Skip to main content
 

TOPKAPI PALACE

The Topkapı Palace is a palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Topkapı Sarayı in Turkish means the "Cannongate Palace". It was built in 1465. The palace was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. It was turned into a museum at the request of Turkey's first President, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1924. It was built on the acropolis, the site of the first settlement in Istanbul. The palace has a very good view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace is surrounded by 5km of walls. It has an area of 700,000 sq. m at the tip of the historical peninsula.

First Court

The First Court (or Alay Meydanı) 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-ı Hümayun, simply the Imperial Gate. Apart from the Topkapı 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 Meydanı).

Second Court

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.

Third Court

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 Topkapı 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.

HAGIA SOPHIA MOSQUE

Hagia Sophia is a religious building in eastern Bosporus of Istanbul, Turkey. It was originally a Byzantine Eastern Orthodox cathedral, and was turned into a mosque after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The walls and floor of the building are from the Late Antiquity and the decorations, including mosaics and frescoes, are mostly from the Middle Ages. Cathedral Hagia Sophia was the third church built on this location. It was built between 532 and 537 as the cathedral of Constantinople, the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire during Late Antiquity. Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great ordered the construction. The architects were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. Greek historian Procopius wrote about Hagia Sophia's construction. The building's roof (a large dome) fell down and had been rebuilt many times. An earthquake in 994 damaged the cathedral, it was rebuilt by Trdat the Architect. Hagia Sophia was used as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1453, except during the Latin Empire when it was turned into a Roman Catholic cathedral.

Mosque

In 1453, after the Fall of Constantinople, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. It became a museum in 1935 after the decision of the secularist Turkish government under Kemal Atatürk in 1934. In July 2020, the Islamist Turkish government under Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the Hagia Sophia to be turned back into a mosque following a supreme court annulment of a 1934 presidential decree that made it a museum.

GALATA TOWER

During the Byzantine period the Emperor Justinian had a tower erected in what was to become Galata. This tower was destroyed during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. In 1267 a Genoese colony was established in the Galata part of Constantinople. It was surrounded by walls and the Galata Tower was first built at their highest point as the Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in Romanesque style in 1348 during an expansion of the colony. At the time the Galata Tower, at 219.5 ft (66.9 m), was the tallest building in the city. After the Turkish Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Genoese colony was abolished and the walls pulled down. The tower was allowed to survive and was turned into a prison. It was from its roof that, in 1638, Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi supposedly strapped on wings and made the first intercontinental flight, landing in the Doğancılar Meydanı in Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city, a story of doubtful authenticity recounted by the Ottoman travel writer, Evliya Çelebi. From 1717, the Ottomans used the tower to look out for fires (on the Old Istanbul side of the city the Beyazıt Tower served the same function). In 1794, during the reign of Sultan Selim III, the roof was reinforced in lead and wood, but the stairs were severely damaged by a fire. Another fire damaged the building in 1831, after which further restoration work took place. In 1875, the tower's conical roof was destroyed during a storm. It remained without this roof for the rest of the Ottoman period but, many years later, during restoration work between 1965 and 1967, the conical roof was reconstructed. At the same time the tower's wooden interior was replaced with a concrete structure and it was opened to the public. In 2020 the Tower was controversially restored then reopened as a museum. It is mainly popular for the 360-degree view of Istanbul visible from its observation deck.

BLUE MOSQUE

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, also known by its official name, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque , is an Ottoman-era historical imperial mosque located in Istanbul, Turkey. A functioning mosque, it also attracts large numbers of tourist visitors. It was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains Ahmed's tomb, a madrasah and a hospice. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes. It sits next to the Hagia Sophia, the principal mosque of Istanbul until the Blue Mosque's construction and another popular tourist site. The Blue Mosque was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1985 under the name of "Historic Areas of Istanbul". The Blue Mosque has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. The design is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development. It incorporates many Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The architect, Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and splendor. The upper area is decorated with approximately 20,000 hand-painted glazed ceramic in 60 different tulip patterns. The lower stories are illuminated by 200 stained glass windows. The mosque is preceded by a forecourt with a large fountain and special area for ablution. An iron chain hangs in the court entrance on the western side. Only the Sultan was allowed to ride into the mosque horseback, and he would need to lower his head to not hit the chain, a symbolic gesture ensuring the humility of the ruler before Allah. By way of his works he left a decided mark on Istanbul. The square on which the Blue Mosque is situated became known as Sultanahmet. This mosque can be considered the culmination of his career. Mehmed Agha, who was the last student of Mimar Sinan, had completed his mission by adding his brighter, colorful architectural style to that of his master teacher.

ISTIKLAL AVENUE

Istiklal Avenue historically known as the Grand Avenue of Pera , in the historic Beyoğlu (Pera) district, is an 1.4 kilometre (0.87 mi) pedestrian street and one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul, Turkey. It acquired its modern name after the declaration of the Republic on 29 October 1923, İstiklal (Independence) commemorating Turkey's triumph in its War of Independence. The street starts at the northern end of Galata (the medieval Genoese quarter) at Tünel Square and runs as far as Taksim Square. It is flanked by late Ottoman era buildings (mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries) in a variety of styles including Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau and First Turkish National Architecture. There are also a few Art Deco style buildings from the early years of the Turkish Republic, and a number of more recent examples of modern architecture. Many would once have been apartment blocks but most are now occupied by boutiques, music stores, art galleries, cinemas, theatres, libraries, cafés, pubs, nightclubs with live music, hotels, historical patisseries, chocolateries, restaurants and a steadily growing number of international chain stores. There is even a branch of Madame Tussauds. During the Ottoman period, the avenue was called Cadde-i Kebir (Grand Avenue) in Turkish or the Grande Rue de Péra in French. It was a popular gathering place where Ottoman intellectual rubbed shoulders with Europeans and the local Italian and French Levantines. When 19th-century travelers referred to Constantinople (today Istanbul) as the Paris of the East, they were usually thinking of the Grande Rue de Péra and its cosmopolitan, half-European, half-Asian culture.

Back to top of page