The Topkapi Palace Museum II

9/26/2017
Edirne Yeni Sarayi whose modifications and successive extensions undertaken in different stages and periods led to the evolution of residential and administrative units often with the same private and ceremonial functions and even with the same names. Thus this palace exhibits important parallels with the new palace in Istanbul.
Istanbul Eski Sarayi which, though originally intended as the Ottoman residence, was to play a vital role, as the "Women's Palace" in the development and spatial transformation of what was to become the new palace's Harem. While this palace served initially as the residence of the sultan's immediate family (mother, wives, and children), it later became the residence of all the womenfolk of deceased sovereigns. It thus serves as a parallel and external model for the official Harem of the new palace.
In his capacity as chief planner of his capital, Mehmed II set out the structure of the state with its own organizational philosophy, inter- related institutions, and ceremonial orders (including the ethics, manners, and rituals that ultimately became traditions) as well as the physical environment of the capital in which all its integrated institutions were located in designated zones and districts.

Mehmed II's Kanunname (literally "Book of Laws") lays down what are essentially the schematics for his prospective global empire- the "Third Rome". But although all its institutions are described in detail and were to be located somewhere within the urban context, the sultan's intentions with regard to matters of location and organization are not clearly known; only some vague assumptions can be made on the basis of the known duality of function.

Although he originally selected as the site of his palace a location that was thoroughly urban, he later chose to relocate it to another that was (at the time) relatively remote and isolated. His motives in this cannot be precisely discerned. Did he anticipate the separate (or integrated) primary function of the new palace as a private domain or residence or as a ceremonial domain that would be fitted out with the administrative functions of the state?

Another related, and unresolved, problem was why Yedikule, which was designed and built in accordance with the most sophisticated concepts of military architecture of the day, was to function solely as an imperial treasury. What purpose did he originally envision this structure serving? Compared with this, his intentions and aims in the construction of his kulliye (multi-functional complex) in the modern-day district of Fatih are clear and well formulated: it was here that the class of civil servants who would serve the state and make scholarly and technological contributions to its progress were to be educated.

All the palaces built (or completed) during the reign of Mehmed II exhibit the same spatial order based on the principle of interconnected courtyards, each located in clearly defined public, semi-public, and private zones. These courtyards were arranged according to hierarchical considerations with their shapes being determined by topography rather than precise geometric or orthogonal principles. The number of these courtyards was flexible: there had to be at least two but could be as many as nine, as in the case of the Edirne place. Only five of them, however, were given the designation meydan (square) or taslik (courtyard) according to the particular palace's terminology.

Palaces evolving around courtyards in the course of their historical development existed in both oriental and occidental cultures long before the Ottoman experiment. Spatial organization principles considering courtyards as "unit spaces" constituted a common design vocabulary that quite often was implemented as both an integrating and segregating spatial constraint.

The use of walls and courtyards and of clear and strong transitions between and among them is one way of expressing domains. The spatial system of a palace (or of any other structure for that matter) is an expression of a human behavioral system. In this context, unwanted behavior and interaction that can be prevented (or controlled) through rules (manners, hierarchies, avoidance) can be reinforced through architecture that creates areas (zones) that are arranged hierarchically and occupied by various groups creating a balance of power among them, which in turn makes it possible to create the "system" through which group identities are formed, maintained, and integrated.

It is for this reason that all the legendary palaces that are formed around a system of courtyards -Beijing or Forbidden City, Delhi, Akra, Fatehpur Sirki, and Alhambra- exhibit striking spatial/organizational similarities. Since an absolute ruler's philosophical vision of what should be the administrative and residential constituents evolved around a common behavioral system and tradition, they naturally reflect similar sources and guiding principles.

Today Topkapi Palace functions as a museum and only a very small part of its original domain and environment can be appreciated. The ravages of time have resulted in the destruction (by fire) and the demolition (through new building) of many of its original structures. Despite this, the original 15th century spatial organization based on a triple courtyard order that integrates, segregates, and defines the palace's residential, ceremonial, and functional requirements has remained remarkably intact.

These individual requirements led to the formation of homogeneous, self-contained clusters that evolved around smaller courtyards since this was dictated by the formative systems of the social and functional groups, corps, classes, and institutions that occupied them. These clusters are not isolated, however, but are linked to and aligned with the main courtyards creating a self- contained microcosm that perfectly mirrors the state it housed.
That then defines the methodology of this book. By analytically exhibiting the spatial hierarchy of the palace, reconsidering its order and the successive stages of its transformation, we shall endeavor to expose the present state and past of this unique world, the Palace of Felicity.

The text is extracted from the book "Topkapi: the palace of felicity" by Ahmet Ertug and Ibrahim Koluk,


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