ISTANBUL — Seraglıo Point

This promontory is the meeting point of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. In former times it was used as a natural strategic point and monasteries and public buildings were found here. Today the most important structure found here is the Topkapi Palace.

The sights found here are:
Topkapi Palace
Gülhane Park
Archaeological Museum
Imperial Mint
Haghia Eirene
Fountain of Ahmet 111
Soğukçeşme Sokaği
Cafer Ağa Courtyard
Sublime Porte
Cağaloğlu Baths
Sirkeci Station

Tokapi Palace

Topkapi Palace
This palace that occupies most of Seraglio Point was home to the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years. It was the heart of the vast Ottoman Empire and the rulers lived in hundreds of rooms with hundreds of concubines, children, and white and black servants. It was built between 1459 and 1465 by Mehmet 11 as his main home. It was built not as a single building but as a series of buildings placed in four courtyards which first served as a seat of government with a school for the training of public servants and soldiers. In the 16th century the government was moved to the Sublime Porte. In 1853 Sultan Abdül Mecid 1 moved from Topkapi Palace to Dolmabahçe Palace and in 1924 it became a museum and open to the public. The palace you see today is only a small part of the original as a lot has been destroyed over time due to destruction by fire and demolition to make way for new buildings. The part that remains is still spectacular and there is a lot to explore including a glittering collection of treasures such as diplomatic gifts as well as booty from military campaigns.

The main entrance to the palace is through the Imperial Gate — Bab-i Hümayün. Note the inscriptions some of which date back to the 15th century. The Imperial Gate leads to the first courtyard which is known as the Courtyard of the Janissaries who were the paid soldiers of the sultan until the mid 19th century. This courtyard used to house a hospital and dormitories for the palace guards but it is now a lovely green park that is freely accessible to the public. To the left of this courtyard is the church of Haghia Eirene which was built by Emperor Justinian.

The first courtyard is where you buy your entrance tickets to the palace just before you reach the next gate, the Gate of Salutation or — Bab-i Selam. This gate was built by Sülayman the Magnificent in 1524 and he was the only person who was allowed to pass through it on horseback. Everyone else had to dismount and walk through. The towers that you see either side of the gate were used to house prisoners awaiting execution that took place at the nearby fountain. This gate leads to the second courtyard which was once the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. It is filled with rose gardens and ornamental trees and contains some fabulously ornate buildings. You will find here on one side the former palace kitchens that previously held over 1,000 cooks to feed tens of thousands of guests and residents on any given day. This space now houses displays of wonderful porcelain, crystal and silver.

Straight ahead is the Assembly Room of the Council of State (Divan-i-Humayun) presided over by the grand vizier. To the left is the Harem which were the secluded quarters of the wives and concubines of the sultan. There are 400 halls, terraces, rooms and apartments contained in the Harem but only 40 or so are available to be viewed. As you move through the Harem the rooms become larger and more opulent especially those belonging to the chief wives and the sultan. Also in this courtyard is the former State Treasury which now houses an exhibition of arms and armour.

The third courtyard is entered through the Gate of Felicity (Bab-i Saadet) which in former times could only be entered by the sultan and grand vizier. The first building you see is the Audience Chamber which is where foreign ambassadors could meet the sultan who never spoke to them except through his grand vizier. On the right is the Hall of Campaign Pages who looked after the royal clothes and now houses an exhibition of imperial costumes. Next door to this is the Imperial Treasury. You can visit these lavishly filled rooms of treasures that include the spoils of war as well as gifts given to the various sultans over the years. It is worth the wait to see the magnificent jewels which include two gigantic uncut emeralds. Also in this courtyard is the Privy Chamber housing the Chamber of Sacred Relics. This building is often crowded and you may have to wait as numbers are restricted at any one time. You will follow a circuit around the rooms to the sound of the Quran being read aloud. Some of the treasures found here include Moses’ staff and Muhammad’s sword, tooth, beard and cloak.

The fourth and last courtyard is a series of gardens with steep terraces that lead down to Seraglio Point. From this courtyard you will be able to enjoy superb views of the Bosphorus and other parts of the city of Istanbul. Here you will also find a restaurant and cafe. Make sure you visit the Baghdad Kiosk with its marble facade and beautiful interiors including tiles dating from the 17th century and the mother of pearl and tortoise shell decorated cupboard. This building was used as the library of the Privy Chamber and it is found on the right side of the terrace with the fountain.
For information about the palace visit the website at: http://topkapipalace.com

Traveller's Tip

Note the niches on the Imperial Gate which once held the heads of rebels and criminals.
  • If you wish to visit the Harem you will need to purchase an additional ticket to the palace one.
  • It is very easy to spend at least a half a day at the palace so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to see everything and be aware that you may have to wait in line several times.
    Gülhane Park

    Gülhane Park
    This park is found next door to the Topkapi Palace and it is a pleasant place to stroll before or after visiting the palace. The park is the oldest in Istanbul and was once a large rose garden for Topkapi Palace. It is a huge park with tall trees either side of a wide pedestrian lane and there are lots of colourful flowers. The park contains a fish pond and fountain, statues and lots of green grass areas and wooden benches for sitting. At the far end of the park is the Goth’s Column which is a monument from the 3rd century. Here you will also find some tea houses where you can refresh yourself with cups of turkish tea and enjoy wonderful views over the Bosporus.

    Traveller's Tip

    If you cross Kennedy Caddesi which is the main road that runs along the northeast side of the park you will find a lookout which gives a great view of the water and where the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus.

    Archaeological Museum
    This wonderful museum is found just inside the first courtyard of the Topkapi Palace. The museum is housed in three buildings and contains over one million objects. The most famous is the Alexander Sarcophagus which is found on the upper floor of the building. It has magnificent carvings of battles involving Alexander the Great and dates from the 4th century BC. Another magnificent sarcophagus is that of the Crying Women with its intricately carved figures of women in various states of mourning. Some of the other highlights include the tablet of the Treaty of Kadesh which is the world’s oldest surviving peace treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites dating from 1269 BC as well as many statues and artefacts from early civilisations. Note the statue of a lion which you see near the entrance. It is the only piece saved from the hands of British archaeologists and comes from the Mausoleum of Maussollos which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Museum of the Ancient Orient is certainly worth a visit because of its collection of artefacts and treasures from the ancient civilisations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Arab countries.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.istanbularkeoloji.gov.tr/main_page

    Imperial Mint
    This museum is also found in the first courtyard of the Topkapi Palace next to the church of St Irene and until 1967 it housed the Imperial Mint. It is where money was printed for the rulers of the Ottoman Empire for more than two hundred years. The mint opened here in 1727 but it was upgraded during the reign of Mahmut 11 in the early 19th century. The building itself is quite interesting and it is decorated in the Baroque style. The museum houses exhibits of coins from different periods of the Ottoman Empire, jewellery produced for the Sultan and his wives as well as money printing presses. It now is used as a popular venue for cultural events.

    Haghia Eirene

    Haghia Eirene
    This former Eastern Orthodox church is found in the outer courtyard of the Topkapi Palace. The interior of the church is interesting with its five rows of built-in theatre style seats for the clergy found in the apse. Also here is a large mosaic of a black cross on a gold background dating from the 8th century. The church itself stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple and it is reportedly the first church built in Istanbul. It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine 1 in the 4th century but was destroyed in 532. It was rebuilt in 548 but suffered further damage in an earthquake in the 8th century. The church you see today dates mainly from the restoration made after the earthquake and it is the only existing Byzantium church which retains its original atrium.

    Traveller's Tip

    The church is only open to the public during concerts which are held here, especially during the Istanbul Music Festival held in June and July each year.
    Fountain of Ahmet 111

    Fountain of Ahmet 111
    This fountain is found on the road to the Topkapi Palace near its outer gate. It was built by Sultan Ahmed 111 between 1728 and 1729 and the style of the fountain is a combination of traditional Ottoman as well as contemporary western styles. It consists of a large square block with a wall fountain at the centre of each facade and a semi-circular counter at each corner where refreshments would once have been served. Each of these counters (or sebils) has three elaborately decorated latticed windows. Each of the fountain’s four walls has a tap and carved marble basin and water is supplied from an octagonal pool inside the fountain building.

    Soğukçeşme Sokaği

    Soğukçeşme Sokaği
    Soğukçeşme Sokaği is a narrow cobbled lane found between the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. The name means ‘Street of the Cold Fountain’ and is named after the fountain found at one end. The lane is lined with old wooden houses which date back to the late 18th century. Many of these houses are guest houses which you can stay in and they consist of two or three storeys and hold from 4 to 10 guest rooms. One of the houses is the library of Istanbul Kitapliği and contains archives and photographs of Istanbul as well as over 10,000 books about the city. Towards the end of the lane is the Sarniç restaurant which was once a Roman cistern.

    Cafer Ağa Courtyard

    Cafer Ağa Courtyard
    This courtyard is found in an alley, Soğukkuyu Çikmazi which runs alongside the Hagia Sofia. The complex consists of a cafe and showrooms containing traditional Turkish crafts. There is also an art school. It is a very peaceful and pleasant place to visit and an oasis from some of the busier parts of Istanbul.

    Sublime Porte

    Sublime Porte
    This monumental gateway is found at the end of a street running southeast from Yeni Cami near Sireci Station. It once led into the offices of the palace of the grand vizier. Later it housed the Foreign Ministry and is now the office of the Governor or Vali of Istanbul. The sultan used to watch the comings and goings of the Sublime Porte from the Alay Köskü which is found opposite at the corner of the Seraglio wall. The gate you see today was built in the 1840s in the Rococo style.

    Cağaloğlu Baths

    Cağaloğlu Baths
    These luxurious Turkish baths were built by Sultan Mahmut 1 in 1741. There are separate baths for men and women who enter the baths from different streets. The bath complex consists of a camekan or dressing room with private cubicles where you keep your clothes and a large room where you can have various services such as massages and the hot room or sauna.
    For information about the baths visit the website at: http://www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr

    Traveller's Tip

    This facility is popular with tourists as the staff speak several languages and will explain the procedure but be aware that it is expensive. It is a good idea to bring your own toiletries because the ones provided can be expensive and are not always of the best quality.
    Sirkeci Station

    Sirkeci Station
    This is Istanbul’s main train station and is famous because it opened in 1890 as the final destination of the Orient Express from Europe. This beautiful building is a mixture of Ottoman and western architecture with its ornate windows, arches and stonework. You may like to visit the Orient Express restaurant which was a favourite meeting place for celebrities in the 1950s and 60s. The station is found in front of the Eminonu pier in the Sirkeci district.