What’s Inside Topkapi Palace? | Courtyards, Gardens, Harem & More
A paradise for history enthusiasts and an abode to the imperial collections of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace is a museum as well as a library in Istanbul. It houses the largest collection of Ottoman Empire belongings and manuscripts. The ornate structure has four awe-inspiring courtyards that breathe the history of the Ottoman Empire and are architectural marvels themselves. Keep reading further to delve deeper into the richness of this historical gemstone.
What is Inside Topkapi Palace?
Topkapi Palace is a massive structure spread over up to 700,000 square meters. It has several courtyards within and more than 400 rooms of residential and administrative quarters. The palace is a wonderful example of the lavish lifestyles the Ottoman Royals led, each room decorated with beautiful tiles and ornate designs and inscriptions. The palace also has two treasuries that include an exquisite display of Ottoman jewelry, armor and other ornaments.
While most of the rooms are off-limits to visitors, the important ones are open to the public.
What are Topkapi Palace Courtyards?
Topkapi Palace Imperial Gate
The embellished and grand Imperial Gate of the palace marks the entrance to the First Courtyard. It leads directly to the Hagia Sophia and then turns northwest towards the Palace Square to the Fountain of Ahmed III. Through the Imperial Gate, to the south of the palace, the sultan would make their entry into the palace. Dating originally from 1478, this massive gate is now covered in nineteenth-century marble. In the structure's central arch, is a high-domed passage decorated with gilded Ottoman calligraphy, which includes verses from the Qur'an and Tughras of the Sultans.
Topkapi Palace First Courtyard
The First Courtyard, also known as the Janissaries Court and the Parade Court, is the largest and most extensive of the palace's courtyards and is surrounded by high walls to function as an outer precinct or park. Well-groomed janissaries and court officials would line up the path.
As you walk further, you pass through the Imperial Gate or the Gate of Salutation to witness the beautiful first courtyard. Two large, pointed octagonal towers adorn this crenelated gate. It is uncertain when the towers were built; their architecture has Byzantine influences. As only the sultan was permitted to enter the gate on horseback, passage through this gate was tightly controlled.
You can also find the Fountain of the Executioner here. After decapitation, the executioner was supposed to wash his hands and sword at the Fountain of the Executioner.
Topkapi Palace Second Courtyard
As you make your way through the middle gate, you will find Divan Square, also known as the Second Courtyard. It reached its final form around 1525–1529 during the reign of Suleyman I. It is surrounded by the previous palace hospital, bakery, janissary quarters, stables, the Imperial Harem, the Divan to the north, and the kitchens to the south. An entrance to the Third Courtyard is marked by the Gate of Felicity at the end of the courtyard.
You can find various artifacts from the Roman and Byzantine eras on display here in front of the Imperial Kitchens. There is also a cistern that dates back to the Byzantine period.
During the Ottoman times, peacocks and gazelles roamed this courtyard and the Sultan used it to hold audiences and gatherings while he sat atop the gold-plated Bayram throne.
Inside Topkapi Palace Second Courtyard
First constructed in the 15th century, the kitchens were expanded later during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Mimar Sinan, the court architect, also reconstructed the kitchens after the fire in 1574.
The kitchens are located on a street that runs between the Second Courtyard and the Marmara Sea. You’ll have to pass through three doors to get here. The kitchens are divided into 10 different domed buildings and were the biggest kitchens in the Ottoman Empire. These kitchens served almost 4000 and more than 800 people worked here.
In addition to displaying the kitchen utensils, the buildings also include a silver gifts collection and a large porcelain collection. The Ottomans would pay tributary visits to China and receive beautiful porcelain wares as rewards.
It is among the world's best porcelain collections with 10700 pieces of Chinese porcelain. In many cases, porcelains entered the palace collection as part of the estates of deceased persons and were sometimes given as gifts to members of the royal family or other senior officials.
It was in this building where the Imperial Council, consisting of the Grand Vizier and other council ministers, met. The council building is located in the northwest corner of the courtyard next to the Gate of Felicity.
The current Imperial Council building was constructed during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, the first building was constructed by Mehmed II. The building has multiple entrances. A green and white-colored wooden ceiling, decorated with gold, is affixed to the porch's marble and porphyry pillars. Its exterior entrances are in the rococo style, and gilded grills allow natural light inside.
Outer Imperial Treasury
The building where the arms and armor are exhibited was originally a treasury of the palace. As the Third Courtyard had an inner treasury, the one out here was also known as the Outer Treasury. The treasury financed the administration of the state.
In front of this building, there are remains of a religious Byzantine building dating back to the 5th century that were discovered in 1937. Historians were unable to identify these ruins with any of the churches built on the palace site, so it was named the Palace Basilica.
Topkapi Palace has one of the world's greatest collections of Islamic arms. With a collection that spans 1300 years, you can see arms and weapons that date back to the 7th century. Most of the collection comprises Ottoman weapons, but it also includes swords and armor from the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.
The rest of the collection consists of European and Asian arms in lesser numbers. Approximately 400 weapons are being displayed at the moment, most of which bear beautiful inscriptions.
Gate of Felicity
Leading to the Inner Court is the Gate of Felicity. Lean marble pillars support its dome which symbolizes the presence of the Sultan in the palace. No one was allowed entry through this gate without the Sultan’s permission. Even the Grand Vizier only gained entry on specific days and conditions.
The gate was probably constructed during the reign of Mehmed II. It was redecorated in the rococo style during the reign of Mahmud II. The gate is beautifully decorated with Quranic verses, gold leaves, baroque design elements and miniature landscape paintings.
Topkapi Palace Third Courtyard
The Third Courtyard is also called the Inner Palace and the heart of the palace is beyond the Gate of Felicity. It is a magnificent garden surrounded by buildings like the Privy Chamber, the Treasury, the Harem, and the Library of Ahmed III.
The courtyard is further surrounded by the quarters of the Agas, the page boys that served the Sultan. They were taught music, painting, and calligraphy and those who excelled could become high-ranking officials.
Mehmed II designed the layout of the Third Courtyard. But the emperors that came after him moved inward to the more secluded Fourth Courtyard and Harem.
Inside Topkapi Palace Third Courtyard
Right behind the Gate of Felicity is the Audience Chamber, which is also called the Chamber of Petitions. This 15th-century building is decked with beautiful blue, turquoise and white tiles and was always decorated with precious carpets and pillows.
The main throne room is inside the audience chamber where the emperor would sit atop a slightly elevated throne completely covered with gold cloth. There is a baldachin throne here with a cover decked with several pieces of brocade with pearls and emerald and ruby plaques sown in.
Behind this chamber is the Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force where you can find the Imperial Wardrobe Collection with more than 2500 garments, including the kaftans of the Sultans.
The Imperial Treasury
The Conqueror's Pavilion, or Conqueror's Kiosk, is one of the oldest buildings in the palace. The palace was first constructed in 1460. A vast collection of artworks, jewelry, heirlooms, and money belonged to the Ottoman dynasty at the Imperial Treasury of Istanbul. Its Chief Treasurer was responsible for maintaining the Imperial Treasury.
One of the armors of Sultan Mustafa III is on display in the Treasury room, consisting of a gold-plated iron coat of mail embellished with jewels. In the second room is the Topkapı Dagger. The Spoonmaker's Diamond in the third room is the jewel that stands out most. Sultan Mahmud I's throne occupies the center of the fourth room.
Miniature and Portrait Gallery
On the north side of the Imperial Treasury stands the pages' dormitory, which is now the Miniature and Portrait Gallery. The lower floor houses a collection of important calligraphy and miniatures. A collection of old and very precious Qur'ans from the 12th to 17th centuries, hand-painted and hand-written in Kufic, are on display, as well as an Arabic Bible dating back to the 4th century. This collection contains a priceless world map drawn by Turkish admiral Piri Reis.
With reasonable accuracy, the map shows parts of the western coasts of Europe and North Africa, as well as the coast of Brazil.
Directly behind the Audience Chamber, in the center of the Third Court, stands the Neo-classical Enderûn Library, which is also known as the "Library of Sultan Ahmed III".
An example of Ottoman architecture of the 18th century, the library is clad in marble. Located beneath the central arch of the portico is an elaborate drinking fountain with niches on each side. A low basement protects the library's precious books from moisture.
A wall of cabinets houses the books. The niche opposite the entrance was the Sultan's private reading corner. Turkish, Arabic, and Persian texts about theology, Islamic law, and other aspects of scholarship were on display in the library.
Mosque of the Ağas
Among the palace's mosques, the Mosque of the Ağas is the largest. As one of the oldest structures in the city, it dates back to Mehmed II's reign in the 15th century.
A collection of approximately 13,500 books and manuscripts collected by the Ottomans, including those from the Enderûn Library, was moved here and the area was converted into the Palace Library in 1928. On the northeast side of the mosque is the Imperial Portraits Collection.
Royal Pages Dormitory
Within the Dormitory of the Royal Pages, which was part of the Sultan's chambers, is the Imperial Portraits Collection. Among the painted portraits are some rare photographs of the later Ottoman Sultans, displayed in glass cases. A large painted tree of Ottoman rulers is one of the most intriguing features of the palace. On one of the pillars of the domed chamber, there is an engraving of a cross from the Byzantine period.
A Pavilion of the Holy Mantle is located within the Chamber of Sacred Relics in the Privy Chamber. Sinan constructed the chamber under the reign of Sultan Murad III. It served as a palace office for the Sultan.
Here, one can witness what are considered to be some of the “most sacred relics of the Muslim world"; the cloak of Muhammad, a bow, two swords, his battle sabers, one tooth, the hair of his beard, and other Sacred Trusts.
Topkapi Palace Harem
Topkapi Palace Fourth Courtyard
As the innermost sanctuary of the sultan and his family, the Fourth Courtyard, or Imperial Sofa, was composed of pavilions, kiosks, gardens, and terraces. Originally a part of the Third Courtyard, it was recently identified as a separate structure to better distinguish it. The fourth courtyard is also the home of The Stone Throne.
Inside Topkapi Palace Fourth Courtyard
A summer kiosk dedicated to circumcising young princes, which is a religious tradition in Islam for cleanliness and purity, was added by Sultan Ibrahim I in 1640. Both the interior and exterior of the building are decorated with a mixture of rarely recycled tiles such as the blue tiles with floral motifs on the exterior. Despite being relatively spacious for the palace, the room is symmetrically proportioned and has windows with small fountains.
For 40 days, Yerevan Kiosk was used as a religious retreat. The pavilion has a central dome and three apses for sofas and textiles. It also has a fireplace and a door on its fourth wall. Those facing the colonnade have marble walls, while the rest have blue-and-white İznik tiles, patterned after those from a century earlier.
Baghdad Kiosk is located to the right of the fountain on the terrace. After 1638, it was constructed to commemorate Murad IV's Baghdad Campaign. It is similar to Yerevan Kiosk in appearance. In between the sofas are three doors that lead to the porch. A marble façade, porphyry strips, and verdant antiques cover the building. Marble panels adorn the portico in the style of the Cairene Mamluks. The interior illustrates the ideal Ottoman room.
A view of the Golden Horn can be seen from the gilded İftar Pavilion, also known as İftar Kiosk or İftar Bower. It is a magnet for tourists today for its photo opportunities. The ridged cradle vault on its roof was a first in Ottoman architecture, with echoes of China and India. During the month of Ramadan, the Sultan is said to have broken his fast under this bower after sunset.
In the second half of the 16th century, the Terrace Kiosk, also known as the Kiosk of Kara Mustafa Pasha, was built as a belvedere. Mahmud, I rebuilt it in the Rococo style in 1752.
The kiosk consists of the main hall known as the Divanhane, a prayer room, and a Room for Sweet Fruit Beverages. The Sultan would keep himself entertained here by watching sporting or other entertainment events in the garden. While the building was used as a restroom earlier, in the Tulip Era, it was used as a guest lodge. It is located next to the Tulip Gardens.
Head Tutor Tower
As the oldest building within the Fourth Courtyard, the Tower of the Head Tutor, also known as the Chamber of the Chief Physician and court drugstore, dates from the 15th century.
Both the Chief Physician and the Chief Tutor lived in this shared residence. Here, the Chief Physician prepared the medicines for the Sultan and the Imperial family. Patients received palace drugs prepared, mixed, and sealed in bottles, jars, boxes, or bowls, under his supervision and that of the Chief Tutor.
Built in 1840, the Grand Kiosk, also known as the Mecidiye Kiosk, Grand Pavilion, or Kiosk of Abdül Mecid I, was the palace's last significant addition, along with the adjacent Wardrobe Chamber. Because of their outstanding location, giving a panoramic view of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, both were built on the orders of Sultan Abdül Mecid I as imperial reception and resting places. From their seaside palaces, the Sultans would stay here whenever they visited Topkapi. At times, foreign guests would also be accommodated in these buildings.
Mahmud II constructed the Terrace Mosque, also called Sofa Mosque, in the Empire style for the use of the Sofa Ocaği corps in the 19th century. In its place once stood the Swordbearer's Kiosk. It appears that the mosque was restored in 1858 by Sultan Abdülmecid I, according to the inscription at the gate.
Topkapi Palace Outer Gardens
The Outer Palace Gardens surround all the courtyards of the Topkapi Palace. A certain part of these gardens is also known as the Fifth Courtyard as it faces the sea.
Mehmed II also ordered the construction of three pavilions, or kiosks, of which only the Tiled Kiosk survives today. The Tiled Pavilion is a 1473 building that houses the Istanbul Archaeology Museum's collection of Islamic ceramics.
For the sultan's viewing pleasure, pavilions were constructed along the shore. Among those kiosks were the Shore Kiosk, Pearl Kiosk, Marble Kiosk, and the Basketmakers' Kiosk. When the railway lines leading to the Sirkeci railway station were constructed in the late 19th century, the pavilions along with some of the seaside walls and gates were destroyed. Fortunately, the Basketmakers' Kiosk survived.
Frequently Asked Questions About Inside Topkapi Palace
A. Topkapi Palace has four separate courtyards, an Imperial Harem and many artifacts, ornaments, books and other valuable items from Ottoman history. It also has many examples of mesmerizing Ottoman and Byzantine architecture in its structure.
A. Topkapi Palace is spread over a massive area of more than 700,000 square meters.
A. We would definitely recommend that you visit the museum inside Topkapi Palace to see the Spoonmaker’s Diamond and the Topkapi Dagger along with other valuable items. You should also explore the Imperial Harem and the other rooms in the palace to admire their architectural beauty.
A. Yes, you can take amateur pictures inside Topkapi Palace. You may have to get permission for professional photography.
A. No, you will have to buy a ticket to enter Topkapi Palace. The Topkapi Palace ticket prices start from €28.
A. Yes, it is definitely worth going inside Topkapi Palace. It is a treasure trove of some of the most valuable items from Ottoman history. It also has a rich history and culture that would definitely interest any travel enthusiast.