Topkapi Palace Museum

The fabled city of the sultans, modern Istanbul, is one of the wonders of the world. As the Turkish road system has improved dramatically in recent years this has now become a feasible motoring destination, perhaps the culmination of an overland drive across Europe, through the Balkans and Greece.

One of Istanbul’s biggest tourist attractions has always been the famous Topkapi Palace, which along with the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia dominates the skyline of the old part of the city on Seraglio Point. It’s actually less of a traditional palace and more a complex of courtyards, kiosks and pavilions including, of course, the Harem. The sultans had their courts here for several hundred years until in the nineteenth century they moved into the more European-style Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosphorus. Turkey had by then become the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ and its rulers were painfully aware of their shortcomings when compared to their fellow monarchs farther to the west.

There’s a good coast road skirting Seraglio Point and plenty of places to park close to the palace, making it an ideal destination for a day’s delving into Ottoman history and appreciating fine views across the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.

Topkapi Palace was built shortly after the Turkish conquest of the city in 1453, when it was found that most of the old Byzantine palaces had become uninhabitable. There was no fixed plan for its construction, the various buildings being erected as and when needed, creating the organic growth visitors so much admire today. The great first court functioned as the service area of the palace and housed kitchens, stables and other buildings, and also the old Byzantine church of Hagia Irini, which is certainly worth a visit for its sheer antiquity. It was the city’s main church before the construction of Hagia Sophia in the 5th century.

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The Inner Court was the inner sanctum of the palace, with its imperial treasury and Ottoman household, along with the famous, or infamous, Harem, that spur to all manner of lascivious Western speculations because of its great air of secrecy.

The former palace kitchens now house an unrivalled collection of Ottoman memorabilia, including the jewel-encrusted ceremonial dagger of Suleiman II and the huge Spoonmaker’s Diamond, which is the size of a large pigeon egg.

There’s a restaurant with fantastic views across the Sea of Marmara, and sitting here sipping a cool drink after strolling around this beautiful complex of buildings, with a refreshing breeze blowing up from the Bosphorus, is one of the great pleasures of the city.

With a good hire car, Seraglio Point and all the rest of this ancient city, which sprawls across two continents, is within easy reach. Parking is remarkably easy too, and traffic wardens don’t exist. Unless you attempt to drive your vehicle into the Blue Mosque there shouldn’t be any trouble at all.

About the author

David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.





1 Comment to “Topkapi Palace Museum”

  1. I remember watching a movie set in this palace – I’d love to explore it sometime! 🙂

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