Topkapi is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines and scheming eunuchs lived and worked here between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman Empire. Visiting the palace's opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives.
The palace complex is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn, Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, with magnificent view from many points of the palace. During Greek and Byzantine times, the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium stood here.
After the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmed the Conqueror at 1453, construction of the Topkapi Palace was started in the year 1459 and completed in 1478. Palace was built upon a 700.000 square meters area on an Eastern Roman Acropolis. It was the administrative, educational and art centre of the Empire for nearly four hundred years starting from the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror through to Sultan Abdulmecid who was the 31st Sultan.
The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4.000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint.
After the 17th century, the Topkapi Palace gradually lost its importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. In 1856, Sultan Abdulmecid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, and the mint, were retained in the Topkapi Palace.
Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapi Palace was transformed by a government decree dated April 3, 1924, into a museum of the imperial era becoming the first museum of the Republic of Turkey.
The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public today. The palace includes many fine examples of Ottoman architecture. It contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armour, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures and jewellery.
After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II found the Imperial Byzantine Great Palace of Constantinople largely in ruins. The Ottoman court initially set itself up in the Old Palace, today the site of Istanbul University. The Sultan then searched for a better location and chose the old Byzantine acropolis, ordering the construction of a new palace in 1459.
Sultan Mehmed II established the basic layout of the palace. He used the highest point of the promontory for his private quarters and innermost buildings. Various buildings and pavilions surrounded the innermost core and grew down the promontory towards the shores of the Bosphorus. The whole complex was surrounded by high walls, some of which date back to the Byzantine acropolis. This basic layout governed the pattern of future renovations and extensions.
Unlike some other royal residences of the world that had strict master plans, Topkapı Palace developed over the course of centuries, with sultans adding and changing various structures and elements. The existing asymmetry is the result of this erratic growth and change over time, although the main layout by Mehmed II was preserved. Most of the changes occurred during the reign of Sultan Suleiman from 1520 to 1560. With the rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman wanted its growing power and glory to be reflected in his residence, and new buildings were constructed or enlarged. The chief architect in this period was the Persian Alauddin, also known as Acem Ali. He was also responsible for the expansion of the Harem.
In 1574 a great fire destroyed the kitchens. The royal architect Sinan was entrusted by Sultan Selim II to rebuild the destroyed parts, which he did, expanding them, as well as the Harem, baths, the Privy Chamber and various shoreline pavilions. By the end of the 16th century, the palace had acquired its present appearance.
The palace is an extensive complex rather than a single monolithic structure, with an assortment of low buildings constructed around courtyards, interconnected with galleries and passages. Few of the buildings exceed two stories. Interspersed are trees, gardens and water fountains, to give a refreshing feeling to the inhabitants and to provide places to rest. The buildings enclosed the courtyards, and life revolved around them. Doors and windows face the courtyard to create an open atmosphere and provide cool air during hot summers.
Topkap Palace was the main residence of the sultan and his court. It was initially the seat of government as well as the imperial residence. Even though access was strictly regulated, inhabitants of the palace rarely had to venture out since the palace functioned almost as an autonomous entity, a city within a city. Audience and consultation chambers and areas served for the political workings of the empire. For the residents and visitors, the palace had its own water supply through underground cisterns and the great kitchens provided for nourishment on a daily basis. Dormitories, gardens, libraries, schools, even mosques, were at the service of the court. Attached to the palace were diverse imperial societies of artists and craftsmen collectively called the Ehl-i Hiref (Community of the Talented), which produced some of the finest work in the whole empire.
The Imperial Treasury is a vast collection of works of art, jewellery, heirlooms of sentimental value and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. The Chief Treasurer was responsible for the Imperial Treasury. According to the Palace law each Sultan was to visit the Treasury after his enthronement.
Following the conversion of Topkapi Palace into a museum in 1924, the treasury objects were classified and used as the basis of the museum collections; the same rooms being used to exhibit these treasures.
The palace originally contained several treasury areas. For example, in one room was kept the so-called “Ambassadors Treasure” consisting of the rich objects which were used by Ottoman representatives abroad, and kept here when not in use. In addition, the relics of the Prophet Mohammed, the Inner Treasury, and the Equestrian Treasury were each separately housed. It is believed that the original treasures of the Sultans were kept in the Seven Towers Gate section of the City Walls. The collection that we see now consists of gifts of ambassadors, enthronement gifts, and purchases of the Sultans themselves. The largest treasure from the spoils of war was added by Sultan Yavuz Selim, whose seal closed the treasury doors until recent times in recognition of his accomplishment.
The artefacts of the treasure were deposited in closets and chests until the time of Abdulmecit. When Abdulmecit made the customary visit to the Treasury after enthronement, he ordered some of the items be placed on exhibit during the Crimean War. Following in his steps Abdulaziz and Abdulhamit II also exhibited some items. The Sultan was the only person allowed to enter the Treasury solo; all the other people could do it in a group of forty people only. Now and then, the foreign ambassadors were admitted here to view a collection.
The collection was constantly changing, the constant flow in and out of gifts to and from the courts of the world. Each year a gift was sent to the grave of the prophet Mohammed, some of which are now returned and seen today.
The items exhibited in the Imperial Treasury today mainly consist of jewelled pieces made of gold and other precious materials accommodated in four rooms.
Treasury Chamber I
The first chamber contains the amour or Sultan Mustafa III. The suit is of iron mail, encrusted in gold and precious stones. It offered full protection from head to toe, and included sword and shield and foot gear for his mount. In the second case is Koran covers decorated with pearls, for the personal use of the Sultans. Of particular interest is the cover in black velvet, decorated in pearls and carrying in the centre a diamond “God Bless” and finished with three pearl tassels.
In the third case is the ebony throne of sultan Murad the IV inlaid with ivory and mother - of - pearl, and covered in a fabric throw typical of 17th century Turkish handwork.
At the side, in the fourth case there are 16th and 17th century Turkish and Iranian pots, vases, and water jugs. In the fifth case, belonging to the Egyptian Governor Mehmet Ali Pasha, are gold candelabras, and an 18th century gold water pipe that belonged to the Governor of Van, Mustafa Pasha and several candle snips. In the sixth case, solid jade vases and ports form a background for the diamond studded walking stick of Abdulhamit II, a gift of Kaiser Wilhelm. In the seventh case belonging to the mother of Sultan Mahmut II is a golden candelabrum. A washing set and sherbet set, also in gold that belonged to Abdulhamit II, are samples of a high quality gold workmanship. In the eighth case there is an ornate Indian music box. The central cases in this room exhibit a large number of heavily decorated military items, as well as many personal items that belonged to members of the Sultan’s household.
Treasury Chamber II
The first case of the second chamber contains emerald praying beads and arrow quivers of 16th century manufacture by Turkish artisans, covered in gold, measuring 35 by 67 cm. The quiver immediately in front of us is decorated in flower motifs and inlaid with diamonds and emeralds. In the second case there is an emerald pendant of Sultan Abdulhamid I framed in gold. It is undoubtedly one of the most striking pieces in the room, containing three large emeralds shaped in a triangle, leaf patterns surround framed by gold and 48 strings of pearls forming the tassel. Along with 97 other ornaments, this tassel was originally a gift of the sultan to the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca, and was returned to Istanbul when Mecca was no longer a part of the Empire, thanks to the efforts of Fahrettin Pasha, guardian of the treasury.
Another item in the same case is a six-sided pendant of emerald belonging to Sultan Ahmet I. The body sits on six pearl feet, with each of its six sides framed in gold. The cover is domed in a gold lattice, encrusted with diamonds and sapphires. The plaque at the base indicates that it was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I in the year 1617 at a price of 6000 gold pieces. In the lower corner of this case there is a turban decorated with the 17th century plume with two 5 cm long emeralds placed on a heavy gold pin. Its top is decorated with two 5 cm emeralds and a garnet stone, framed by diamond-encrusted gold leaves, and loops of pearl chains. An additional pendant in this same case was commissioned by Sultan Ahmed I.
In the third case there is an emerald pendant belonging to Sultan Mustafa, and an emerald dagger belonging to Mehmet IV. This dagger is a fine example of 17th century craftsmanship, being 31 cm in length its handle of solid emerald, worked in gold and other precious gems. It was a present to the Sultan Mehmet IV at the consecration of the Yeni Mosque.
The fourth case of this room contains an eye - catching emerald pendant, 55 cm in length, with 4 cm long emerald at its top. Beneath there is a gold plaque decorated with diamonds and inscriptions dedicated to Sultan Abdulmecid I on both side, while its base is decorated with round and hexagonal emeralds inlaid with pearls. The tassel at the base has seventeen strings of pearls. In the same case there are bases for Turkish coffee cups and turban tassels and plumes. In the fifth case placed feather - like plumes and quivers, the emerald quiver at the bottom being particularly lovely.
Treasury Chamber III
This chamber contains mainly diamonds and goldsmith works such as Koran covers decorated with precious stones. a dessert set belonging to the Sultan Abdulhamit, as well as a gold incense burner, and an enamelled sherbet set.
A separate case accommodates a pendant carrying the seal of Sultan Mahmut II made of diamonds, on a blue and pink enamel background. The chain is of gold, and the tassel 45 strings of 38 cm of pearls. In the same case there is a set of several large, very famous cut diamonds as well as broaches, rings add other jewellery items. The gold tray and gold incense burner in the next case worth to be seen.
The pride of Topkapi Treasury and its most valuable single exhibit is the 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker’s Diamond, also known as the Kasikci. Surrounded by a double-row of 49 Old Mine cut diamonds is well spotlighted. Its origin is not clear. According to one of the origin myths of the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, a poor fisherman was wandering penniless and empty-handed around Istanbul, when he found a shiny stone among the litter. Unsure of what the stone was, but recognizing it as beautiful, he carried it about in his pocket for a few days, and then stopped by the jewellers’ market, showing it to the jeweller, who recognizes it as an extremely valuable diamond, but feigning disinterest gave it a cursory glance-over, and stated that it was just a hunk of glass. So he’d had given the fisherman three spoons for his trouble, out of sympathy. The fisherman agreed, and walked away from the deal feeling better off.
According to researchers and historians, was a French officer named Pigot who purchased the diamond in 1774 from Maharajah of Madras and brought it back home with him to France. But during his trip some thieves robbed him, and the diamond ended up in numerous auctions, where it was first bought by Casanova and then by Napoleon’s mother, who had to put it up for sale in order to save her son when Napoleon went into exile. Who bought the diamond from her was a man who worked for Tepedeleni Ali Pasha, who later, during the reign of Mahmud II, was executed charged for rebellion and treason. His treasury, including the Pigot Diamond, was confiscated by the state.
Treasury Chamber IV
The central object of this chamber is the Turkish and Indian masterpiece in its centre, the throne of Mahmut I, a gift of the Persian King Nadir Shah, on a green and red background. Its designs are of emeralds and pearls. Previously, thought to be the throne of Shah Ismail, research has shown it to have been in fact a gift of the Persian king to the Ottomans. Other objects in this chamber are pots and ivory mirrors; swords, rifles, prayer beads, spoons, all extravagantly decorated. Of particular interest is the box in which the mantle of the Prophet Mohammed was once kept.
ARMOURY (ARMS & WEAPONS)
The weaponry used by the Ottoman army was manufactured in various workshops and stored in armoires called “cebehane”, where their maintenance and repairs would also be done. The first Ottoman “cebehane” was established in Edirne. Following the conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II converted the Church of Hagia Eirene in Topkapi Palace First Courtyard into a “cebehane”, for which purpose this building would continue to be used until the late 19th century. In 1846 Fethi Ahmed Pasha, the Commander of the Cannon Foundry (Tophane), suggested that the Church of Hagia Eirene should be reorganized to the Turkey’s first museum that contained the Collection of Ancient Weapons and the Collection of Antiquities. The museum weaponry had been housed here until Topkapi Palace was converted into museum in the early 20th century. These weapons would later form the base of the Military Museum collections in Istanbul, which are among the richest armoury collections in the world.
Covering 1.300 years and consisting of 52.000 weapons of Arab, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mamluk, Persian, Turkish, Crimean Tartar, Indian, European, and Japanese origin, the Topkapi Palace Museum weaponry collection is also among the world’s premier weapons collections. The collection is made up in part of weapons transferred from the cebehane and those used by the palace guards; however, the collection’s most noteworthy section consists of those weapons ordered by the sultan personally or specially made as gifts for him, which weapons are a part of the palace’s private collection. This collection includes weaponry owned by such sultans as Mehmed II, Bayezid II, Selim the Grim, Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II, Mehmed II, and Ahmed I, as well as the weapons of such high-level dignitaries as grand viziers, pashas, and palace chamberlains; all of these weapons are eye-catching with their fine craftsmanship and decorations. An additional factor that contributed to the diversification of the collection’s highly artistic weaponry was the tradition of bringing to the palace the weapons of important figures that were obtained through plunder.
The kitchens consisting of ten sections were built in the 15th century and developed and enlarged during the 16th century under the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. They were restored after the fire of 1574 by Chief Architect Sinan. The low-domed structures located to the south of the kitchens date from the 15th century. The walls are built of stone and the covering system is made of brick.
The Dessert and Candy Room (Helvahane), dating from the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, has four sections. There is a foundation inscription dated 1767 to the right of the entrance, and a fountain. This fountain and the Kelime-i Tevhid (The Word of Unity: Islamic declaration of faith in the oneness of God) inscription on the door are believed to date from the repairs carried out ulterior to 1574. One accedes from the Dessert and Candy Room (Helvahane) into the Sherbet & Jam Room (Şerbethane / reçelhane) situated on the short edge of the courtyard. There is an inscription on this gate regarding a repair work conducted at the structure, mentioning Hadji Mehmet Agha's name and the date of 1699. The doors in kündekâri style i.e. made of wood carvings with geometrically designed motifs and the concatenated Iznik tiles belong to the same period. The 18th century built Mosque of the Cooks is endowed with a wooden loge. The wooden porches of the kitchens’ service roads and the wooden ward structures have been removed in the framework of the 1920 renovations.
The Palace Kitchens section houses the most invaluable collection of Chinese porcelain. This unique collection, which consists of more than 10,000 pieces, is the largest porcelain collection outside of China, and is particularly important in that it showcases the uninterrupted historical development of porcelain from the 13th century to the early 20th century.
Copper works, an important part of Topkapi Palace kitchenware, are exhibited in the Confectionery House (Helvâhâne) in the palace kitchens, where sweets such as halva, candies, the gum like candy called macun, baklava, as well as many other confections, and soap, were produced for the use of the palace residents.
All of the pots used to cook food in the palace kitchens are made entirely of copper. These pots are quite big, since they were used to serve all those resident in the palace; this would amount to food for at least five thousand people per day, and even more on special occasions.
Tombac ware is an important group within the palace kitchenware. Tombac, obtained by applying a gold and mercury alloy to copper so as to produce a golden hue, was first used in Ottoman culture in the 16th century, but did not achieve widespread use until the 17th century. Several examples of tombac ware dating from the 18th and 19th centuries can be found in the palace collection, among which are basin and pitcher sets, rosewater vessels (gülabdan), censers, containers for cups and for sherbet, water jugs, milk pitchers, small service trays, covered bowls, soup bowls, coffee kettles, ladles, and containers for carrying cooked food. Additionally, the collection contains stone kitchen bowls, marble and bronze mortars, small plates made of coloured stone, service trays, candy bowls, and sherbet glasses.
The palace’s European glassware collection comprises basin and pitcher sets, candy bowls, covered bowls, large and small plates, carafes and glasses, sherbet glasses and pitchers, coffee cups and holders, chandeliers, and candelabra.
Bohemian glass and crystal make up an especially important part of the collection. Beginning in the first half of the 17th century, a new variety of glass began to be manufactured in Bohemia using a technique that revolutionized the glass making industry. Among the works in this collection is a set consisting of a decanter and six glasses, produced expressly for Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) by Ludwig Moser, who worked at the Bohemia Glassworks between 1857 and 1893. The palace collection also includes French, English, and Russian glassware.
PAVILION OF THE HOLY MANTLE AND HOLY RELICS
The Privy Room (Has Oda) was constructed in the Inner Courtyard in the time of Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451–81) to serve as the private apartments of the sultan, for which purpose it was used until the middle of the 16th century. Prior to their accession to the throne, the sultans would come to this room to pray and receive homage from the Privy Room officials before leaving for the ceremony.
The Chamber of the Holy Relics, located within the Privy Room, contains religious objects sent to the Ottoman sultans at various times between Sultan Selim the Grim assumption of the caliphate in the 16th century to the end of the 19th century. The caliphate passed from the Abbasids to the Ottomans with Selim’s conquest of Mamluks Egypt in 1517, upon which event the Holy Mantle of the Prophet (Hırka-i Sa`âdet) was given to Selim by al-Mutawakkil III, the last Abbasid caliph. The dispatching of holy relics to Istanbul would continue thereafter, particularly during the period of increasing Wahhabi assaults on holy places and objects in the late 18th and the 19th century, when such objects were gradually removed to the Chamber of the Holy Relics for greater protection. Similarly, the holy objects found in Medina were sent to Topkapı Palace for the same reason during the First World War.
Among the most important holy relics to be collected in this way between the 16th century and the first half of the 20th century were the Holy Mantle of the Prophet; the hair from the Prophet’s beard; the reliquary in which was kept the Prophet’s tooth, broken during the Battle of Uhud on 19 March 625; and the footprints, letters, bow, and sword of the Prophet. There are also holy relics attributed to other prophets and to the companions of the Prophet Muhammad: the tray used by Abraham; the staff of Moses; the sword of David; the robe of Joseph; the swords of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions; and the shirt, mantle, praying mat, and chest of Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah.
Among the exhibits in the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle are many relics attributed to Biblical prophets, including the sceptre of Moses, the saucepan of Abraham, the sword of David, and a wooden panel carved in relief with the Temple of Solomon and an inscription in Hebrew.
The Ottoman sultans held all holy relics in respect, not only those associated with the history of Islam and fastidiously preserved them all for posterity. Following the conquest of Istanbul, Mehmed II proclaimed that all the religious communities of the city were free to follow their own faith.
The hand and fragments from the skull of John the Baptist kept in reliquaries in the Treasury are known to have first been brought to Topkapi Palace during the reign of this sultan. During the inventory of the relics carried out in 1924 after the palace became a museum, these were recorded as being amongst the other holy relics. John the Baptist was the cousin of the Virgin Mary and the son of Zachariah. He believed that Christ was the Messiah whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament, and spread his teachings. He baptised Christ and many others in the River Jordan. He had earlier lived alone in the desert so as to be closer to God, eating only locusts to keep him alive. He was beheaded by Herod for denouncing his marriage with the wife of his half-brother.
The Imperial Harem occupied one of the large sections of the private apartments of the sultan at the Topkapi Palace which encompassed more than 400 rooms, 9 baths, 2 mosques, 1 hospital, 1 laundry, and numerous wards of different kinds.
The literal meaning of the word harem in Arabic language is, “a holy place that everyone is not allowed to enter”. In Muslim societies, it is a notion which defines intimate family life. In Ottoman tradition, the word Harem was used in two different senses. First, the sultan's harem i.e. his family, and the second meaning would have referred to the space where his family lived. Besides constituting the core of the dynasty, the palace harem forming a wing of the cadre of sultan’s household officials recruited via “devshirme”, a system of recruitment of youngsters of foreign background for serving the Ottoman Empire, was also an environment serving the purpose of creating a sound state aristocracy by wedding the concubines having received a disciplined education to the recruit-aghas (squires) who had been thoroughly educated and trained at the Palace’s Enderun School.
This institution played an important social function within the Ottoman court, and demonstrated considerable political authority in Ottoman affairs, especially during the long period known as the Sultanate of Women. The utmost authority in the Imperial Harem was the Valide Sultan, who ruled over the other women in the household and was often of slave origin herself. The Kizlar Agha (also known as the Chief Black Eunuch because of the black African origin of most aghas) was the head of the eunuchs responsible for guarding the Imperial Harem.
The Sultanate of Women was the nearly 130-year period during the 16th and 17th centuries when the women of the Imperial Harem of the Ottoman Empire exerted extraordinary political influence over state matters and over the (male) Ottoman sultan, starting from the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Many of the Sultans during this time were minors and it was their mothers, the Valide Sultans, or their wives, the Haseki Sultans, who effectively ruled the Empire. Most of these women were of slave origin, which was often the case in general for consorts of Ottoman sultans.
The Topkapi Palace Harem was the living space of the Sultan, the Queen Mother, the sultan’s women, children, brothers and sisters and servants and concubines and Black Eunuchs. This set of structures, which constituted the private and prohibited space of the Ottoman dynasty, underwent a constant evolution from the 16th until the beginning of the 19th century, displaying a great variety of building styles changing with each period, hence forming an extremely important and interesting complex from the point of view of architectural history.
The living spaces of all the service groups integrated within the institutionalization system of the Harem were gathered around a common courtyard. The fact that the pebble stone walking path ends at the Fireplace Chamber constituting the entrance to the private quarters of the Sultan, highlights the sovereign’s itinerary
All Ottoman palaces, houses and residences contained a private section called “Harem”. The Arabic word “haram”, pronounced in Turkish can mean “wife” among other things, and is a symbol of “sacredness” and privacy. At the beginning of the 15th century, a number of foreign visitors to Istanbul described the many facets of the city, providing accounts of the Turks, and especially of the palaces and the harem that the Ottoman rulers called home. Each family harem, where its women lived and where men from outside were not permitted to go, was the very honour of that family, its sacred niche. What we know concerning life in the harem is known only indirectly. Consequently, there is no clear information in the sources about the form of life in these places, which were very private. Foreign diplomats and merchants described palace life during the 17th and 18th centuries.
End of 15th to mid-16th century
The Old Palace in Bayezit was used as a Harem following the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. However, the Women’s Palace (Saray- ı Duhteran) situated along the Golden Road is believed to have been the Harem nucleus belonging to the initial phase of the palace construction. Women brought from the Old Palace to the Topkapi Palace upon the Sultan’s demand were temporarily accommodated at this dwelling. This apartment is today the section called the Haseki (Sultan’s favoured wife) quarters. It was probably remodelled several times. Since women did not yet reside in the Harem at this early stage, large staffs of concubines and eunuchs were not deemed necessary. Another building of that first period is the tower-mansion called the “Sultan Selim I Tower” located adjacent to the exit of the Harem’s Privy Chamber.
Period of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566)
It was established that the building up of the Topkapi Palace Harem actually began following the settlement of the favoured wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, Haseki Hurrem Sultan at the Topkapi Palace. During this period, several wards were built adjacent to one another but without being interconnected for the concubines and the Black Eunuchs. The former Privy Chamber which formerly existed on the emplacement of the dwelling currently called the Privy Chamber of Sultan Murat III is known to have been built by Suleiman the Magnificent. The First Woman (Bas Haseki) apartment came to be referred to under the name of Hurrem Sultan since then.
Period of Sultan Murat III (1574-1595)
The institutionalisation of the harem was completed in this period. The early construction style developed around landscape-exposed open spaces evolved, during the 10-year-long construction phase, towards structures gathered around privacy-oriented enclosed inner courtyards. Buildings rising on pillared base structures due to the topographical circumstances of the area were endowed with rich facades in harmony with the classical architecture concept of the period. These rich facade configurations also represented the hierarchical order of the Harem. The Head Architects of the era were Mimar Sinan and Davut Aga. The Concubine wards; the Apartments of the Queen Mother; the double baths; The Imperial Hall (Hunkar Sofasi), also known as the Imperial Sofa; the Privy Chamber of Sultan Murat III and the Crown Prince quarters were all erected during that period.
17th - 18th centuries
The Privy Chamber of Sultan Ahmet I, the Privy Chamber of Sultan Ahmet III, the Kiosk of Sultan Osman III, the Apartments of Sultan Selim III and the Mihrisah Sultan Quarters constructed above the Apartments of the Queen Mother, the Twin Kiosks, the Interval (Mabeyn) and Favourites (Gozdeler) apartments were built after the 1665 fire, by applying Baroque and Rococo style decorations onto the structures. The reason behind the proliferation of constructions during this period was the gradual changes occurred in the governing style as well as customs and tastes of the dynasty.
Hagia Irene or Hagia Eirene (Holy Peace), known also as Saint Irene, is a Greek Eastern Orthodox church located in the outer courtyard of Topkapi Palace.
The church was dedicated by Constantine the Great to the peace of God, and is one of the three shrines which the Emperor devoted to God's attributes, together with Hagia Sophia (Wisdom) and Hagia Dynamis (Power).
The building reputedly stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple. It ranks, in fact, as the first church built in Constantinople. Roman Emperor Constantine the Great commissioned the first Hagia Irene church in the 4th century. Originally it served as the church of the Patriarchate. From May to July 381 the First Council of Constantinople took place in the church. It was burned down during the “Nika” revolt in 532. Emperor Justinian I had the church restored in 548. By then, the Patriarchate had already moved to the Hagia Sophia, which was completed in 537.
Heavily damaged by an earthquake in the 8th century, it dates in its present form largely from the repairs made at that time. The Emperor Constantine V ordered the restorations and had its interior decorated with mosaics and frescoes. Hagia Irene is the only example of Byzantine church in the city, which retains its original atrium. A great cross in the half-dome above the main narthex, where the image of the Pantocrator or Theotokos was usually placed in Byzantine tradition, is a unique vestige of the Iconoclastic art; presumably it replaced earlier decoration. The church was enlarged during the 11th and 12th centuries.
The church measures 100 m × 32 m. It has the typical form of a Roman basilica, consisting of a nave and two aisles, divided by columns and pillars. It comprises a main space, a narthex, galleries and an atrium. The dome is 15 m wide and 35 m high and has twenty windows.
After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed II, the church was enclosed inside the walls of the Topkapi palace. The Janissaries used the church as an armoury. It was also used as a warehouse for war booty. During the reign of Sultan Ahmet III (1703–1730) it was converted into a weapons museum.
In 1846, Marshal of the Imperial Arsenal, Ahmed Fethi Pasha, made the church into a military antiques museum. It was used as the Military Museum from 1908 until 1978 when it was turned over to the Turkish Ministry of Culture.
Today, the Hagia Irene serves mainly as a concert hall for classical music performances, due to its extraordinary acoustic characteristics and impressive atmosphere. Many of the concerts of the Istanbul International Music Festival have been held here every summer since 1980.
MUSEUMS & SITES OF ISTANBUL
♦ Bosphorus Strait - A natural strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and separates Europe from Asia
♦ Beylerbeyi Palace - one of the most magnificent Ottoman coastal palaces built in 1865
♦ Dolmabahce Palace Museum - The 19th century glamorous palace of Ottoman Sultans
♦ Hagia Sophia of Istanbul - The Church of Holy Wisdom built in 535 by Emperor Justinian
♦ Hippodrome (Atmeydani) - The stadium of ancient Byzantium, which once could hold 100.000 spectators
♦ Topkapi Palace Museum - The former seating residence of Ottoman Sultans built between 1459 & 1465