Monday, February 17, 2014

93. Topkapi Palace

The Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. 

As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments, and it is now a major tourist attraction and contains important holy relics of the Muslim world.  

The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings.

The Imperial Gate is the main entrance from outside Hagia Sophia into the first courtyard ...

then came the gardens - 
and next the Gate of Salutation and entrance to the second courtyard ...

next - the Gate of Felicity 
and entrance to the inner courtyard -
 - the private and residential areas of the palace ...

and finally - the main entrance to the audience chamber -
now teaming with eager tourists ...

The Audience Chamber

The viziers came here to the Audience Chamber to present their individual reports to the sultan. Depending on their performance and reports, the sultan showed his pleasure by showering them with gifts and high offices, or in the worst case having them strangled by deaf-mute eunuchs. The chamber was thus a place that officials reporting to the sultan entered without knowing if they would leave it again alive. 
The most elaborate ceremonies were conducted during the reception of ambassadors who came, escorted by officials, to kiss the hem of the sultan's skirt. The throne was richly decorated during the ceremonies.

The Sultan's Library

The library contained books on theology, Islamic law and similar works of scholarship in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic and Persian. The library collection consisted of more than 3,500 manuscripts.

The Terrace Kiosk - a resting place for the Sultan

At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople.

The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. After the 17th century the Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. In 1856, Sultan Abdul Mecid decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahce Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, and the mint, were retained in the Topkapı Palace. 

Another view of the Terrace Kiosk and the Baghdad Kiosk

The Baghdad Kiosk 

The Baghdad Kiosk used as a library of the Privy Chamber

A resting place

The Iftar Bower - where the sultan sometimes took his evening meals ...

The Topkapı Palace was the main residence of the sultan and his court. It was initially the seat of government as well as the imperial residence. Even though access was strictly regulated, inhabitants of the palace rarely had to venture out since the palace functioned almost as an autonomous entity, a city within a city.

Audience kiosk ...

For the residents and visitors, the palace had its own water supply through underground cisterns and the great kitchens provided for nourishment on a daily basis. Dormitories, gardens, libraries, schools, even mosques, were at the service of the court. 

Attached to the palace were diverse imperial societies of artists and craftsmen collectively called the Ehl-i Hiref (Community of the Talented), which produced some of the finest work in the whole empire. 

A strict, ceremonial, codified daily life ensured imperial seclusion from the rest of world. One of the central tenets was the observation of silence in the inner courtyards. The principle of imperial seclusion is a tradition that was probably continued from the Byzantine court. It was codified by Mehmed II in 1477 and 1481 in the Kanunname Code, which regulated the rank order of court officials, the administrative hierarchy, and protocol matters. This principle of increased seclusion over time was reflected in the construction style and arrangements of various halls and buildings. The architects had to ensure that even within the palace, the sultan and his family could enjoy a maximum of privacy and discretion, making use of grilled windows and building secret passageways. 

The Imperial Treasury 

The Imperial Treasury held a vast collection of works of art, jewellery, heirlooms of sentimental value and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. Since the palace became a museum, the same rooms have been used to exhibit these treasures. 

Most of the objects in the Imperial Treasury consisted of gifts, spoils of war, or pieces produced by palace craftsmen. The Chief Treasurer (Hazinedarbaşı) was responsible for the Imperial Treasury. Upon their accession to the throne, it was customary for the sultans to pay a ceremonial visit to the Treasury. 

 The objects exhibited in the Imperial Treasury today are a representative selection of its contents, which mainly consist of jeweled objects made of gold and other precious materials. 

Among the exhibits are two large golden candleholders, each weighing 48 kg and mounted with 6,666 cut diamonds, a present of Sultan Abdülmecid I to the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca. They were brought back to Istanbul shortly before the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of control over Mecca.  

The treasures displayed in the treasury are quite spectacular – bejeweled and gold / silver plated adornments, weapons and domestic ware – all behind armourplated glass and heavily guarded of course. Unfortunately no photography is allowed within the exhibition ...

The Privy Chamber

The Privy Chamber houses the Chamber of the Sacred Relics (Kutsal Emanetler Dairesi), which includes the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. The chamber was constructed by Sinan under the reign of Sultan Murad III. It used to house offices of the Sultan.

Today it houses what are considered to be "the most sacred relics of the Muslim world": the cloak of Muhammad, two swords, a bow, one tooth, a hair of his beard, his battle sabres, an autographed letter and other relics which are known as the Sacred Trusts. 

Several other sacred objects are also on display, such as the swords of the first four Caliphs, The Staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph and a carpet of the daughter of Mohammed. 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, although in very dim light to protect the relics, and many Muslims make a pilgrimage for this purpose. 

The Tower of Justice

Entrance to the Tower

The Tower of Justice symbolizes the eternal vigilance of the sultan against injustice. Everyone from afar was supposed to be able to see the tower to feel assured about the sultan's presence. The tower was also used by the sultan for viewing pleasures. The old tower used to have grilled windows, enabling him to see without being seen, adding to the aura of seclusion.

The Harem ...

The Imperial Harem occupied one of the sections of the private apartments of the sultan; it contained more than 400 rooms. 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. 

Entrance to the Harem ...

The harem consists of a series of buildings and structures, connected through hallways and courtyards. Every service team and hierarchical group residing in the harem had its own living space clustered around a courtyard. The number of rooms is not determined, with probably over 100, of which only a few are open to the public. These apartments were occupied respectively by the harem eunuchs, the Chief Harem Eunuch, the concubines, the queen mother, the sultan's consorts, the princes and the favourites. There was no trespassing beyond the gates of the harem, except for the sultan, the queen mother, the sultan's consorts and favourites, the princes and the concubines as well as the eunuchs guarding the harem

Courtyard of the Consorts

The Courtyard of the Sultan's Consorts and the Concubines was constructed in the middle of the 16th century. It underwent restoration after the 1665 fire and is the smallest courtyard of the Harem. The porticoed courtyard is surrounded by baths, a laundry fountain, a laundry, dormitories, the apartments of the Sultan's chief consort and the apartments of the stewardesses.

Courtyard of the Favourites 

The favourites of the sultan were conceived as the instruments of the perpetuation of the dynasty in the harem organisation. When the favourites became pregnant they assumed the title and powers of the official consort of the sultan.

All the furnishings and decorations have been removed from the palace rooms so one does not really get a true sense of the opulence and function of the palace. Ceramic tiles adorn most of the walls and although quite beautiful, does give the place a rather cold and barren feel. 

Looking out to the Sea of Marmara

Looking up the Bosphorus

Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapı Palace was transformed by a government decree dated April 3, 1924 into a museum of the imperial era. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public today. Interesting areas like the stables and huge kitchen complex unfortunately are not open to the public. 

And even on this cold and overcast day the palace and the surrounding gardens are quite beautiful and do give an interesting insite into the lives of the Ottoman rulers ...