Nowhere brings you closer to the Ottoman world than the magnificent Topkapı Palace
For nearly 400 years Topkapı Palace served as the royal residence of the Ottoman dynasty and functioned as the centre of the empires government. On 3rd April 1924, Topkapı Palace was converted into a museum to preserve the vast collection of treasures from the empire for millions of visitors to admire every year.
Topkapı Palace is often referred to being a ‘city within a city’ because of its open design. As you enter the palace through the ‘Sultan’s Gate’ your free to walk around and explore the various rooms, courtyards and beautiful gardens within the palace walls. As there is so much to see in Topkapı Palace we recommend that you set aside a few hours so you can get the most from your visit. The treasury, costume room and the harem are among our favourite areas of the palace as they really give you a feel for the extravagant lifestyle of the Ottoman sultans. Photography is not allowed in some of the rooms of the palace as we found out on a recent trip. A thunderous ‘NO PHOTO’ echoed across the room when one of the security guards mistakenly believed my friend was taking a photograph.
During the time of the empire, the sultan’s would use the outer parts of the palace for public events and use parts deeper in the palace for used for more private functions and meetings. With the accession of each new sultan, a new room or section would be added to Topkapı Palace such as the official sultan room for Murat III in 1578 or the reading room for Ahmet I. These new rooms would often reflect the personality or needs of the sultan and represent their period through their design.
The harem is one area of the palace that was shrouded in mystery. The word harem means ‘forbidden’ in Arabic and it was the part of the palace where the sultan lived with his wives, concubines and his children. To the outside world the harem was often depicted as a pleasure dome when in actual fact it was more of an institution for providing a steady supply of heirs for the sultan.
The palace also exhibits the Holy Relics belonging to the prophet Mohammed. You will see exhibit cases containing Mohammed’s sword, bow and others containing the prophets hair, tooth and holy seal. Nearby there is a room where a Hafiz (someone who has memorised the entire Qur’an) sings verses from the Qur’an 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to this day.
- At its peak, the Topkapı Palace housed as many as 4000 people.
- The word Topkapı is Turkish for ‘Cannon Gate’.
- The palace complex is between 6,379,000 to 7,500,000 sq ft.
- The Golden Horn, Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus can all be seen from many points in the palace.
- The palace is one of the largest in the world and officially became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
- Plan your day around visiting Topkapı Palace as it recommend to set aside at least 3 hours to explore all of the different sections of the palace in their entirety.
- Topkapı Palace is walking distance from some of the other main historical landmarks such as Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmet. It is worth purchasing the Istanbul Museum Pass for 85tl to visit these sights one after the other. The pass is valid for 72 hours.
How to get there
Take the T1 tram that starts Kabataş and get off at the stop called Gülhane.
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Below are the opening hours for both the Palace and the Harem. Both are open everyday except for Tuesdays. They are both also closed on the first days of Ramadan and Sacrifice Festivals in the morning.
Summer Schedule- 15 April -1 October open between 9.00am and 7.00pm. The ticket office is open until 6.00pm.
Winter Schedule- 1 October- 15 April open between 9:00am and 5:00pm. The ticket office is open until 4pm.
The standard entrance fee to enter the palace is 25tl, entrance to the Harem is an extra 15tl.
Turkish Citizens can enter the tower at a reduced rate when an ID card is presented.
In 1459 after Mehmet the Conqueror set about creating an extravagant new palace for his new capital, Istanbul. Originally the palace called Yeni Sarayı (New Palace) and was later renamed to Topkapı Palace. Mehmet lived here until his death in 1481 and the palace was home and court to subsequent Ottoman sultans until Sultan Abdül Mecid I moved to his newly built Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856.