own water supply through underground cisterns, and its great kitchens provided for nourishment on a daily basis.
It was the harem that I was most interested in. I wonder what kind of private things went on in there, as only the Sultan and his children were ever allowed in this area of the palace? I thought this would be a good place to stop and have a good look around, and it was surprising to learn that in its heyday during the Ottoman Empire, over 4000 people were known to live within the confines of Topkapi Palace.
In the end, it was considered by the Sultan that Topkapi was actually not opulent enough for him, and ordered a newer and grander palace to be built nearby. This palace was known as Dolmabache, the construction of which almost bankrupted the Ottoman Empire! It, too, is a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul.
Admission to Topkapi Palace will cost 20TL, but it is closed on Tuesdays. Not all of the palace is viewable, yet the architecture and history of the rooms you can view more than make up for the parts closed to the public. There is a museum attached to Topkapi Palace, and I hear from friends that it is worth some more of your Turkish Lira!