June 13th, 2014
We met up with our guide, Senem, and we headed out on a walking tour of the major historic sites, starting with Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465–1856) of their 624-year reign. As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. After the 17th century, the Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus.
The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint
The Ottomans followed the Byzantine practice of secluding the monarch from the people: the first court was open to all; the second only to people on imperial business; and the third and fourth only to the imperial family, VIPs and palace staff.
The Second Court yard has a beautiful, park-like setting. During the Springtime, one would see thousands of tulips blooming in large garden beds. We learned that the tulip is the ‘royal flower’ and it originated in Turkey. We now associate tulips with Holland, but the Dutch acquired the tulip bulbs from one of the Turkish Sultans as a gift.
We stopped outside of the gates to the next courtyard to take note of this fountain. This fountain was where the chief executioner would wash his sword after beheading someone. Executions were carried out inside the more private courtyard, but the purpose of this more public washing up was to make sure that people ‘got the point’. It seemed a rather ornate setting for such a grisly task.
The large Gate of Salutation, also known as the Middle Gate, leads into the palace and the Second Courtyard. No one apart for official purpose and foreign dignitaries were allowed passage through the gate. The Second Courtyard was primarily used by the sultan to dispense justice and hold audiences.
This is the entrance porch to the Imperial Council building, the chamber in which the ministers of state, council ministers, and the Imperial Council held meetings. The porch consists of multiple marble pillars, with an ornate green and white-colored wooden ceiling decorated with gold. The floor is covered in marble.
This very ornate inscription is above the entrance to the Council Building.
Three long sofas along the sides were the seats for the officials, with a small hearth in the middle (similar to this). The court was referred to, in Turkish, as the Divan. As they sat on these low couches, the term ‘divan’ became in modern usage to refer to a couch or sofa.
Through this doorway was the area that led to the private quarters of the sultan and his family, the Harem.
Though the term ‘Harem’ often conjures up images of lust and debauchery, in reality, these were the imperial family quarters, and every detail of Harem life was governed by tradition, obligation and ceremony. The word 'harem' literally means 'private'. The harem was home to the sultan's mother, the Valide Sultan; the concubines and wives of the sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants.
The women of Topkapı's Harem had to be foreigners, as Islam forbade enslaving Muslims. Girls were bought as slaves (often having been sold by their parents at a good price) or were received as gifts from nobles and potentates.
On entering the Harem, the girls would be schooled in Islam and Turkish culture and language, as well as the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading and writing, embroidery and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines and children, then to the sultan's mother and finally – if they showed sufficient aptitude and were beautiful enough – to the sultan himself.
The sultan was allowed by Islamic law to have four legitimate wives, who received the title of kadın (wife). He could also have as many concubines as he could support – some had up to 300, although they were not all in the Harem at the same time. If a sultan's wife bore him a son she was called haseki sultan; if she bore him a daughter she was called haseki kadın.The Ottoman dynasty did not observe the right of the first-born son to the throne, so in principle the throne was available to any imperial son. Each lady of the Harem struggled to have her son proclaimed heir to the throne,
We toured Topkapi’s Harem quarters……
And were just completely bowled over by the richness and opulence of these rooms.
These were the rooms for the Sultan’s mother, and head wife of the Sultan.
The rooms included a fountain in one corner!
The walls were covered with hand painted tiles.
The particular tile is known as ‘Isnik Tiles’ named after the region in which they were produced.
These particular tiles were made with a heavy percentage of quartz in the clay, making them very durable. The hand painted designs still remain vibrant.
The harem also had a number of beautiful stain glass windows, and they would echo the design of the stained glass on the wall in tile.
This is a piece of a velvet curtain, woven with gold wire and adorned with jewels.
We emerged from the Harem onto a lovely balcony which overlooked the family courtyard.
After the Harem, we toured both the Treasury and the Sacred Relic Rooms where we were not allowed to take photographs. : (
The Imperial Treasury is a vast collection of works of art, jewelry, heirlooms of sentimental value and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. Most of the objects in the Imperial Treasury consisted of gifts, spoils of war, or pieces produced by palace craftsmen. We saw many treasures on display, There were armors, consisting of an iron coat of chain mail decorated with gold and encrusted with jewels, gilded swords and shield and gilded stirrups. There were jewel encrusted daggers and sheaths, bow and arrow sets with jeweled quivers. Most of these objects were strictly ornamental and used only for ceremony. But WOW!
We also toured the Chamber of the Sacred Relics which includes the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. It houses what are considered to be "the most sacred relics of the Muslim world": the cloak of Muhammad, two swords, a bow, one tooth, a hair of his beard, his battle sabers, an autographed letter and other relics, which are known as the Sacred Trusts. Several other sacred objects are on display, The Staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph and a carpet of the daughter of Mohammed, and a casting of the arm of St. John the Baptist. These relics were considered so sacred that even the Sultan and his family were permitted entrance only once a year. Now any visitor can see these items, although in very dim light to protect the relics, and many Muslims make a pilgrimage for this purpose. We walked in absolute AWE………