Istanbul Travel Guide: Exploring Historical Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace has gone from being the main residence of Ottoman Sultans to one of Turkey’s top museums and tourist destinations. This Skycap News update is a proud moment as we welcome guest writer Madi to the team for a series of exclusive articles from exotic locations told in the first person. As you will quickly surmise, Madi is a spirited woman who enjoys life. The staff is confident that our readers will enjoy her travels and tidbits of knowledge should you find yourself planning a trip of a lifetime. Without further ado, allow us to introduce Ms. Madi.

Topkapi Palace

If there is any place that I wish to visit again if given a chance, it would be Istanbul. With more than one thousand years of history, Istanbul is a city that spans Asia and Europe. From magnificent palaces to museums to mosques to bazaars, Istanbul features many fascinating attractions. One such sight which you should not miss in Istanbul is “Topkapi Palace.”

Topkapi Palace
The Imperial Gate – Entrance to Topkapi Palace

History of Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace was built in 15th century by Mehmet and it has been the main residence of Sultans of Ottoman Empire for many years. Today, the palace is open to the visitors who wish to know more about unique Ottoman history. Located along the stunning Bosphorus, this huge palace consists of pavilions, courtyards, halls and the most famous Harem where Sultan’s women used to live.

Where to buy tickets?

When I first arrived in Istanbul, my first preference was to visit all the famous palaces and museums. I bought a museum pass for 85TL (125 TL / $32.00 USD since Jan 2018). This pass lets you visit the famous attractions including Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Archeological Museums, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Chora Church Museum and Galata Mevlevihanesi at a reduced cost.

If you don’t buy this pass, you have to purchase a ticket for each place which will cost you a lot. For instance, entrance fee for Hagia Sophia Museum is 40 Turkish Lira and for Topkapi Palace, its 40 TL for entrance and for Harem section, you have to pay another 25TL separately. Comparing with the individual entrance costs, the museum pass is the cheapest option you can avail.

Outside of courtyard

My Amazing Day at Topkapi Palace

It was a hot summer day of June when I arrived in Sultanahmet district along with my friends via tram. Here I’d like to mention that you can easily get around Istanbul using public transport (bus and tram). Get a transport pass like me if you don’t want to pay high fares for taxis. Anyway, I already bought the museum pass a day before from the entrance of Hagia Sophia Museum due to which I didn’t have to stand in long queues in heat. When I entered the palace through the Imperial Gate also known as Bab-i-Humayun; I was literally amazed. The place which I have been seeing in pictures and TV for many years was right in front of me.

Inside Mustafa Pasha Kiosk
Beautiful interior of one of the chambers
Stained-glass windows

Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace

Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace is the main entrance to the First Courtyard. The gate is featuring stunning marble engraved with calligraphy. From there, you make your way to First Courtyard that is the largest Courtyard of the palace. Many historical structures of this courtyard were damaged hundreds of years ago. Only a few of the structures remain to date including the fountains and Hagia Irene which was used as a storehouse by Ottomans. The Middle Gate in First Courtyard leads you to the Second Courtyard of the palace.

Audience Chamber
Baghdad Kiosk
Interior of Baghdad Kiosk

Topkapi Palace Courtyards

The second Courtyard is also called ‘Divan Square’. This courtyard featured bakery, hospital, imperial harem, stables, kitchens, tower of justice and many other buildings. After exploring the Second Courtyard, move on to the Thirst Courtyard of the palace. Also known as Inner Palace, the Third Courtyard features the Hall of Privy Chamber, Imperial Treasury, library, and Harem. The Imperial Treasury is the major highlight of Third Courtyard which features a unique collection of Ottoman jewelry, artworks, and heirlooms.

Another stunning part of this courtyard was Privy Chamber that houses the Sacred Relics. Once you enter into this part of the palace, you can only witness the sacred relics in dim light. Tourists cannot take pictures in this sacred room. You’ll see the guards monitoring all the visitors carefully. You’ll witness many sacred objects dating back to thousands of years ago.

The Baths of the Sultan’s Women
Wax sculptures of Zuluflu Guards smoking
Windows of Harem Courtyard
Interior of Ward of Zuluflu Guards
Ward of Zuluflu Guards in Harem section

Topkapi Palace Harem

My favorite part of this palace is Harem that was home to Sultan’s mother, his wives, children, servants, and concubines. The Harem featured more than 400 rooms, few buildings, halls, apartments, and baths but only some part of the Harem is open to the public. The main entrance of the Harem leads to three sections; Court of Sultan’s mother, Court of Concubines and Sultan’s quarters. Additionally, there are small baths located inside for the women of Harem.

Imperial Hall in the Harem of Topkapi Palace
Imperial Hall with the throne of Sultan

Another unique feature of Harem is the Imperial Hall which was used for entertainment purposes such as wedding ceremonies and religious festivals.

Grand Kiosk or Mecidiye Kiosk
View of the Marmara Sea from the palace
Agalar Mosque (Ağalar Camii)

The last part of the Palace is Fourth Courtyard which features a number of pavilions, Circumcision Room, terraces, and gardens. The interior of the pavilions and Circumcision rooms is adorned with stunning blue tiles and other ornaments. After exploring the rooms and pavilions, we walked through the kiosks in the courtyard. From the Grand Kiosk, you can witness the breathtaking views of Bosphorus. There is also a terrace restaurant offering delicious Turkish food to the visitors. From the terrace, head back to the main exit while exploring the pathways and huge gardens of the palace. Make sure to take lots of pictures as every part of the palace is worth capturing.

Exploring Topkapi Palace Recap

I spent around 6 hours in the palace and tried to explore almost every part of this iconic landmark. If you are visiting Istanbul anytime soon, I recommend you to visit Topkapi Palace if you want to witness unique Ottoman history first hand. Keep in mind that most of the time, you’ll find palace crowded with tourists.

However, early risers are rewarded and those who visit around 9:30 am in the morning will find fewer crowds of people walking around the palace. After your day at Topkapi Palace, you can probably visit any Turkish restaurant in Sultanahmet. Complete your day with a nice dinner and some shopping from the local market. I hope everyone enjoys reading about my adventures and travel tips for your next holiday trip.

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