Istanbul Stories and Tips

Topkapi Palace/Museum

Topkapi Palace Photo, Istanbul, Turkey

After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 by Mehmet the Conquerer, this ancient center of culture became the heart of Ottoman Empire. This young Ottoman sultan had a palace built on the Seraglio point which actually was an olive grove with a breath taking view of the Marmara Sea.

The first parts of this palace were built between the years of 1465 ad 1478. It was surrounded by a high wall and was gradually extended by every succeeding sultan (emperor) to cover 700.000 square meters. The palace complex consists of series of pavilions and inter-related buildings of various periods. By 1640, the number of occupants of the palace became 40,000 people.

The Ottoman Empire was ruled from this palace for almost 400 years. The palace had six portals, three on the sea walls and three on the land walls. The palace derived it’s popular name from the main gate-Topkapi (Cannon Gate). The main portal or imperial gateway “Bab-I Humayun” was built at Mehmet the Conquerer’s period. The second portal is the Gate of Peace from which one enters the palace. The modern museum is entered through this gate. From this gate the sultan and his retinue would enter a courtyard about five acres wide where the ceremonies were held. From this area the sultan would reach the Gate of Felicity where he would sit enthroned before public. This third courtyard in turn led to a fourth courtyard. Here the sultan led his daily life together with his household, attending to affairs of the state daily. He retired to the Harem at night.

The second courtyard where we enter the museum now measures 160x130 square meters. On the left of the courtyard are situated such buildings as the Harem, The Imperial Council chambers or the Dome as it was known, the Royal Stables, the Halberdiers Dormitory and the Internal Treasury. On the right are the imperial kitchens which had 20 hearths and ran buy 1200 cooks. Today these kitchens harbor 12,000 pieces of the Chinese and Japanese porcelain collection . It is said that the sultans favored the Celadon from X and XIV centuries as the green celadon betrayed any traces of poison. There also are Yuan period and 14-17 century Ming collections.

After feasting our eyes on these priceless porcelain, we proceed to the Grand court. The most famous ceremonies here were enthronement of a new sultan and/or distribution of pay to the janissaries. This gate was also known as the white eunuchs gate. The white eunuchs were the guards of the Harem. Through this portal, you enter the throne room. The throne is decorated with cushions embroidered with precious stones. The fountain set right outside this room is said to have prevented discussions in the room from being overheard.

Now, let’s look at the Ottoman jewelry. Every piece is priceless both in value and historic significance. In my opinion, the emerald encrusted dagger is the piece de resistance. It measures 35 centimeters in length and the hilt is encrusted with 3 large emeralds. The hilt is crested with an octagonal-cut emerald set on a movable lid, which opens to reveal a tiny watch. The rest of the dagger is encrusted with diamonds.. (Everything in this palace-from clothes to pottery to books is encrusted with precious stones. Ottomans had the jewel market cornered.) This dagger was the main theme of the movie “Topkapi” in the early 1960s.Besides the dagger, you see the 55 cm. Emerald pendant with 17 rows of pearls hanging down as a tassel, another emerald pendant 19cm in length with 38 rows of pearls making the tassel, a cradle for the new-born princes decorated with floral motifs in diamonds and emeralds. Then comes the 86 carat diamond called the “Spoon-Maker’s Diamond” framed with 49 other diamonds. The legend says that this stone was found by a poor fisherman who exchanged it for 3 spoons. This stone was in the possession of Napoleon’s mother who tried to sell it to prevent her son being sent into exile. Te diamond was purchased by Tepedenli Ali Pasha and passed into the Ottoman treasury. The jewel adorned robes of the sultans, the collection of texts and calligraphy and especially the sacred relics of Prophet Muhammed brought to Istanbul from Egypt by Sultan Selim the Grim are the few of the treasures of Topkapi Museum.

I have a few recommendations for you. One is to get a reasonable hotel room in Sultanahmet which is the name of the district where the palace is and visit the museum several days. One day is not enough to absorb all the fabulous details of Ottoman Empire’s glorious and also sordid history. The second recommendation I have is sit at the terrace restaurant outside the “Mecit’s Kosk” and enjoy a meal prepared by Konyali, Turkey’s premier restaurant. The last recommendation I have for you ladies is: don’t look at your wedding rings after you get out of the Treasury section of the museum. Your diamond will look microscopic to you and your husband will suffer as a result. Enjoy your trip!

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