Topkapi PalaceThe Second Courtyard was primarily used by the sultan to dispense justice and hold audiences. This was done here also to impress visitors. sits behind the Aya Sofya on top of one of the city’s fabled seven hills.Topkapi Palace occupies one of the seven hills of the city at the tip of the historic peninsula overlooking the sea.
Topkapi Palace constructed by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, (the Conqueror) in 1478 has been the official residence of the Otoman Sultans and center of State Administration around 380 years until the construction of Dolmabahçe Palace by Sultan Abdülmecid. The palace having around 700.000 m.² area during the foundation years has currently 80.000 m.² area
The complex is built around a series of courtyards and encompasses 173 acres of gardens, workshops, kitchens, armories, baths, fountains, halls and residential areas. The palace embodied the force of the Ottoman Empire and manifested power through the inaccessibility of the sultan and his court. Exhibits include swords and daggers, royal clothes, carpets, textiles, ceramics, manuscripts, jewels, armor and paintings.
Topkapi grew and changed with the centuries, but the palace’s basic four-courtyard plan remained the same. The Ottomans followed the Byzantine practice od secluding the monarch from the people: the first court was open to all; the second only to people on imperial business; the third only to the imperial family, VIPs and palace staff; while the fourth was the “family quarters”.
The main street leading to the palace is the Byzantine processional Mese avenue, today Divan Yolu (Street of the Council). The Mese was used for imperial processions during the Byzantine and Ottoman era. It leads directly to the Hagia Sophia and takes a turn northwest towards the palace square where the landmark Fountain of Ahmed III stands. The sultan would enter the palace through the Imperial Gate, also known as “Gate of the Sultan” located to the south of the palace. This massive gate, originally dating from 1478, is now covered in 19th-century marble. The massiveness of this stone gate accentuates its defensive character. Its central arch leads to a high-domed passage. Gilded Ottoman calligraphy adorns the structure at the top, with verses from the Qur’an and tughras of the sultans. Identified tughras are of Sultan Mehmed II andAbdül Aziz I, who renovated the gate.
One of the inscriptions at the gate proclaims:
By the Grace of God, and by His approval, the foundations of this auspicious castle were laid, and its parts were solidly joined together to strengthen peace and tranquility [...] May God make eternal his empire, and exalt his residence above the most lucid stars of the firmament.
On each side of the hall are rooms for the guard. The gate was open from morning prayer until the last evening prayer.
According to old documents, there was a wooden apartment above the gate area until the second half of the 19th century. It was used first as a pavilion by Mehmed, later as a depository for the properties of those who died inside the palace without heirs and eventually as the receiving department of the treasury. It was also used as a vantage point for the ladies of the harem on special occasions.
The Imperial Gate is the main entrance into the First Courtyard. The four courtyards lead to each other and during the Ottoman Empire, each became steadily more exclusive leading to the Fourth Courtyard, which was the sultan’s private courtyard.
The First Courtyard (I. Avlu or Alay Meydanı) spans Seraglio Point and is surrounded by high walls. This First Courtyard functioned as an outer precinct or park and is the largest of all the courtyards of the palace. The steep slopes leading towards the sea had already been terraced under Byzantine rule.
As you pass through the great Imperial Gate behind the Aya Sofya, you enter the First Court, the Court of the Janissaries. On your left is Byzantine Haghia Eirene, built in the 4th century, and rebuilt next century by Justinian,so the church you see is as old as Aya Sofya.
Also on the left is the gate to the Imperial Mint where tere are often temporary exhibitions.
This court was also known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court. Visitors entering the palace would follow the path towards the Gate of Salutation and the Second Courtyard of the palace. Court officials and janissaries would line the path dressed in their best garbs and waiting. Visitors had to dismount from the horses between the First and the Second Courtyard.
Upon passing the Middle Gate, the visitor enters the Second Courtyard (II. Avlu), or Divan Square (Divan Meydanı), which was a park full of peacocks and gazelles, used as a gathering place for courtiers. This courtyard is considered the outer one (Birun). Only the Sultan was allowed to ride on the black pebbled walks that lead to the Third Courtyard.
The courtyard was completed probably around 1465 during the reign of Mehmed II, but received its final appearance around 1525-1529 during the reign of Suleyman I. This courtyard is surrounded by the former palace hospital, bakery, JanissaryÂ quarters, stables, the imperial harem and Divan to the north and the kitchens to the south. At the end of the courtyard, the Gate of Felicity marks the entrance to the Third Courtyard. The whole area is unified by a continuous marble colonnade, creating an ensemble.
Numerous artifacts from the Roman and Byzantine periods have been found on the palace site during recent excavations. These include sarcophagi, baptismal fonts, parapet slabs and pillars and capitals. They are on display in the Second Courtyard in front of the imperial kitchens. Located underneath the Second Courtyard is a cistern that dates to Byzantine times. It is normally closed to the public.
The Second Courtyard was primarily used by the sultan to dispense justice and hold audiences. This was done here also to impress visitors.
Beyond the Gate of Felicity is the Third Courtyard (III. Avlu), also called the Inner Palace (Enderun Avlusu), which is the heart of the palace, where the sultan spent his days outside the harem. It is a lush garden surrounded by the Hall of the Privy Chamber (Has Oda) occupied by the palace officials, the treasury, the Harem and some pavilions, with the library of Ahmed III in the center. Entry to the Third Courtyard was strictly regulated and off-limits to outsiders.
The Third Courtyard is surrounded by the quarters of the Ağas (pages), boys in the service of the sultan. They were taught the arts, such as music, painting and calligraphy. The best could become Has Odali Ağa (Keepers of the Holy Relics of the Prophet and personal servants of the Sultan), or even become officers or high-ranking officials.
The layout of the Third Courtyard was established by Mehmed II. Its size is roughly comparable to the Second Courtyard. The rigid layout did not allow for any great changes. While Mehmed II would not sleep in the harem, successive sultans after him became more secluded and moved to the more intimate Fourth Courtyard and the harem section. The Hünername miniature from 1584 shows the Third Courtyard and the surrounding outer gardens as it must have appeared following its completion under Mehmed II. It also shows at the bottom the sultan in what looks like a shore pavilion either holding audience or being entertained by courtiers.
The Fourth Courtyard (IV. Avlu), 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.