Inside Topkapi Palace

Just outside the Topkapi Palace, before you enter it, you will see the fountain of Sultan Ahmet III - a beautiful baroque structure. On four sides of the fountain are four taps and at each corner a 'sebli' for distribution of water to thirsty travelers. You then enter the first portal or The Court of Murad II .On either side of this, is a tower called the Bab-i Humayun. This portal was once guarded by special guards and it is said that sometimes severed heads of traitors were displayed here. This portal housed the several service buildings and administrative offices, the armory, and the Byzantine Samson Hospital.

Next to this, you will find the Hagia Eirene. This was one of the oldest churches of Constantinople. This church was once burnt down in the Nika Rebellion and then rebuilt by Justinian. After the conquest, it was used as the armory with a large collection of weapons. Ultimately, in the 19th century, it became the first Turkish military museum. The museum was later moved elsewhere and the Haghia Eirene has since become a concert hall.

From the church, you will go down the hill to the Gulhane Park or the former palace gardens. There is much to see here. At the entrance, you will find the Ceremonial Pavilion from where Mahmud II watched processions. As you go halfway down the hill you come to the Tiled Pavilion This was one of the finest buildings to be made by Mehmet II. The entire building is made of blue and turquoise tiles. Designed in the Seljuk Art form, it is striking in its effect. Today it is aptly converted into a ceramics museum where fine ceramics right from 12th century onwards are on display.

On your way, you can see another monument called the Gothic monument, so called because it was erected after a victory over the Goths. Near the water's edge is the International Press Center that was originally a pavilion for basket weavers.

Your next visit would be the Harem at Topkapi Palace, which you enter through the second courtyard. You will have to buy a ticket to enter the Harem. Limited numbers of visitors are allowed to enter at a time. You have to pass through the Divan Odasi to reach the Harem. This area served as a transition between the public and the private parts of the Topkapi Palace. The harems of the Turkish rulers were cloaked in mystery and intrigue. The Sultan's family members as well as his several concubines and consorts were housed here. Black eunuchs were employed to guard the inmates. The inhabitants of the harem were shut off from the outside world and no one from outside was allowed to enter. Today, only a part of the Harem is open to visitors. You will mainly see a labyrinth of rooms and corridors. The architecture here is based primarily on the theme of sexuality.

You next proceed to the museum. The entrance is the Orta Kopi or Babusselam that is the central gate. At one time executions were carried out inside this gate and the heads exhibited on blocks of stone. You may find it difficult to imagine this today as you pass through the gate. The museum houses some of the original kitchen equipment from the Topkapi Palace, and the largest collection of porcelain and glassware in the world.

From here, you enter the third courtyard through the Gate of Felicity. This brings you to the most private part of the palace to which, only the Sultan and his closest associates were allowed entry. The gate was fiercely guarded by white eunuchs. Royal ceremonies like coronations were held at this gate. Once you enter, you get to see the audience chamber where foreign ambassadors were received and the Grand Vizier came to present his resolutions. You must proceed to see the treasury, which exhibits priceless objects like jeweled thrones, ornate daggers and baskets of emeralds. In the building on the opposite side, you will find the finest collection of miniatures. Passing on from there you will find many fine pavilions built by various Sultans. The pavilion of Sultan Abdulmecit is now a restaurant, which may be a welcome sight to hungry tourists.