After the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453, the Ottoman court was initially founded in the first palace, Eski Sarayı “Saray-I Atik-I Âmire” (Old Palace) in Beyazid, which today is the site of Istanbul University. Yeni Sarayı Saray-ı Cedid-i Âmire”, (New Palace, today’s Topkapı Palace) was built between 1459 and 1478 by the order of Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror. Its complex is located on the Sarayburnu, and surrounded by the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea, and occupies an area of 700,000 square meters. During Greek and Byzantine times, there was an acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantion in this area. The Ottoman Empire maintained its center here until the 19th century, when the Sultan Abdülmecid I. and the administration moved to the Dolmabahçe Palace on the Bosphorus. In addition to being the seat of government and administration of the Empire, the palace was a center of education where future statesmen received their education and prepared to take over governmental offices. Craftsmen, who were trained in the palace, contributed to the formation of organizations outside the palace and shaped the Ottoman arts.

The Topkapı Palace consists of three main courts around which are scattered pavilions. Most of the additional architectural changes occurred during the reign of Sultan Suleyman (1520-1560). The complex has been expanded over the centuries, with many additional buildings, renovations, such as following the 1509 earthquake and the 1574 fire. After the end of the 17th century, the Sultans utilized their new palaces along the Bosphorus, such as the Old Çırağan Palace, the Beşiktaş Shore Palace and the Beylerbeyi Palace, in addition to the Topkapı Palace.

In 1856, the Sultan Abdülmecid I. decided to move the court to the newly constructed Dolmabahçe Palace, which was built in a Western architectural style. Since then the Topkapı Palace began to be called the “Topkapı Palace” to imply the Imperial Palace, instead of “Yeni Sarayı”. The name “Topkapı” directly translates as “Cannon gate”; the palace was named after a nearby sea gate, which had some cannons. Since the gate had been destroyed, it doesn’t exist anymore.

After the Declaration of Republic, the Topkapı Palace was turned into a museum on April 3, 1924 under the Directorate of the Museums of the Ancient Orient by order of Atatürk. The palace is full of examples of Ottoman architecture in the 15th to 19th centuries, and also contains large collections of the Holy relics, arms and armoires, robes, miniature paintings, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, Chinese and Japanese porcelains and tiles, as well as a display of Ottoman treasure and jewelry.

Topkapı Palace, Istanbul: Akbank, 2000.
Önder Küçükerman, One Empire Two Palaces, “Topkapı” and “Dolmabahçe” in the Industry and Design Competition, Istanbul: Yapı kredi Publications, 2007.
Deniz Doğan Kuban, Osmanlı Mimarisi, Istanbul: Yem Yayın, 2007.

For further information: Topkapı Palace Museum