The Topkapı Palace, previously known as Saray-i Cedid-I Amire, received its name from one of the city wall’s gatesduring the 19th century. The construction of the Topkapi Palace began twenty years after the Conquest of Istanbul. Although its construction was compete in 1479, addititons were continuously made to the palace. Having an area of 700 thousand square meters, it expands from the Ayasofya to Gülhane, and from Gülhane to Sirkeci and is surrounded with a high and wide wall, called sur-i sultani. The walls of the palace are stretched from the Sepetçiler Kasri [Mansion] to the Ahir Kapısı [Stable House Gate]. There are 28 towers over the wall. Part of the wall facing the seashore was demolished to create a railway passage in 1888. Seaside mansions also received their share from this demolition.
It is estimated that the Topkapı Palace had around 13 gates. Most of these gate have since vanished. The majestic Bab-i Humayun Gate of the Topkapı Palace is located in the direction of the Ayasofya, facing of the sea, and across from the Sultanahmet Fountain. This gate is the main entrance of the palace. It was first built during the period of Sultan Fatih and has gone through several restorations. It is a witnessed to many historical events throughout the Ottoman History, and the gate still preserves its magnificence. This gate used to open with the Sabah Ezani [Subuh / Morning Prayer Call] and closed with the Yatsi Ezani [Ishaa / Late Evening Prayer Call]. There is the Tugra [Sultan’s Signature] of Sultan Mehmet II and a stele indicating the historical record of the building in 1478. Another stele was placed by Sultan Abdülaziz in 1867 detailing its reconstruction.
There is the primary courtyard in the inner part of Bab-i Humayun. This courtyard was greatly damaged in a fire which broke out in the 19th century. There is a “deavi kosku [mansion]” in this courtyard where citizens’ letters of application were accepted. In the right hand side of the gate, there were the offices for treasury public servants, and which were once used as an infirmary. Moreover, the palace’s bake house was located behind the wall on the right side of the courtyard. The Ara Irin Church is located on the left side of the palace. The Imperial Mint is also very close by and it is open to the public as a mint museum. Towards the end of the courtyard, there is a fountain called the “Cellat Çeşmesi / Executioner’s Fountain.” Across from it is the Bab-us Selam [Gate of Welcoming/Greeting] which opens into a second courtyard.
The Bab-us Selam Gate is the real entrance of the Palace. It was rebuilt by Sultan Murat III and there are two towers on it. The words, “There is no God, but Allah; and Mohammad is His Servant and Prophet” are written on the outside of the gate. On the wings of the iron gate, there is an inscription stating that Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent had it molded. When one enters through the Bab-us Selam, age-old plane trees welcome the visitor. This gate is opens onto five pathways: the palace’s kitchen, the Bab-us Saadet, the Divan, the Harem and the palace’s stable house.
The Divan was a place where bureaucratic issues were discussed during the Ottoman Period. The first hall was the major section, also known as kubbealtı [underneath the dome], in which the meetings were held. In the other hall the defterhane [registry] kept records in its archives. The Harem was use for the Sultan’s wife, jariyahs [bondwomen], and his mother. There were around 300 reception rooms in the selamlık [welcoming section for men]. Another structure which catches the eye in the Harem is the Tower of Justice. Two pillars belonging to the 5th and 6th centuries were uncovered during excavation works which took place in the second courtyard in 1959. It is unknown as to how and why these Byzantine remains were brought there. The palace’s Kitchen was so greatly damaged in a fire in 1574 that Sultan Murat III asked Mimar Sinan to rebuild and expand it. The Bab-us Saadet Gate in the second courtyard opens into the private parts of the palace and into the third courtyard.
There is an Arz Room where the Sultan admitted vezirs [ministers] after the meetings in the Divan. Built during the period of Sultan Fatih, the Arz Room fell into ruins and was rebuilt during Sultan Selim I’s rule. The palace’s school surrounds the Arz Room and it occupies a wide space within the third courtyard. The palace’s school was a kind of bureaucrat school İn which students were trained to meet the statesman needs of the Ottoman Empire. Established during the period of Sultan Fatih, the school also educated Christian citizens of the Ottoman Empire over the age of ten in a system called devşirme [dawshirmah]. Another important place is the Hirka-i Serif room where the cloak of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is displayed. The Hirka-i Serif was brought in by Sultan Selim I, along with other sacred trusts, to Istanbul. Towards the center of the courtyard is the Sultan Ahmet III Library built in 1719. Another building found in the third courtyard is the mosque of the Palace’s School, Agalar Mosque. The Has Room was located next to the mosque and it was used for the successful students of the school.
After passing through the exhibition halls full of clocks and miniatures, the fourth courtyard appears. In the fourth courtyard, the most prominent structures are the Sunnet [Circumcision] Room and the Hekimbasi Room, and the Sofa, Revan, and Baghdad Mansions are alos found there. The Revan Mansion was built in 1634 by Sultan Murat IV to celebrate the seize of Erivan from the Iranians. The inner part of the building is fully cover with Iznik ceramic tiles and the cupboard handles are inlaid with nacre. The Baghdad Mansion is another mansion built by Sultan Murat IV. It was built on December 25, 1638 to commemorate the conquest of Baghdad, and as such, it was named after the city. The Sunnet Room was built later in 1641 by Deli İbrahim. In this room, Ottoman princes were circumcised for nearly two centuries. Another work by İbrahim is the bronze baldachin on the side of the terrace, which he named as the Iftariye Mansion, built in 1640.
The last structure built within the Topkapı Palace was the Mecidiye Mansion overlooking the Golden Horn, Marmara, and Bosphorus. The building was constructed during the rule of Abdülmecit in 1840.
Now transformed into a museum, the Topkapı Palace allows its visitors to witness the history, culture, grandeur, magnificence, and profusion of an Empire which lasted for a very long time.
Translated by Mr. Irfan KOKSAL