Originally known as Sarayı Cedid, or New Palace, Topkapı was built between 1459 and 1465 as the seat of government of the newly installed Ottoman regime. It was not at first a residence. Mehmet the Conqueror had already built what would become known as the Old Palace on the present site of Istanbul University and even after he himself moved, his harem stayed on at the old site. In accordance with Islamic tradition, the palace consists of a collection of buildings arranged around a series of courtyards, similar to the Alhambra in Granada or a Moghul palace in India. Although this creates an initial impression of disorder, in fact the arrangement is meticulously logical.
Pass through the Imperial Gate into the First Court, which is known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court. On your left is the Byzantine church of Hagia Eirene, more commonly known as Aya İrini.
The Middle Gate (Ortakapı or Bab-üs Selâm) led to the palace’s Second Court, used for the business of running the empire. This courtyard was also a ceremonial courtyard. Divan-ı Hümayun (Kubbealtı / Imperial Council) and Treasury of the Divan-ı Hümayun were located on that courtyard. Behind the divan structure, there is the Tower of Justice which represents justice of the Sultan. Dormitory of the Halberdiers with Tresses and the Entrance of Harem were also located at this courtyard. There are also Privy Stable structures at the same side around an inner courtyard. At the Marmara side of the Courtyard of Justice, there are the Palace Kitchens and additional service buildings. Babüssaade (Gate of Felicity) where coronation, funeral and festival ceremonies held is located at the Northern side of the Courtyard of Justice. In Ottoman times, only the sultan and the valide sultan (mother of the sultan) were allowed through the Middle Gate on horseback. Everyone else, including the grand vizier, had to dismount.
was mainly given over to the palace school, an important imperial institution devoted to the training of civil servants, and it is only in the fourth court that the serious business of state gives way to the more pleasurable aspects of life. Around the attractive gardens here are a number of pavilions erected by successive emperors in celebration of their victories. Here, the glorious views and sunsets could be enjoyed in privileged retreat from their four-thousand-member retinue. The various adjustments made to the structure and function of the buildings were indicative of the power shifts in the Ottoman Empire over the centuries. During the “Rule of the Harem” in the sixteenth century, for example, a passageway was opened between the Harem and the Divan, while in the eighteenth century, when the power of the sultan had declined, the offices of state were transferred away from the “Eye of the Sultan” (the window in the Divan through which a sultan could monitor proceedings) to the gateway that led to the palaces of the Grand Vizier, known as the Sublime Port.
The Fourth Courtyard is also known as the Imperial Sofa (Sofa-ı Hümâyûn), was more of an innermost private sanctuary of the sultan and his family, and consists of a number of pavilions, kiosks (köşk), gardens and terraces. It was originally a part of the Third Courtyard but recent scholars have identified it as more separate to better distinguish it. Famous is the Mecidiye Köşkü , which was built by Abdül Mecit according to 19th-century European models. West of the Mecidiye Köşkü is the Head Physician’s Pavilion . Interestingly, the head physician was always one of the sultan’s Jewish subjects. Nearby, you’ll see the Kiosk of Mustafa Pasha , sometimes called the Sofa Köşkü. During the reign of Ahmed III, the Tulip Garden outside the kiosk was filled with the latest varieties of the flower.