Topkapı Palace was built by Sultan Mehmed II (1444-1445 and 1451-1481) during the years 1460-1478, following the conquest of Istanbul. New buildings and annexes were added by other sultans over the centuries, creating the palace complex as we know it today. The site on a headland at the southern mouth of the Bosphorus was originally known as Zeytinlik (Olive Grove), and here work began with laying out gardens and building pavilions, after which the site was surrounded by walls known as the Sûr-ı Sultânî or Kal‘a-i Sultânî. For many years this palace was called the New Royal Palace, to distinguish it from the earlier palace in the district of Beyazıt, but later on it became known as Top Kapısı Palace after a pavilion known as Toplu Kapı (Cannon Gate). The palace remained the sultan’s main residence and centre of government until the mid-19th century. By the 1840s, the palace had become inadequate for the needs of state protocol, and Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1843-1856 as the new official residence and administrative centre of the empire.
Topkapı Palace is situated in one of the oldest parts of Istanbul; the historic peninsula bounded by the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn inlet. It is one of the city’s most iconic buildings, covering an area of 700,000 m² on the headland known as Sarayburnu, which had been the site of the Eastern Roman acropolis. Topkapı Palace was the centre of Ottoman government, education and art for nearly four centuries, until the reign of the 31st Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-1861), as well as the sultan’s official residence. Although the sultans lived at Dolmabahçe Palace from the middle of the 19th century onwards, Topkapı Palace retained its historical and symbolic importance.
On 3 April 1924, shortly after the Republic of Turkey was established on 29 October 1923, Topkapı Palace became a museum; the first to be established in the Republican period. Today the palace and its grounds cover an area of nearly 350,000 m², excluding Gülhane Park, which was once part of the palace gardens but is now a public park. This palace, with its historic buildings, collections and nearly 300,000 archive documents, is one of the largest museum-palaces in the world.
The palace proper consists of buildings for diverse purposes opening onto a series of large courtyards surrounded by colonnades; a plan that was influenced by the earlier royal palace in Edirne, the former capital. The service buildings are made of stone and mostly single-storeyed with high domes, while the residential buildings are mostly made of stone and wood, with lead-covered domes. The inner parts of the palace and the gardens are ornamented with diverse fountains and pools, and contain numerous water reservoirs.
In terms of its organisation the palace is composed of four sections: the Bîrun, or Outer Palace, consisting of service buildings and guard posts; the Dîvân-ı Hümâyun or State Council building, which was the administrative centre of the empire; the Enderûn or Palace School; and the Harem, which was the sultan’s private home. There are three main gates in the palace walls, which adjoin the Byzantine city walls: the Bâb-ı Hümâyun or Royal Gate, which is the main entrance, the Demir Kapısı or Iron Gate and the Otluk Kapısı or Hay Gate. There are also five small service gates.
The Bâb-ı Hümâyun is a monumental two-storey structure with an inscription bearing the signature of the calligrapher Ali b. Yahyâ es-Sûfî. This leads into the first court, from which a second portal, the Bâbüsselâm, the Gate of Greeting, leads into the second court, from which a third portal, the Bâbüssaâde or Gate of Felicity, leads into the third court, from which a passageway leads into the fourth court. All of these are surrounded by buildings and gardens. The first court is an open square known as the Alay Meydanı or Procession Square, surrounded by the Church of Saint Eirene, the Mint, the Bakeries, Hospital, Firewood Store and the building housing the Company of Reed Mat Makers, who wove the mats that covered floors throughout the palace.
The second court, known as Divan Square or Justice Square, was the scene of innumerable ceremonies over the centuries. Here were the buildings relating to state government: the Council Chamber known as Kubbealtı or Divan-ı Hümâyûn where the Council of State convened, and the Council of State Treasury. Behind the Divan building was the Tower of Justice and next to it the entrance to the Harem, as well as the Dormitory of Tressed Halberdiers and the Royal Stables.
Around the third or Enderun Court are numerous small and large rooms comprising the sultan’s Audience Chamber, the halls of the Falconers, the Expeditionary Force, the Pantlers, the Enderûn Treasury and the Privy Chamber (today the Apartment of Holy Relics), and the building belonging to the Palace School. To either side of the Gate of Felicity are the dormitories inhabited by the members of the sultan’s household; beyond them on the right the treasury known as the Pavilion of the Conqueror. In the left corner was the Privy Chamber, a four-domed stone building adjoining the Harem, which was more often known as the Apartment of the Holy Mantle after Sultan Selim I brought the holy relics to Istanbul in the early 16th century.
In the fourth court are several royal pavilions, the İftariye Gazebo and terraced gardens. The Baghdad and Revan pavilions are exquisite examples of classical Ottoman period pavilion architecture. The Sofa Pavilion, also known as Kara Mustafa Paşa Pavilion, is thought to have been built in the 18th century and adjoins the wall of the Tulip Garden. Inside this wooden pavilion and at the top of the exterior walls are couplets written by the renowned Ottoman poet Hâkânî Mehmed Bey. On rare occasions ambassadors and statesmen were received in this pavilion. To the right, situated a terrace, is a room known as the Stone Tower that was once used as the palace pharmacy. In the lower part of the fourth court are the last buildings ever added to the palace, the Mecidiye Pavilion and the Wardrobe Chamber.
Topkapı Palace was attached to the Directorate of National Palaces Administration under resolution number 44 promulgated on 6 September 2019 in issue 30880 of the Official Gazette.