The Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi in Turkish, literally the "Cannongate Palace" - named after a nearby gate), located in Istanbul (Constantinople), was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1853. The construction of the Topkapi Palace was ordered by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1459. It was completed in 1465. The palace is located on the Seraglio Point between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul, having a splendid view of the Bosphorus. It consists of many smaller buildings built together and surrounded by four courts.
The palace is full of examples of Ottoman style architecture and also owns large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armors, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and mural decorations, as well as a display of accumulated Ottoman treasures and jewelry.
In 1853, Sultan Abdülmecid decided to move his residence to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Today the Topkapi Palace serves as a museum for the imperial era, and is one of Istanbul's greatest tourist attractions.
Compared to other famous royal residences like the Schönbrunn Palace or the extravagant Versailles, Topkapi Palace distinguishes itself with its human proportions, sensible interiors and prudent layout.
The First Court (or Alay Meydani) spans over the entire Seraglio Point and is surrounded by high walls. This court was also known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court.
The main gate is called Bab-i Hümayun, simply the Imperial Gate. Apart from the Topkapi Palace, the First Court also contains the old imperial mint (constructed in 1727), the church of Hagia Eirene, the Archeology Museum (constructed during the 19th century) and various fountains, pavilions (for example, the Çinili Pavilion, or Tiled Pavilion) and gardens (including the Gülhane Park, the old imperial rose garden).
The Çinili Pavilion (1472) has many superb examples of Iznik tiles. It now houses the Museum of Islamic Art.
The Fountain of the Executioner is where the executioner washed his hands and sword after a beheading. The Fountain of Ahmed III is an example of Rococo work.
The huge Gate of Greeting (Bab-üs Selam) leads into the palace and the Second Court (Divan Meydani).
The second court is a park surrounded by the palace hospital, bakery, Janissary quarters, stables, the imperial Harem and Divan to the north and the kitchens to the south. The kitchens today contain one of the world's largest collections of Chinese blue-and-white and celadon porcelain, valued by the sultans because it was supposed to change color if the food or drink it contained was poisoned.
The Divan Salonu, or Imperial Council Chamber, was where the sultan's counselors and functionaries met to discuss the empire's affairs. The Sultan could overhear from a concealed grille.
Beyond the Gate of Felicity (Bab-üs Saadet) is the Third Court which is the heart of the palace, a lush garden surrounded by the Hall of the Privy Chamber (Has Oda) occupied by the palace officials, the treasury (which contains some of the finest treasures of the Ottoman age, including the Sacred Trusts), the Harem and some pavilions, with the library of Ahmed III in the center.
The Treasury holds some of the most famous and spectacular jewels in the world, including the famous Topkapi Dagger. In 1747, the Sultan had this dagger made for Nadir Shah of Persia, but the Shah was assassinated before the emissary had left the Ottoman Empire's boundaries and so the Sultan retained it. There are three large emeralds in the hilt and the sheath is worked with diamonds and enamel. This dagger was the subject of the famous film Topkapi.
The Harem was home to the Sultan's mother, the Valide sultan; the concubines and wives of the Sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. There are approximately 300 rooms (though only about twenty are open to the public), and the Harem housed as many as 500 people, which sometimes amounted up to 300 women, their children, and the eunuchs.
Many of the rooms and features in the Harem were designed by Sinan, a famous architect of the Ottoman Empire.
The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle holds the cloak of Mohammed, his sword, his teeth, his beard, and other relics which are known as the Sacred Trusts. Even the Sultan and his family were permitted entrance only once a year, on the 15th day of Ramadan, during the time when the Palace was a residence. Now any visitor can see these items and many Muslims come on pilgrimage for this purpose.
The Fourth Court was more of a private garden of the Sultan and consists of a number of pavilions, kiosks (kösk), gardens and terraces.
In 1639, Murat IV built the Baghdad Pavilion to celebrate his capture of Baghdad the year before.
There is also a pavilion dedicated to the circumcision of young boys, which is a primary rite of passage in Islam.
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