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When I think of a palace, I think of Disney. And lush gardens, and over-the-top architecture, and lots of bling. Although my trip to Topkapı didn’t include a Cinderella sighting (I suppose that’d be more of a castle, wouldn’t it? Is there a difference? Someone help me out with this…), I was certainly impressed by its grandeur.But wait…Topkapwha? 
 Here are the basics:

  • Topkapı Palace began being built in 1459 by Sultan Mehmed II, who was responsible for conquering Constantinople.
  • It was home to the sultans and their courts until 1856, when the sultan moved to Dolmabahçe Palace.
  • It has been a museum since 1924.
  • A treasury, kitchens, mosques, stables, baths and even a circumcision room are all part of the palace complex
  • There are 4 main courtyards

Obviously there is a lot more history and information about the palace, but you get the idea. The people who lived on the palace grounds essentially never had to leave–they had everything they needed there!

Topkapı Palace: Stomping Grounds of the Ottoman Sultans
Entrance to Topkapı-The Imperial Gate
The Street of the Council was used for imperial processions. It leads to the next courtyard.

The Gate of Salutation leads into the second courtyard, and only people arriving on official business could pass through it.

Topkapı Palace: Stomping Grounds of the Ottoman Sultans
Gate of Salutation at Topkapı Palace, Istanbul.
In the second courtyard were the kitchens, treasury, Tower of Justice, stables, some living quarters and the Imperial Council.
Because the palace is a museum today, the treasury is used to display a selection of jewels and gifts from other countries given to the sultans over the years. Remember how I mentioned that when I thought palace, I thought “bling”? Well, the sultans had it in spades.
Most of the interiors within the palace didn’t allow photography, so I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of the rubies and jade and amethyst that the sultans once owned. Sorry.

The Gate of Felicity leads into the next courtyard, and is Rococo style.

Notice all the gold
This stone marks where the banner of the Prophet was unfurled.

This third courtyard was home to privy chambers, a library, the room where the sultan received his audiences, a mosque, the pages’ dorm, and the harem, which was where the sultan’s mother, concubines and family lived. The harem alone has more than 400 rooms! It also costs extra to visit, so I didn’t go in.

My favorite parts were the religious relics. I’ve seen a lot of relics from Catholic saints in Italy–Catherine of Siena’s head and finger, for example–but the relics kept at Topkapı are wayyy more ancient.

Like, ya know Moses? The dude who parted the Red Sea with his staff. So, that’s there.

How about Abraham? There’s a pot of his, and a turban of Joseph’s.  

He’s not wearing the turban here. But at some point in the movie he does. Source.

 And David’s sword (yes, of David & Goliath) is there as well. Before this trip, any time I thought of David, I’d think of this:

I may or may not have had a crush on this Bernini in high school because of this sculpture. It was purportedly a self-portrait. Source.

Or the song “Hallelujah.” The Jeff Buckley version.

But I digress.

 Also, some of the most holy relics of the Prophet Mohammad, like a cloak, swords, a tooth, some hair, and other belongings that people make pilgrimages to see.

It was really cool to see these relics, particularly because these figures are so prominent in so many religions. 

My other favorite room was where all the clocks were kept. I am just now realizing why that’s funny (as a kid, my mom jokingly called me Big Ben sometimes because I was obsessed with  nagging being punctual). Clocks are really beautiful, though, and can come in all shapes and sizes and levels of ornamentation.

Again, no photos were permitted and there were guards in every room, but trust me when I say they were spectacular. Little pocketwatches and clocks ten feet tall, some carved with meticulous detail, others with more bold, sweeping designs. Masters of clockmaking in the sultan’s times could spend a lifetime making a single clock. That’s how bomb these creations were.

Beautiful Arabic script

More than anything, though, I was just wowed by the intricate designs and visceral colors! Blue just doesn’t get any more vibrant.

Proof I was there! See how ridiculous(ly amazing) the door is behind me!?

Tiles at Topkapi

Tiles at Topkapi

I want tile like this in my home. Stat.

View of the Bosphorus

View of the Bosphorus

View of the water from the palace.
Topkapı Palace: Stomping Grounds of the Ottoman Sultans

In the fourth courtyard, there are a series of kiosks that served different purposes. Some were religious in nature, others for relaxation or watching sports, but all of them showcased the power of the sultan and the prowess of his architects.

Baghdad Kiosk
Blue, blue, blue

Another view of the water and the skyline of Istanbul. This time, you can see Galata Tower in the distance.

Topkapı Palace: Stomping Grounds of the Ottoman Sultans
Istanbul skyline from Topkapı Palace.
Reveling in the beauty of the tiles and doors! Times like these, I wish I were a designer.
You know, just a ceiling.
Topkapı Palace: Stomping Grounds of the Ottoman Sultans
Inside the Baghdad Kiosk (I think).
I really should have considered writing down where I took all these photos…I just got so excited about how pretty they were!

So there you have it! My trip to Topkapı! The lessons I learned from this little expedition are that:

  • I really like clocks.
  • You can take the girl out of her ancient history program, but you can’t take the ancient history out of the girl (or something along those lines–basically, I still really love old stuff)
  • Apparently I want to live in a house designed like a palace one day.

And most importantly:


Have you ever been to a palace? What did you think? Share in the comments below!

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