Topkapi Palace

Today it is the entrance to the Topkapi Museum. Originally from the era of the Conqueror, the portal underwent changes in later years. The two conical towers with octagonal walls flanking in on either side are thought to date to the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Above the door rests an inscription bearing the Moslem “Proclamation of Unicity” the most essential tenet of faith in Islam, with the monogram of Mahmut ll below, flanked on either side by the monogram of Mustafa lll and inscriptions referring to the restoration of the portal in 1758. Massive hand- beaten iron doors are set into the gate, bearing the name of blacksmith Giyas bin Mehmet who wrought them and the date 1524. The monumental portal to the second court opens onto what was known as the Council Square, or the court of justice, as it was the site of the meetings of the imperial council. Also known as the ceremonial court, being the venue for all the pomp and circumstance of imperial pageant, it was surrounded by porticos. The porticos on the right lead to the palace kitchens, the cellars and the sweetmeats pantry via three separate gates. The cellar gate is that closest to the Bab-us Selam, and now houses the palace archives. Next to it is the larder or yaghane-now the textile stores flanked, in turn, by the cooks’ wooden chapel mosque or mescit. Beyond the mosque are the kitchens proper. Four in a row, the cupolaed rooms were portioned off for the privy kitchen, the inner or enderun kitchen, and the harem and public officials or birun kitchen. From the court ten conical roofs over the cupolas single out the kitchen annex, which now holds the palace display of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. At the end of the row of kitchens arethe sweetmeats and confectionery pantries called helvahane and recelhane respectively, which now afford a display of kitchen utensils and the Confectioners Mosque, or Sekerci Mescit where Istanbul glassware and porcelain is now on display.

Opposite the kitchen porticos, on the other side of the grand ceremonial court a paved sloped ramp leads down from the gate of respects to the court of the imperial stables. As the slope curves down towards the stable yard a large portal on the left leading to the first grand court lets into the dividing wall. This is the Corpse Gate or Meyyit Kapisi through which those who died in the palace were carried out in funeral. It was also the gate used by visitors to the palace during the holy month of daily fast of Ramazan, who came and went to the traditional night feasts or iftar. The stable court is enclosed on the left by the Besir Aga Mosque, which was built by the imperial palace’s Chief Black Eunuch, Haci Besir Aga during the reign of Mahmut I (1730-1754), flanked by the remains of a bathhouse. Running the length of the court from the corner of the mosque are the stable buildings, the chambers of the Master of the Stables an the harness treasury, where many valuable horse-trappings in the imperial collection were stored.

This building is believed to date from the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror, whereas the main portal to the stables bears an inscription dated 1733 and refers to their restoration during the reign of Mahmut I..The far end of thicourt fronts a part of the chambers of the Crested Halberdiers or Zuluflu Baltacilar, the entrance to which, bearing an inscription of the Murat III period 1586 recording their enlargement and renovation under that sultan, opens into the court opposite the stables. The entrance leads to a stone staircase and down to a complex of chambers below ground level. These wooden chambers are the earliest original structures in the palace, thought to date primarily from the reign of the Conqueror. Clustered around a narrow open yard, they include a barracks, mescit, bathhouse, smoking room and fountain, as well as officers’ chambers. There are a number of inscriptions in the rooms, the earliest of which, dated 1586, over the barracks portal, cites the architect as Mehmet Aga.

The main portal of the Crested Halberdiers barracks opens onto the grand court of justice, the second grand court of the palace and flanking it is the entrance to the harem reserved for carriages-the carriage gate. This leads into the harem proper, a world apart from the rest of the palace, and bears the inscription dated 1587, which links it with the reign of Murat III. The harem embraces over 300 rooms, nine bathhouses, two mosques, an infirmary, dormitories and a laundry, and resembles an entire neighborhood, built over a period of four hundred years, from the time of Mehmet the Conqueror to the 19th century. A fire in 1665 altered the complex in part, and repeated renovations over the latter centuries have further transformed it in accordance with changes in European decorative taste.

However, the word ‘harem’ invokes the sheltered life within its walls rather than its structures pure and simple, and indeed what we know of the harem buildings over much to studies of harem activities and personalities. The basic structure is a series of courts surrounded by apartments. Two main courts enclosed by the harem chambers belong respectively to the Dowager Sultan and the concubines, the latter leading, via a flight of steps, down to the harem infirmary court. There are basically two groups of buildings separable by their relationship to the organization of the harem. The first, or outer section belongs to the eunuchs and is the group of buildings between the carriage gate to the harem and the grand portal to the privy chambers and the women’s apartments. Here we find the barracks, bathhouses and the chambers.

This section includes the pavilion of Murat III, the Grand Assembly Hall or Hunkar Sofasi, the pavilion of Sultan Osman, apartments of Selim III, the library of Ahmet I, the sweetmeats room of Ahmet I, the Hall with a Hearth or Ocakli Sofa, the chambers of the crown princes and the favorites as well as the bed chamber of Abdulhamit I. Out through the carriage gate into the grand court again, to the left are the chambers of the imperial council or Divan-l Humayun, also known as the ‘Dome’ , which were built by Ibrahim Pasha, son-in-Iaw of Suleyman the Magnificent. The present building suffered heavy damage in the harem fire of 1665, and underwent a major restoration between 1939-1943. The triple-domed chambers of the council are fronted by an eaved portico of considerable width. The first chamber on the left as approached from the center of the grand court is the Council Room or Divan Yeri, the entrance of which is flanked of the inscriptions depicting Selim III and Mahmut II respectively, dated 1792 and 1819. A grilled window in the center of the wall opens into the chamber from the tower of justice-or Kasr-li Adil from which the sultan observed the council meetings in camera. The tower is 42- meters high and also originally served as a watchtower for the palace, although the present tower, with its fine neo-classical column shaft pierced with windows, dating from the reign of Abdulmecit, largely replaced the earlier tower that was more massive. The original tower, with conical roof and timber upper shaft, survived until the mid-19th century. The Abdulmecit Tower was restored in 1962 and 1982. To the right of the council room, a second domed chamber was devoted to the offices of statesmen and a third, smaller chamber was allocated to the records office of the crown, known as the Defterhane, where the council minutes were kept. The council chamber remained one of the most important centers of the Ottoman administration until the end of the 18th century, after which the heads of state shifted out of the palace to the Sublime Forte or Bab-i Ali.

To the right of the dome is the Finance or inner treasury (Ic Hazine) , an eight-cupolaed chamber where the treasuri of the Finance Office or Divan-l Humayun was kept and which is thought to date from the period of the fourth wall of the grand council court, into which opens the gate into the third palace court, the Gate of Felicity or Bab-us Saade.

Also known as the Gate of the White Eunuchs as it was they who guarded this auspicious portal to the privy quarters of the palace, the Bab-us Saade was the focus of much of the palace ceremony. The present gate dates from the 18th century and bears an inscription referring to its restoration in 1774 under Mahmut II, surmounting the monogram of the same sultan. On the opposite side of the portal, facing to the third court are inscriptions bearing the signature of Ahmet III on three round plaques, which give the names andsultanate dates of the various sultans well as their birth dates-a form of Ottoman genealogy. Originally the portal was flanked by various allocated to the white eunuchs with access from within the portal itself.

These included the grand chamber the right, originally the palace (privy) school and a bathhouse, now used as a telephone exchange and canteen. Here also is museum director’s residence, formerly infirmary. To the left of the gate was wahat known as the small chamber, which backed onto the white eunuchs barraks, now housing the Embroidery Section.