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A History of Topkapi Palace in 60 Seconds

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 12 January 2018

The Topkapı Palace is one of Istanbul’s most iconic historic structures and museums that captures the endless admiring gaze of visitors every year due to its downright opulence. A truly magnificent reminder of the former might and pomp of the Ottoman Empire, the palace, which is now a museum, has a history that dates back to the 15th century.

The Topkapı Palace (or the Topkapı Sarayı, as it is known in Turkish) once served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the powerful sultans of the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. Commissioned by Mehmed the Conqueror himself, the palace’s construction began in 1459, six years after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. Due to the presence of the former palace in Beyazıt Square, the Topkapı Palace was first called Yeni Saray (the New Palace) but its name was changed in the 19th century to Topkapı, which translates to Cannon Gate. After its initial construction, the palace continued to be renovated and expanded throughout the centuries, especially due to natural disasters that often took their toll on buildings during those times, most notably, the earthquake of 1509 and the fire of 1665.

Before visitors even reached the palace’s interior they were first greeted by the spectacularly ornate Imperial Gate and the beautiful Rococo-style Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III in the courtyard. Inside, the awe-inspiring palace is composed of four main courtyards and other smaller structures including the harem, where the sultan’s female family members resided and the Imperial Council building, where meetings were held between important state officials. Unlike the palaces of Europe, which were composed of one large building surrounded by gardens, the Topkapı Palace stood out with its structure that included a series of pavilions, barracks, kitchens, kiosks, sleeping quarters and visitor chambers dotted around a central enclosure. By the 17th century, the grand palace began to lose its importance due to the new palaces that were being built by the Bosphorus and by 1856, Sultan Abdulmejid I moved to the newly-built Dolmabahçe Palace.