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Topkapi Palace :: Chambers of the Sacred Relics

Chambers of the Sacred Relics

One of the most interesting parts of the palace is undoubtedly the Chambers of the Sacred Relics or Hirka-i Saadet. They are contained in a complex of four domed, rectangular rooms, surrounded by a portico, and like the Cinili Pavilion with which they are thought to be contemporary, a basement below. The chambers, formerly the privy chambers built in the reign of the Mehmet the Conqueror, underwent a number of changes and repeated restorations and were allocated to the storage of sacred relics by Selim the Grim, who appointed forty guards or Hasodalilar to protect them.

One enters the chambers through the fountain portal or Sadirvan Kapisi - from the Privy Court-or Enderun. An inscription over the portal bears the monogram of Ahmet III and alongside it is inscribed the proclamation of Unicity. Other inscriptions also bearing monograms flank the portal on either side, where one may see decorative tile panels dating from a later restoration. Left of the entrance, one encounters the facade of the barracks of the Privy Chamber Guards, while just before that lies a well into which the refuse that was swept out of the Chambers of the Relics was dumped. It was also where the marble slab atop which the corpses of deceased sultans were placed for ritual washing before burial was stored. Through the portal one passes first into a porch-like room with a fountain and raised dais area. This rectangular chamber was used by the chamber guards as a prayer room, whereby it was customary for them to perform ritual ablutions at the fountain and pray on the raised dais. Beyond the Chamber with a Fountain, one encounters on the left side a room known as the Kerchief Chamber or Dest-i Mal Odasi. This is a small room decorated with tilework and it dates from the reign of Murat IV, where kerchiefs given to pilgrims to the sacred relics were kept and in later years printed.

On the right of the room with a fountain is the antechamber to the Chamber of the Sacred Relics, known as the 'Petition Chamber' or Arzhane. Here pilgrims waited to be received into the presence of the relics through a fine, late- period door inlaid with mother-of pearl over which an inscription written in jali- thuluth Arabic script of salutation to 'God's Prophet, Muhammad. The inlaid door was the work of the master inlayer, Sedefkar Vasif. The door opens into the Chamber of Sacred Relics, decorated with fine 16th century tilework, and in the far left corner stands the gilded silver coffered domicile baldachin set atop the relics. This structure supported on four pillars, was erected for Murat IV as a throne by the Court Jeweller, Zilli Mehmet, and with the addition of grills over two sides, by Mahmut II, transformed into an open casket for the sacred relics. It was during the reign of Mahmut II that the chamber: underwent considerable restoration am marble cases were added, together with doors, cupboards and hearth in the empir, style. A fountain can be seen under the, portico facing the chambers. Plaque above and between the windows were added during repairs that dates to the reign of Mehmet V (Resat) .

A constant watch was kept over the sacred relics, continuous chanting of the Koran and prayers of supplication to the Sultan being a daily feature of activity in the chamber. The royal entourage paid their annual respects to the relics on the fifteenth day of Ramazan. Some day before this ceremonial visit, the sultan himself carried the relics to the Revan Pavilion in a procession, where they were displayed and it was he who opened the casket holding the relic of the Prophet Mantle-or Hirka-i Saadet- when the Grand Vizier, the Grand Sheikh of the canon la (Muslim religion and law) of the faith Seyh-ul islam, as well as all those present kissed the hem of the Prophet's mantle.

The collection of relics remained the chambers set aside for them for centuries,. preserved in closets, caskets and chests of gold and silver and draped in cloth. They were not only valuable f their religious significance, but also we often encased in artifacts that we masterpieces in their own right. A numb of the relics entered the palace along with the treasure of the Egyptian Mamelukes brought back to Istanbul by Selim the Grim after his conquest of Egypt. We know that the remaining relics were sent to Istanbul by Seyyid Berekat, (sherif of Mecca) after Selim declared himself Caliph. These latter consisted of paraphernalia, swords and Korans of Muhammed and his companions, manuscripts of a religious nature which are believed to have been in their possession, artifacts from the Kaaba and votive gifts, some of which are now on display in the Hirka-i Saadet Chamber, the Arzhane and the Chamber with a Pool.

The original relics of the Prophet's mantle or Hirka-i Saadet, which is preserved in a series of gold caskets, the sacred standard or Sancak-l Serif in its silver chest and the swords and bow of the Prophet, which are all to be found in the Hirka-i Saadet chamber. The sacred standard, originally of black woolen cloth, is kept in a green taffeta bag, being much worn and fragmented. It was the custom for all Ottoman standards to have a fragment of the sacred standard sewn into them to symbolize the banner of the Prophet. A sacred banner of later date, of green silk, with the names of the twelve companions of the Prophet inscribed around a gold embroidered quotation from the Koran wrought on red satin, is kept in conical-lidded reliquary plated with silver and plaques on the lid.

Relics kept in the petition chamber Arzhane or antechamber of the Chamber of the Prophet's Mantle include a small gilded casket encrusted with emeralds, rubies and diamonds containing the Prophet's beard or Lihye-i Saadet in a gold framed glass case. Alongside these relics are a number of reliquaries, one a small casket wrought with silver filigree, round box encrusted with rubies an emeralds, another small box encruste with turquoises and rubies and a large silver chest made for Abdulmecit to hold the Prophet's beard. In the same case preserved one of the letters presumably sent by the Prophet to the monarchs of Egypt and Persia, and to the Byzantine emperor, inviting them to convert to Islan It is inscribed in black ink on brownish parchment and flanks a seal thought t have belonged to the Prophet, which was found in Baghdad in the 19th century an brought to Topkapi Palace, where it was preserved in an oval box.

Another case in the Arzhan contains the golden cover that encased the stone of the Kaaba and two silver frame: also from Mecca. Thirty-two keys, two lock frames and three locks, one of which is in pieces, are also among the relics. The governor of the Hejaz sent the keys of the Kaaba to Istanbul after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt. Subsequently, it became customary for keys and locks to be sent by the Ottomans to Mecca bearing the names and dates of each of the sultan and inscribed with quotations from the Koran and later returned. These were iron inlaid with gold and silver or of fin silver and bronze, and were made in the Palace at Istanbul for successive sultans. Among the finest in the collection are those of the Abbasid and Mameluke periods and others made for Ahmet II. Bayezid II. Suleyman I and Abdulaziz.

Here too, one may see the so-called Door of Repentance or Tovbe Kapisi, an iron inlaid door measuring 1.45 x 2.00 m, and golden and gilded silver rainwater spouts taken from the Ka'ba after restoration. The spouts bear the date 1612 and the name of Ahmet I, and measure 2.75 m in length, 25 cm in width and 31 cm in height.

There are twenty swords preserved in the chambers of the sacred mantle, two of which are presumed to have belonged to the companions of the Prophet. Many o them were reworked in the Palace as c mark of respect for their original owners rendering them works of art, and include the swords of Cafer-i Tayyar. Halid bin Velid, Ammar bin Yasir, Ebu'l Hasene-the scribe of Muhammed, Davut, Ali, Osman, Omer and Ebubekir, which are displayed the chamber with a fountain together with one of the pouches made in. the Palace as a cover for the sacred swords.

During the Ottoman period, a number of early manuscripts, including 139 Korans, one of which was believed to have been in the hands of the Caliph Prophet Osman when he was martyred were kept in the sacred mantle chambers. Among the Korans once preserved here were those inscribed by important calligraphers, including Yakut, Ahmet Karahisari and Shah Mahmud Nisapuri, which are now kept together with the rest of the collection, in the museum library.

 



Above text and pictures are from the book titled "Topkapi Palace Hardcover".

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