After buying your tickets, you are entitled to enter the palace. For your convenience, I added a ground plan of the palace in this post. When you click on it, a bigger version will become available. While discussing the different locations and items inside the palace you’ll find numbers between brackets after their names. These will correspond with the numbers on the map.
The Second Courtyard
You enter the palace trough the Gate of Salutation (1) (Babus Selam), also known as the Middle Gate (Orta Kapı). The Gate of Salutation, through which only the sultan and the queen mother (Valide Sultan) were allowed on horseback, leads into the Second Courtyard, an huge park with plane trees, cypresses and rose bushes. Underneath is a cistern that dates back to Byzantine times. Unfortunately, it is mostly closed to the public.
As I mentioned in Topkapi Palace part 1, you’d better head straight for the Harem (24), to avoid traffic and to make sure you’ll be admitted. I won’t discuss the Harem here, but I devoted an extra post on how to visit Topkapi Palace’s Harem, a must-see feature.
Directly to your right after entering the Second Courtyard, the imperial carriages are on display in the former stables. The carriages on display are some of the sultan’s carriages, including the state carriage and the carriage of the Valide Sultan.
Palace Kitchens (2)
The palace kitchens (mutfaklar), designed by court architect Mimar Sinan, cover the complete right-hand side of the Second Courtyard. You can’t miss them with their 20 wide chimneys clearly visible from wherever you are in the court. A kitchen staff of over 800 people prepared the meals for up to 5.000 inhabitants of the palace.
These days the kitchens exhibit the world’s second best collection of Chinese blue-and-white, white and celadon porcelain. Most of it was imported from China and Japan, transported via camels over the legendary Silk Route.
The 10.700 pieces of Chinese, Japanese and Turkish porcelain are rare and precious. The Chinese porcelain on display spans four dynasties: Sung, Yuan, Ming and Qing.
The collection also holds around 3.000 pieces of Yuan and Ming celadon, particularly valued by the sultans and the queen mother because it was supposed to change color when brought into contact with poisonous food.
Besides the porcelain, the kitchens also contain the palace’s collection of ceramics, glass and silverware.
Imperial Council (22)
Opposite the palace kitchens and around the corner from the Harem entrance is the Imperial Council (Divan). This is where the state affairs were discussed and the business of running the empire was carried out. The Imperial Council consisted of the Grand Vizier (Paşa Kapısı), viziers and other leading officials of the Ottoman Empire held meetings. They normally met four times a week to deliberate about the political, administrative and religious affairs of the state. It was also here that the Grand Vizier received ambassadors. Wedding ceremonies of the sultan’s daughters were held in these rooms too.
Please note the fountain in the middle of the room. When running, it enabled them to have secret conversations. From the window with the golden grill high on the wall, the sultan or queen mother could eavesdrop on deliberations of the council.
Tower of Justice
The Tower of Justice is located between the Imperial Council and the Harem. It is the highest structure of the palace, and supposedly offers great views of the entire palace. Unfortunately, every time I visited the palace, it was closed for renovation or other reasons. Maybe you’ll have more luck.
State Treasury or Weapons Room (21)
Adjacent to the Imperial Council you’ll find the former State Treasury, present home to an exhibition of weapons and armor, hence called the Weapons Room (Silahlar).
It displays a huge collection of some 400 weapons and armors, among which swords of various sultans.
Pay attention to the differences between the European and Ottoman weaponry. The latter looks lighter, yet deadlier.
Gate of Felicity (3)
The Gate of Felicity (Babussade) leads to the Third Courtyard (see Topkapi Palace part 3). The sultan only used this immense rococo style gate and the square (Divan Meydanı) in front of it during special ceremonies. Funerals of sultans were also conducted in front of the gate.