Built in the second half of the 15th century by Sultan Mehmed II, this stunning palace complex has survived to present day in excellent condition. Today, here you can immerse yourself in the world of the Ottoman court of the 15th-19th centuries, take a walk through the personal apartments of the sultans and the Harem, look into the Library and mosque, visit the territory of the Palace kitchens, see the bath rooms and much, much more.
Must-See Attractions at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
Here are some attractions you should not miss at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul:
Imperial Council Chamber (Divan-ı Hümayun):
Explore the historical chamber where the Ottoman government conducted its affairs.
Discover the opulent and private living quarters of the Ottoman sultans and their families.
Sultan’s Privy Chamber (Has Oda):
Witness the exquisite collection of personal belongings and treasures of the Ottoman sultans.
The Sacred Safekeeping Rooms (Emanet Hazinesi Dairesi):
View a fascinating collection of holy relics, including Prophet Muhammad’s cloak and sword.
Imperial Kitchens (Matbah):
Experience the grandeur of the kitchens where meals for the Ottoman court were prepared.
The Treasury (Hazine-i Amire):
Admire a dazzling array of priceless artifacts, including the Topkapi Dagger and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.
Courtyard of the Favorites (Hasbahçe):
Relax in the serene garden area, providing a peaceful contrast to the grandeur of the palace.
The Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odası):
Marvel at the intricate decorations in this room dedicated to the circumcision ceremonies of young princes.
The Tower of Justice (Adalet Kulesi):
Enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul from this tower, symbolizing the importance of justice in the Ottoman Empire.
The Gate of Felicity (Babüssaade):
Enter the symbolic heart of the palace, where the sultan received ambassadors and held official ceremonies.
Entrance fee of Topkapi Palace
As of 2023, the admission fee for Topkapi Palace is 750 Turkish Liras. This ticket encompasses access to the Hagia Irene Museum situated in the palace’s first courtyard, along with an inclusive audio guide. If you wish to explore the harem separately, the ticket price is 350 TL. Alternatively, there is an option to purchase a comprehensive combined ticket covering all three sections at a cost of 950 TL. Please note that this ticket pricing information was most recently updated on November, 2023.
Topkapi Palace Ottoman Empire
Covers an area of about 700 thousand square metres;
For 380 years, when the palace played the role of a sultan’s residence, 25 sultans were born, lived and ruled here;
The word “topkapi” in Turkish means “cannon gate”;
In front of the main gate there was a “Fountain of the Executioner”, where the sultan’s executioners washed their swords;
Springs and fountains were built into the walls of the palace and served as a kind of protection from listening;
The baths were always made with double ceilings so that the killers could not get into the room;
How to get tickets to Topkapi Palace
The territory of the palace is quite large, and there are a lot of objects in it, so you need to plan at least half a day, or even the whole day, for a comprehensive inspection of the place. You can buy tickets at the ticket office next to the main entrance to the Topkapi Palace. However, in high season, you should be aware that you may have to queue for up to 2 hours and this can affect your travel planning, especially if you plan to stay in Istanbul for a day or two. A tourist should keep in mind that it is possible to buy a general ticket to visit all pavilions, temples and museum expositions. Another way is only to take tickets to individual pavilions. A visit to the Harem costs extra and is not included in the general ticket. It is better to buy a Palace ticket+A Harem right away to save time.
Of course, it’s better to buy tickets online, because it’s cheaper and more convenient, besides, you never know how long the queue will be. If you plan to visit several museums, the right choice is to get Museumpass – in addition to the discounted price, there is also a fast track (entrance to museums without a queue). The card is paid off after visiting only three items from the list (Topkapi with Harem, Hagia Sophia and St. Irene’s Cathedral).
After passing the control, it is necessary to take an audio guide in your native language. You need to leave a deposit for it. The audio guide will help you understand the purpose of the numerous rooms of the palace complex.
The museum’s working days are every day, except Tuesdays. The museum is open from 9 to 18.
History of Topkapi Palace
Before the Turkish conquerors came to this land, washed by the Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara, there was a world-famous city – Constantinople – the beautiful and rich capital of the Byzantine Empire. But at the end of May 1453, after a long siege, Constantinople fell under the blows of the Ottoman army. The last Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Eleventh was killed in bloody battles. The Ottoman sultans reigned in the city for almost five centuries.
It was Mehmed II who created a huge palace residence in the form of a stone tent city and Constantinople itself, renamed Istanbul, became the capital of the great Ottoman Empire for many years.
Topkapi is translated as “cannon gate”, this is the name of the main entrance to the complex. This name is quite symbolic, because it contains the meaning of one of the sultan’s rituals when the arrival or departure of the sultan from the palace was always announced by a cannon salvo.
In total, 25 Ottoman rulers lived in this palace for 400 years until the middle of the 19th century, when a new sultan’s residence, Dolmabahce, appeared in Istanbul. In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, and the Topkapi Palace received the status of a museum.
In front of the main palace gates you can see one of the buildings of the Ottoman Empire of the first half of the 18th century – the “Sultan Ahmet” fountain. This fountain, well known to all tourists visiting Istanbul, has the name of the ruler, under whom it appeared.
The palace complex consists of several courtyards and each one has its own interesting construction sites. The inspection begins with the First courtyard, which you can enter absolutely free of charge. In total, there are four courtyards in the palace, connected by a passing gate. Each courtyard is surrounded by walls as it was a kind of fortress. So in case of an enemy attack, the sultan could hide in more remote courtyards while the previous ones were being defended. But all these measures turned out to be unclaimed, because not a single attack was made on the Topkapi Palace.
Administrative services were located in the First and Second courtyards, visitors were received, various events were held. But the Third and Fourth courtyards were exclusively the inner part of the palace, where the sultan’s private life took place.
The First courtyard
The First courtyard is also called the Court of the Janissaries, because their barracks were located here. Janissaries were the main Ottoman infantry military forces.
The Janissary court was a travel yard for the ruling sultan and his retinue, as well as a public territory for all residents and guests of the city, regardless of religion or social status. The sultan’s bakery and hospital functioned here, firewood was stored, and a water supply station worked. There was also a Treasury with a Mint, service pavilions, etc. Foreign ambassadors were waiting for the sultan’s audience in this courtyard too.
In the same courtyard there was also a monument of Byzantine architecture of 4-6 centuries – the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Irene. This cathedral was not rebuilt into a Muslim temple, and therefore it is valuable precisely because it has been preserved almost in the form in which it was restored after the uprising in the 6th century.
Second courtyard (Council Square)
After seeing all the possible sights of the First courtyard, the visitor approaches the next gate, which is called the Gate of Welcome. Visitors could enter this gate, built in the second half of the 15th century, only on foot. Only the sultan could ride into them on horseback.
The main architectural structures of the Second courtyard were the Divan (the Palace of Meetings), the External Treasury, the long gallery of the Palace Kitchens, the Beshir-Agha Mosque, the Chancery, stables, Hamam and other office premises. There was also an entrance to the Harem, which was located partly on the Second and partly on the Third courtyard.
Important state ceremonies were held here, besides, decisions about the beginning and end of wars and about the marriage of the sultan’s children were made in the Second courtyard.
Today in the buildings of the former Treasury you can visit interesting museum exhibitions, for example, an exhibition of watches or Ottoman military weapons. At the watch exhibition, you can see very interesting exhibits with Muslim symbols from floor to miniature.
The territory of the Harem is a kind of city within a city. The Harem begins from the Gates of the carriages, which received their name because the residents of the Harem left and entered there in closed carriages.
This Harem was built during the reign of Suleiman the First. And it was built at the request of the most famous concubine of the Ottoman harem, who later became the wife of the sultan – Roksolana or Hurrem Sultan.
The entrance to the territory of the Third Courtyard of Topkapi, which was the sultan’s personal territory, was carried out through a beautiful and almost sacred gate for nationals, variously referred to in different sources as the Gate of Bliss or the Gate of Audiences, and they were also called the Gate of White Eunuchs.
The first pavilion in the form of a one-storey rectangular building with a marble colonnade is an Audience Hall. It has been located on the territory of Topkapi since the 15th century. This small and once quite richly decorated pavilion was a kind of sultan’s study.
A light and airy building located almost in the center of the Third courtyard is the library of Ahmed the Third. Once there were several thousand handwritten editions in various Oriental languages. The sultan and senior officials could come here and, sitting comfortably on soft sofas, read books most of which were with religious content.
Around the perimeter of the Third courtyard there are low white buildings – the School of Pages. They housed various departments of the boys’ school. The children who lived here could not leave the palace and could not visit the territory of the Harem. They received a very good education and the most skilled ones could later apply for the highest positions in the state. Thus, this school was a kind of state institution for training future officials.
To the right of the entrance, in one of the rooms of the former School of Pages, you can see exhibits of sultan’s garment. These are ceremonial robes made of expensive textile and decorated with gems and furs, and home casual clothes. The clothes of all the rulers were sacredly preserved, and even the red and gold caftan of Mehmed the Conqueror, who wore it in the 15th century, has come down to our days. A little further from the Sultan’s Clothing Museum there is a Treasury, where you can see jewelry and gems from the personal treasury of the sultans. There is also a famous diamond known as the “Spoon Diamond”. This huge gemstone fell into the hands of a poor man who didn’t understand its value and exchanged it for 3 wooden spoons. Over time, the diamond got into the sultan’s treasury and received a decent treatment.
On the left side of the courtyard there is a Pavilion of the Sacred Mantle with various Muslim and Orthodox shrines, as well as the Alagar Mosque, which is the largest mosque on the territory of the Topkapi Palace.
The fourth courtyard
There are no special gates to the garden, so the Fourth courtyard is a logical continuation of the Third courtyard. In addition to the garden landscape of the Tulip Garden, you can see several beautiful examples of small-form architecture here. These are the pavilions of Yerevan, Baghdad, Golden (Iftariye) and others. Here the sultan walked between vineyards and fruit trees, enjoying the fragrance of flower beds, where tulips and roses, hyacinths and carnations grew. Today, the territory of the Tulip Garden is included in the territory of the public recreation area of Gulhane Park.
Taksim Square to Topkapi Palace
To get to Topkapi Palace from Taksim Square, you first need to get to Kabatash district by F1 funicular. Then take the T1 tram and drive to the Sultanahmet stop. It will take about 10 minutes to walk from Sultanahmet tram stop to Topkapi Palace.