Topkapı Palace Museum
The first palace of the era following the conquest was built on today’s Beyazit Square. After that palace, which has left almost no remains, a new one was built. The new palace in Sultanahmet, of which construction ordered by Mehmed II. finished in 1478, was originally called the New Palace (Saray—i Cedid or Yeni Saray), but it was to be known as the Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayi). The initial size of the Topkapı Palace, the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire for about 380 years, was 700 thousand sqm. The palace mirroring the magnificent side of the empire was to remain as one of the “most intriguing places of the world” for hundreds of years. However, in the 19th century, the modern lifestyle represented by the new palaces of Dolmabahce, Beylerbeyi and Yıldız, which were built along the Bosphorus, disgraced the Topkapı Palace. Sultans and members of their families gradually left Topkapı. When the valuable artifacts protected in the Chambers of Treasury and Sacred Relics (Kutsal Emanetler) began to attract great interest among foreign ambassadors, presentations of them has become a tradition and after the order of Sultan Abdulaziz, articles in the palace were started to be put into glass cases. Topkapı Palace was transformed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924 into a state museum.
The Topkapı Palace, which is conveying the story of a unique culture that lasted hundreds of years, constitutes the mysterious side of a cultural richness that cannot be easily explored through visiting, watching or reading. The Imperial Treasury where invaluable jewels are exhibited, the Chamber of the Sacred Relics (Kutsal Emanetler Bölümü) and the Imperial Harem are still the most popular sections of the museum. Countless artifacts including elegant wall and table clocks and pocket watches, calligraphic works, miniatures, oil paintings, documents, books and writing sets are exhibited in the museum, which has currently a total size of 80 thousand sqm.
The Topkapı Palace was representing Istanbul, and Istanbul was representing the Ottoman Empire. ln fact, Mehmed II. chose the site of the palace as if he wanted to “vanish” the Byzantine Empire. The Topkapı Palace was built on the end of the Historic Peninsula, over the remains of a Byzantine Palace Basilica. Sultan ’s Wall (Sur-i Sultani) built during the reign of Mehmed II. surrounded the land side of the palace and complemented the sea walls remaining from the Byzantine era. The Imperial Gate (Bab—i Humayun), also known as the Gate of Sultan (Saltanat Kapisi), was used to enter the palace, which was not only a residence, but it was also a big complex where the state was administered, where the princes were educated and where the servants were staying. A 300 meters long way connects the Imperial Gate with the Gate of Salutation (Babu’s—Selam), also known as the Middle Gate (Orta Kapi)The area between those two gates constitutes the First Courtyard (Avlu or Alay Meydani). The Middle Gate has two towers made of stone and it is the main gate of the palace. Upon passing this gate, the Second Courtyard (II. Avlu) is entered. The most popular structure in this area is the Tower of Justice (Adalet Kulesi). This tower was symbolizing that sultans were valuing justice above all else. The Grand Vizier and viziers gathered, ambassadors were received and banquets in honor of special guests were held here.
The section including the Enderun School was the Third Courtyard (Ill. Avlu) of the Topkapı Palace. ln the Enderun School, which was seen as the most important building surrounding the courtyard, students were trained to become statesmen, commanders and ”inner boys”, i.e., servants of the palace. Through the practice of ”devşirme”, conscripted boys from Christian families were converted to Islam and brought to the Enderun School. The Second Courtyard was surrounded mainly by administrative buildings. The most important one among them was the Imperial Council (Divan-i Humayun) building. The main meeting room of the Imperial Council was called Kubbealti (under the dome). The Window with the golden grill, at the center of the Wall decorated with mosaics and motifs, was made for the sultans. Thus, sitting behind this grill, they were able to follow deliberations of the council without being noticed…
The Gate of Felicity (Babu’s Saade) was both one of the most important gates of the palace and the entrance into the Third Courtyard (III. Avlu). Ceremonies were held and viziers going to war were sent off here. Behind this door, there were the Chamber of the Throne (Taht Odasi), the Imperial Treasury (Hazine) and the Chamber of the Sacred Relics (Kutsal Emanetler Dairesi). This gate was used to enter the private courtyard of the sultan as Well. ln the miniature above with a scene from 1789, Selim II’s ascending to the throne before the Gate of Felicity (Babu’s Saade) is portrayed. The Gate of Felicity had a symbolic meaning in the Ottoman era, but today, thousands of hurrying tourists are passing quickly through it…
As soon as entering the treasury rooms of the Topkapı Palace Museum, one of the richest collections in the world, every thought about wealth, money or richness is left behind the walls made of stones. The term “invaluable” becomes concrete and in fact, none of the artifacts here can be appraised… This section, built on the order of Mehmed ll, housed the treasury during the imperial era. One fifth of all state revenues were transferred to this treasury. Besides, valuable gifts sent by foreign statesmen were stored here. With the addition of jewelry, furs, clothes and articles owned by the sultan and his court, rumors about the ”Enderun Treasury” turned into a world~wide legend. The Enderun Treasury was separate from the treasury of the government, and in cases of financial trouble, the articles stored here were sold in order to provide support. Even the remains of this treasury, which was protected by about 150 inner boys, are sufficient to astonish people. Of course, the most popular ones among the articles dating from various centuries are the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (Kaşıkçı Elması and the Topkapı Dagger (Topkapı Hanceri), which were mentioned in novels and movies as well. Besides these two unique articles that are worldwide famous, thrones, crests, swords, chandeliers, state medals and ornaments take visitors’ breaths away.