Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Construction began in hegira 9th century / AD 15th century, during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II (his second reign: AH 855–86 / AD 1451–81); the last addition was made under Sultan Abdülmecid [‘Abd al-Majid] (r. AH 1255–77 / AD 1839–61) in hegira 13th century / AD 19th century
Begun by Sultan Mehmed II during his second reign and continued by successive sultans; the last addition was made under Sultan Abdülmecid.
The Topkapı Palace (originally known as Saray-ı Hümayun [Imperial Palace], Saray-ı Cedide-i Amire [New Imperial Palace], Yeni Saray [New Palace]) was founded on an area of the Istanbul peninsula which commands the Golden Horn on one side, and the Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara, on the other. The wooden palace built by Sultan Mehmed II behind the Top Kapı (literally the 'Cannon Gate'), the oldest sea gate of the palace, burned down and its name was given to the 'New Palace'. The palace is surrounded by the Sur-ı Sultani (Sultan's Walls), whose main entrance is the Bâb-ı Hümayun (Imperial Gate) on the side facing Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia).
The plan of the palace is generally similar to that of the Edirne Palace, occupying an area of approximately 700,000 sq m. Construction began under Sultan Mehmed II and successive rulers added to it, until it took the form of a large complex of buildings. The Topkapı Palace lacks the axial organisation seen in many palaces. This group of buildings, rather than comprising an architectural unity, developed like a small city whose elements underwent changes over time. The palace's plan of three main courtyards was developed, and the monumental gates built, under Sultan Mehmed II. The first courtyard, known as the Alay Meydanı (Parade Ground), is entered through the Bâb-ı Hümayun (Imperial Gate), the main gate of the palace, where the church of Aya Irini (Hagia Irene) is also found. Many buildings were built here for various purposes, but none of them survive. The first courtyard opens onto the second courtyard, known as the Divan Meydanı (Divan Ground), through the Bâbüsselam (Gate of Salutations), also called the Orta Kapı (Middle Gate). The principal buildings here are the palace kitchens, the royal stables, the Kubbealtı (apartments for councils of state) and the Tower of Justice. Finally, the Enderun (Inner Palace) area is entered through the Bâbüssaade (Gate of Felicity) or Akağalar Kapısı (Gate of the White Eunuchs). Among the important buildings in this, the third courtyard are the Arz Odası (Audience Hall), used by the sultan to receive ambassadors and viziers; the sultan's privy chamber, later used to house the Hırka-i Saadet (the Mantle of the Prophet); the Pavilion of Mehmed II and the library of Ahmed III. A gently sloping path leads to the fourth courtyard that contains free-standing pavilions. These include outstanding examples of Ottoman civil architecture such as the Baghdad and Revan Pavilions, built by Murad IV (r. AH 1032–49 / AD 1623–40), and the Sünnet Odası (Circumcision Chamber) built by Ibrahim I (r. AH 1049–58 / AD 1640–48). The last building added to the Topkapı Palace was the Mecidiye Pavilion, built under Sultan Abdülmecid (AH 1255–78 / AD 1839–61). The harem, where the sultan and his family lived, looks like a separate city within the palace. The oldest section of the harem extant dates to the period of Murad III (r.AH 982–1003 / AD 1574–95). An inscription above one of the entrances to the harem, the Araba (Carriages) Gate, opens onto the second courtyard next to the Kubbealtı; it bears the date AH 995 / AD 1588.
The changes and additions made to the Topkapı Palace over time reflect on one hand the decorative styles of the various periods to which they belong, while, on the other hand, they provide a record of the different phases of building that the palace underwent. The Topkapı Palace shows the characteristics of Ottoman court and residential architecture for a period lasting up until the construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace in the AH mid-13th / AD 19th century, and was the official residence of the Ottoman sultans from Mehmed II until Abdülmecid. It became a museum in 1924.
Topkapı Palace, which is one of the oldest palaces in the world, served as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire for some 400 years. Built on the tip of the Istanbul peninsula, the palace stands on an exclusive point overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Unlike European palaces, Topkapı Palace comprises numerous structures and its various pavilions and apartments, each of which is an exquisite example of Ottoman civic architecture, give it the appearnace of a small city. The palace has been serving as a museum since 1924 and its exhibits are among the world's masterpieces.
The most useful sources for dating the palace are the records and archival documents pertaining to its construction. The journals and drawings of foreign travellers are also important for dating, as are the chronicles written by Mustafa âli, İdris Bitlîsî, Kritovoulos, Peçevî İbrahim Efendi, Mustafa Selanikî and Hüseyin Hezarfen. Some parts of the palace have undergone constant changes and are datable solely by their decoration, although an exact chronology of those changes cannot be established.
Anhegger, M., Topkapı Sarayı'nda Padişah Evi (Harem) [The House of the Sultan in the Topkapı Palace (Harem)], Istanbul, 1986.
Eldem, S. H., and Akozan, F., Topkapı Sarayı-Mimari bir Araştırma [Topkapı Palace – An Architectural Approach], Istanbul, 1982.
Erkins, Z., Topkapı Sarayı [Topkapı Palace], Istanbul, 1959.
Kuban, D., “Topkapı Sarayı [Topkapı Palace]”, İstanbul Ansiklopedisi [Encyclopaedia of Istanbul], Vol. VII, Istanbul, 1994, pp.280–90.
Sözen, M., Devletin Evi Saray [The Palace, The House of the State], Istanbul, 1990.
Semra Daşçı "Topkapı Palace" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;tr;Mon01;24;en
Prepared by: Semra DaşçıSemra Daşçı
Dr Semra Daşçı lectures on European art at the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir. She was born in Istanbul in 1973. She graduated from the Department of Art, History of the Faculty of Letters, Istanbul University in 1995. She completed her Master's at the same university with her thesis on “The Child Figure in 19th Century European Paintings” under the supervision of Prof. Dr Gül İrepoğlu. She completed her Ph.D. with a thesis entitled “Use of Architecture in the European Paintings of the Renaissance Period” under the supervision of the aforementioned professor in 2001. She started working as a research assistant at the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University in 1999. Her areas of interest include European art of painting from the Renaissance to the 19th century and the documentary aspect of art and Orientalism, on which she has published various research findings and work
Translation by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: TR 37
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Ottomans | The Visual Language of Power The Ottomans | Court Life Western Influence in Ottoman Lands | Turkey The Ottomans | The Palace and the Arts The Ottomans | Table Culture The Ottomans | The Ottoman Capital: Istanbul Pilgrimage | The Haram at Mecca and the Ka’ba
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