Istanbul's Topkapi Palace

Travel to Turkey

There are plenty of things to see and do in the bustling city of Istanbul. It's often difficult to decide on an itinerary when there are so many historical and architectural wonders on offer. Turkey tours make the most of the unique and fascinating buildings and culture of Istanbul, and feature some amazing locations throughout the city. One of these is the legendary Topkapi Palace, the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years. It's a spectacular sight, and an amazing chance for visitors to set foot inside an iconic piece of Turkish history.


After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II ordered the construction of a new palace in 1459. It grew almost organically, with the highest point of the promontory it was built upon reserved for his private quarters, and other buildings stretching down towards the shores of the Bosphorus. Unlike other comparable royal residences, Topkapi Palace developed over the course of centuries, with new Sultans adding or removing buildings and features as they saw fit. Many of the most dynamic changes happened during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in 1520-1560 under Sultan Suleyman, who wanted the expansion and power of the Ottoman Empire to be reflected in his residence, transforming it into the architectural highlight of many cultural Turkey tours.


It is estimated that there were originally 700 to 800 residents of Topkapi Palace when it was first constructed, but over time the population grew (necessitating the expansion of the palace) to 5,000, and double that number on significant festival days. It might not seem so crowded on your Turkey tours when you consider this figure! Chief amongst the residents were the Janissaries, elite fighters in the Sultan's army. Special laws meant that they were cut off from the society of the time, and were even forbidden to marry. This type of discipline made them a fighting force to be feared throughout Europe.

The Harem

Topkapi Palace was also home to the 'Harem', derived from a word meaning 'forbidden' in the Arabic language. The Harem was a complex of rooms and dwellings belonging to the wives, concubines, and children of the Sultan, guarded by eunuchs. In total, over 400 rooms complete with Turkish baths were dedicated to housing the Sultan, his mother, and the rest of his entourage. Today, the Harem is a separate museum within Topkapi Palace and is a wonderful attraction to include on the itinerary of cultural and historical Turkey tours.


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