Topkapi is the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive to our day. In 1924 it was turned into a museum at Ataturk’s request. Situated on the acropolis, the site of the first settlement in Istanbul, it commands an impressive view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace is a complex surrounded by 5 km of walls and occupies an area of 700,000 sq. m at the tip of the historical peninsula.
Following the conquest of the city in 1453, the young Sultan Mehmet moved the capital of the empire to Istanbul, His first palace was located in the middle of the town. The second palace, which he built in the 1470’s, was initially called the New Palace, but in recent times it came to be known as the Topkapi Palace. Topkapı is a classical example of Turkish palace architecture. It consists of tree- shaded courtyards, each serving a different purpose and opening onto one another with monumental gates. The courtyards are surrounded by functional buildings. From the time of its construction, the palace developed constantly with alterations and additions made by each sultan.
When the sultans moved to the ostentatious Dolmabahçe Palace in 1853, Topkapı lost its importance as the official royal residence and was left to deteriorate. It finally regained its former unpretentious beauty after fifty years of continuous restoration in the Republican era. Most of the objects exhibited in the palace today are unique masterpieces.
When it was used as a palace, it served more functions than one usually associates with royal residences. Although it was the residence of the Sultan, the sole ruler of the empire, it was at the same time the center of the administrative affairs, the place where the council of ministers met, and the treasury, mint, and state archives were located there. The highest educational institution of the empire, the university of the sultan and the state was also here. Therefore it was the heart, the brain, the very center of the Ottoman Empire. Much later, the harem (private quarters) of the sultans was moved here too.
Of the sixteen empires founded by the Turks, the Ottoman Empire was the longest lasting and the largest. It lasted for 622 years ruling over the Asian, European and African lands surrounding the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Peoples of different races and religions were united under its rule. The only other empire in history that governed such vast lands for such a long period was the Roman Empire.
Thirty-six sultans reigned during this period, and starting from early 16th century, they also became the religious leaders of the Islamic world as caliphs.
Capable civil servants, after completing their education in the school in the private courtyard of the sultan, served faithfully and successfully in the administration and organization of the empire. Most of the viziers and grand viziers were graduates of this school. Life started at dawn in the palace and it was subject to strict rules and ceremonies. Everybody had to abide by the centuries-old customs and traditions, and these were observed rigorously even when the empire fell into a period of decline. The etiquette of this palace always influenced the rules of protocol in the Western world.
The seaside mansions and pavilions of Topkapi Palace were demolished at the end of the last century.
The different tiles, woodwork and architectural styles displayed in Topkapı Palace reflects the development of Turkish art and the harmonious existence of differing styles over the centuries.