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The Topkapi Palace, located in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul in a commanding position overlooking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years. In 1924 under the instructions of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the palace was converted to a museum. The Topkapi Palace is one of the most important and popular tourist attractions in Istanbul.

The Topkapi Palace covers an area of approximately 70,000 square meters. At one time the palace had an estimated 4,000 people living and working within its walls. The palace is entered via the Imperial Gate, erected in 1478 by Sultan Fatih. The gate leads to four courts, the first being a public court, this being open to the public was not treated as part of the palace. The second court acted as the business centre, as the palace was one of the key political and administrative centres for the Ottoman Empire, so it was here where the practicalities of running the empire were carried out. The third court was a much more private area where the sultan would receive such people as foreign dignitaries. On these occasions the sultan would not actually speak to non-Turks, all communications would be conducted through the Grand Vizier. The fourth court is in fact a garden area with stepped terraces leading down to a protrusion of land that offers views over the entrance to the Golden Horn. The palace also includes amongst other things, a mosque, and a university.  

The palace is now home to a huge collection of treasures including the cloak and sword of the Prophet Mohammed. Also on display is the Topkapi Dagger with three large encrusted emeralds. The treasury of the palace also contains the Spoonmaker’s or Kasikci diamond, set in a silver surround encircled with forty-nine smaller diamonds. The Spoonmaker’s diamond is believed to be the fifth largest diamond in the world.

The only tower in the palace was known as “The tower of Justice” as it acted as home to the Court of Justice, and also doubled as an observation point over the city and down to the port. Access to the tower was from within the Harem of the palace. The Harem is a private section where the sultan and his family lived.

Until the middle of the 16th century, the harem was located in another area of the city, the Old Palace. The harem of the Topkapi Palace has about 400 rooms connected by narrow passages. Due to its size, only a section of the harem is included in the visitor tour, these include a glimpse at forty room area where the mother of the sultan lived.

Topkapi Palace

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The tour of the harem then moves on to a large Turkish bath and a domed hall that was reserved for the sultan. The tour ends with two rooms dating from the 16th century featuring stained glass windows and rich wall decorations.

Access to the palace is limited, a tour leaves about every 30 minutes resulting in delays at busy times.

The Topkapi Palace also takes care of modern day needs with a cafe and a restaurant on site.