SULTAN AHMET SQUARE
The first of the seven hills on the promontory has been the most important and dynamic part of the city in all ages. When the city was first founded, the acropolis was a typical Mediterranean trading center surrounded by city walls. This trading center was enlarged and rebuilt during Roman times. The most prominent buildings and monuments of the Roman era were built in the vicinity of the Hippodrome. Very few relics of these works have endured to the present day.
The imperial palace, known as the "Great Palace", used to spread over an area extending from the Hippodrome down to the seashore. Only the mosaic floor panel of a large hall remains from this palace today. The Augusteion, the most important square of the city, used to be here, and between the square and the main avenue there was the Millairium victory arch. The road used to extend as far as Rome and the stone marking the first kilometer was located here. The baths, temples, religious, cultural, administrative and social centers were all in this district. The area maintained its importance in the Byzantine and Turkish eras. Therefore some of the most important monuments of Istanbul such as the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art and the Basilica Cistern are all located around the Hippodrome.
The main streets in the city (those leading down to the harbor and those extending toward the city walls in the west) started at the Hippodrome and followed the slopes of the hills. The streets were lined with business establishments and mansions. The side streets were narrow and some were stepped. Some of the main streets had two-galleried sidewalks. There were spacious squares along the route and the side roads forking from these squares led to the city gates. The main avenue was called the Mese, and Via Egnetia, the road to Rome, started at the Golden Gate (Altmkapi).
Hippodrome means square for horses. The Hippodrome was built by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus towards the end of the 2nc* century and it was extended to an immense size by Constantine the Great. Some historians claim that it could seat thirty thousand spectators, while others put the figure at sixty thousand. The main attraction was the two or four-horse chariot races. In Roman and Byzantine times, the Hippodrome served as the city's main meeting, entertainment and sports center until the 10tn century. Like many of the other monuments in the city, it lost its importance with the Latin invasion in 1204. Besides the chariot races and gladiator fights with wild animals, there were performances by musicians, dancers and acrobats. There were many public holidays during Roman times to allow opportunities for all these activities.
The Hippodrome was shaped like a gigantic "U" and the imperial box, built like a balcony with four bronze horses on its roof, was situated on the eastern side. The sand-covered surface of the Hippodrome was divided into two by a low wall around which the chariots raced. On this wall stood monuments brought here from different corners of the empire and the statues of famous riders and their horses. Successful chariot drivers were very wealthy and could have anything they wanted. Originally there were 4 teams of drivers whose supporters' clubs formed large quarrelling factions and competed for position and prestige in the city. From time to time politics intermingled with the races, and the clashes between competing forces turned into bloody massacres.
The original ground level of the Hippodrome was 4 or 5 meters lower than the present surface. Three monuments have remained to our day: the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpent Column and the Walled Obelisk. In the Turkish era, too, festivals, ^ceremonies and performances used to be organized here. The Palace of Ibrahim Pasa opposite Sultan Ahmet Mosque is the sole example of the imposing private residences of the 16th century. This elegant building now houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.
Only the round southern end of the vast Hippodrome has survived. This is a brick structure decorated with tall vaults. In later ages, all of the stone blocks and columns of the Hippodrome were used for building material. The ruins in the park to the right of the entrance to the Hippodrome belong to 4th" and 5th century private palaces, and a little further along there are the remains of the Byzantine Hagia Euphemia church.
THE EGYPTIAN OBELISK (THE OBELISK OF THEODOSIUS I)
Around 1490 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III erected two obelisks before the Karnak temple in Luxor to commemorate the victories of his forces in Mesopotamia. The obelisks were made of rare pink granite.
In the 4th century AD, an unknown Roman emperor who wanted to accomplish something impressive that would create excitement among his people had the colossal obelisk brought to Istanbul.
For years it was left lying in a corner of the Hippodrome. In 390, during the reign of Theodosius I, it was erected with great difficulty by Proclus, a city administrator. It is the oldest monument in the city and has always been considered magical. The obelisk rests on four bronze blocks on a Roman base decorated with reliefs. These depict the emperor, his children and other prominent personalities watching the races from the imperial box, as well as the spectators, musicians, dancers and chariot races. The obelisk measures 25.60 m including the base.
THE BASILICA CISTERN
The largest and most magnificent covered cistern in the city is entered through a small building to the west of the Hagia Sophia Square. The ceiling of this forest of columns is made of brick and is cross-vaulted. The name of the cistern comes from a basilica that was once located nearby.
It was built during the reign of Justinian I (527-565) to supply water to the palaces in the vicinity. Its 336 columns are arranged in 12 rows of 28 each. The cistern measures 140 by 70 meters. The columns are topped with capitals, some of them plain, but most in Corinthian style. The water level in the cistern changed from season to season. The water was distributed through the pipes at different levels in the eastern wall.
The ground was cleared during the major restoration in 1987, and when over one meter of mud was removed, the original brick pavement and two marble Medusa heads at the base of two of the columns were revealed. The walkway that was constructed at that time enables visitors to walk around the cistern.
SULTAN AHMET MOSQUE (THE BLUE MOSQUE)
One of the most famous monuments of Turkish and Islamic art, the mosque is visited by all who come to Istanbul and gains their admiration.
This imperial mosque is an example of classical Turkish architecture, and it is the only mosque that was originally built with six minarets.
It is surrounded by other important edifices of Istanbul, built at earlier ages. Istanbul is viewed best from the sea and the mosque is part of this magnificent scenery.
Although it is popularly known as the Blue Mosque, its real name is Sultan Ahmet Mosque. Befitting his original profession, its architect Mehmet Aga decorated the interior fastidiously like a jeweler. Built between 1609-1616, the mosque used to be part of a large complex, including a covered bazaar, Turkish baths, public kitchens, a hospital, schools, a caravanserai, and the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmet. Some of these social and cultural buildings have not survived to our day.
The architect was a student of Sinan, the greatest architect of classical Turkish architecture. He applied a plan used previously by his master, but on a larger scale.
The main entrance to Sultan Ahmet Mosque is on the Hippodrome side. There is an outer courtyard, and the inner courtyard and the edifice itself are elevated.
From the gate opening to the inner courtyard one can view the domes, rising above one another in perfect harmony, over the symbolic ablution fountain in the middle and the surrounding porticoes.
There are three entrances to the mosque interior. The wealthy and colorful vista inside created by the paintings, tiles and stained glass complements the exterior view. The interior has a centralized plan; the main and side domes rise on four large columns that support broad and pointed arches. The walls of the galleries surrounding the three sides of the interior chamber are decorated by over 20,000 exquisite Iznik tiles. The areas above the tiles and the inside of the domes are decorated with paintwork.
The blue of the paintwork, which gives the mosque its name, was not the color of the decorations originally; they were painted blue during later restorations. During the last renovation, completed in 1990, the darker blue color of the interior decorations painted as its original light colors.
The floor is covered by carpets, as in all mosques. Next to the mihrab (niche aligned towards Mecca) opposite the main entrance, there is a marble minber (pulpit) with exquisite marble work. On the other side is the sultan's loge (box) in the form of a balcony. The 260 windows flood with light the interior space, which is covered by a dome 23.5 m in diameter and 43 m high.
The small market building, repaired and reconstructed in recent years, is situated to the east of the mosque, and the single-domed mausoleum of Sultan Ahmet and the medrese (religious school) building are to the north, on the Hagia Sophia side.
In summer months light and sound shows are organized in the park here. Sultan Ahmet Mosque occupies a focal point in city tours, together with the numerous monumental buildings and museums in the vicinity.
The minarets of the mosque are classical examples of Turkish architecture. The balconies are reached by spiral stairs. It is from these balconies that five times a day the believers are called to prayer - in our day using loudspeakers.
The domes and the minarets are covered by lead, and at the top of the minarets there are standards made of gold-plated copper. Master craftsmen repair these coverings very skillfully when needed.
Islam requires all Muslims to pray five times a day. When the believers hear the call to prayer from the minarets, they perform their ablutions (washing) and then pray. The noon prayer on Fridays and the prayers on other important holidays are performed in the mosques collectively, but other prayers can be performed anywhere.
In the communal prayers performed in the mosque, the imam takes the lead and he chants verses from the Koran. The areas of prayer for men and women are separate. In the central area only men are allowed to pray, while women take their places either behind them or in the galleries.
It is a characteristic of classical Turkish mosques that even in the most crowded day, the majority of the congregation can easily see the mihrab.
HAGIA SOPHIA MUSEM
Hagia Sophia, which is considered as one of the eight wonders of the world, also occupies a prominent place in the history of art and architecture. It is one of the rare works of this size and age that has survived to our day. The church (called Ayasofya in Turkish) is erroneously known as Saint Sophia in the west. The basilica was not dedicated to a saint named Sophia, but to Divine Wisdom.
This was the site of a pagan temple, and the three separate basilicas built here in different times were all called by the same name. Although no churches were built during the reign of Constantine the Great, some sources maintain that the first Hagia Sophia basilica was built by him. Actually, the first small basilica with a wooden roof was constructed in the second half of the 4th century by Constantinius, the son of Constantine the Great.
This church burnt during the riots in 404, and a second and larger basilica that replaced it was inaugurated in 415. During the bloody uprising of 532 that broke out at a chariot race in the Hippodrome, ten thousands of the inhabitants of the city were killed and numerous building destroyed.
The Hagia Sophia church was among the structures burnt during this so-called "Nika" revolt which was directed against Emperor Justinian.
When Justinian finally suppressed the revolt, he decided to build a house of worship "the like of which has not been seen since Adam, nor will it be seen in the future." Construction started in 532 over the remains of the previous basilica and it was completed in five years. In the year 537, elaborate ceremonies were organized for the dedication of this largest church of Christendom. The emperor spared no expense for his church and placed the state treasury at the disposal of the architects, Antheius of Tralles and mathematician Isidorus of Miletus. The design of the dome followed in the tradition of Roman architecture, and the plan of the basilica was even older. Round buildings had been successfully covered with domes before. But in Hagia Sophia, Justinian was attempting for the first time in the history of architecture to build a gigantic central dome over a rectangular plan.
Priests kept intoning prayers throughout the construction. Marbles and columns taken from the remains of earlier eras from almost all parts of the empire were used for building material. Later many esoteric stories were invented to explain the origin of these materials, particularly the columns, which were gathered from such far ranging sources.
During the reign of Justinian, Hagia Sophia was a manifestation of refinement and pomp, but in later eras it turned into a legend and a symbol.
Because of its dimensions which could not be surpassed for the next thousand years and the financial and technical difficulties involved in its construction, people believed that such a building could not have been achieved without the assistance of supernatural powers. Although Hagia Sophia is a 6th century Byzantine work, it is an "experiment" in the Roman architectural tradition that has neither a predecessor nor a duplicate. The contrast between the interior and the exterior and the large dome are legacies of Rome. The outer appearance is not elegant; it was built as a shell, without much care for proportions. On the other hand, the interior is as splendid and captivating as a palace. As a whole, it is an "imperial" structure.
During the dedication ceremony, the emperor could not suppress his excitement. He entered the church in a chariot, thanked God, and shouted that he had outdone King Solomon.
The basilica developed into a large religious center with tall buildings surrounding it. The scene was now set for the clashes between the Byzantine emperors and the Eastern Church that would last for centuries.
Despite its uniqueness and magnificence, the structure has some vital faults. The most important problem was the enormous size of the dome and the pressure it exerted on the side walls. The architectural elements necessary for transmitting the weight of such a dome to the foundations were not fully developed at that time.
In time the side walls kept leaning outwards and the original low dome collapsed in 558. The second dome to be constructed was much higher and reduced in diameter, but almost half of this dome also collapsed twice, in the 10th and 14th centuries. Vast sums were spent in all ages for the upkeep of Hagia Sophia. The immediate restorations undertaken after the Turkish conquest in 1453 to convert it into a mosque saved this beautiful building. Among the major restorations at later times were the buttresses built by Turkish architect Sinan in the 16th century, the restoration by the Fossafi brothers in mid-19th century, and the repairs including the fortification of the dome with iron bands after 1930. Existing modern portable metal scaffolding will make future restoration work easier.
After serving two different religions with the same god, 916 years as a church and 477 years as a mosque, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum on Ataturk's orders. Between 1930 and 1935 the whitewash on the walls was cleaned to reveal mosaics, which are among the most important examples of Byzantine art.
A TOUR OF THE MUSEUM
The entrance to the museum from the courtyard is the original west gate, which has now been put to use again after centuries. Next to the entrance is the remains of the earlier (the second) basilica. Those who were not baptized could only enter to the outer nartexs, from which five doors give entrance to the inner narthex (porch), and from here nine more doors lead into the nave.
The tall door in the middle was the Imperial Entrance. The mosaic panel above the door dates to end-9th century. In the center of the panel Christ the Pantocrator (Almighty) sits on a throne and an emperor pleads him for divine mercy. One of the two roundels on both sides depicts Virgin Mary and the other Archangel Gabriel. The non-figurative mosaics on the ceiling of the inner narthex and the side naves are from the time of Justinian.
An overwhelmingly magnificent nave welcomes the visitor. The dome makes itself felt from the very first step. It gives the impression of being suspended in the air and covers the entire space. The walls and the ceilings are covered with marble and mosaics, creating a colorful appearance. The three different tones of color observed in the mosaic decorations of the dome indicate three different restorations. It is still one of the largest domes in the world with its height and diameter. Due to later restorations, the 55.60 meter high dome is not perfectly round. Its diameter measures 31.87 m from north to south and 30.87 m from east to west. Four winged angels with their faces covered decorate the four pendentives which support the dome. The wide rectangular central space, measuring 74.67 x 69.80 m, is divided from the dark side naves by columns. There are altogether 107 columns on the ground floor and the galleries. The marble column capitals of Hagia Sophia are the most characteristic and distinctive examples of the 6th century classical Byzantine decorative art in the building. The deep carvings on the marble, in typical medieval style, produce impressive effects of light and shadow. In the center there are imperial monograms.
The antique porphyry columns in the corners, the central columns of green Salonika marble, and the richly decorated white marble capitals on all columns take the visitor back to ancient times.
To appreciate Hagia Sophia fully, one should try to look at it not just as an empty museum, but as the magnificent and mystical church or mosque it once was. While it was the mother church of a great empire, the section in front of the apse, the altar, the ambo (pulpit) and the ceremonial objects were all plated in gold and silver and decorated with ivory and jewels. Even some of the doors were covered with such precious metals. The Latin invaders of the 4th Crusade tore all of these down and carried them to Europe, together with some architectural fragments.
A mosaic panel depicting the Christ-Child and the Virgin decorates the conch of the apse. Another angels figure on the opposite wall has not survived intact.
The huge leather medallions, 7.5 in in diameter, hanging from the walls at gallery level and the inscriptions on the dome remind us of its days as a mosque.
These are the works of master calligraphers of the mid-19th century. The medallions contain the word "Allah" and the names of Prophet Mohammed, the first four caliphs, and Hasan and Huseyin, the grandchildren of the prophet. The mihrab in the apse, the stained glass windows over the mihrab and minber, the raised platform for the chanters are Turkish additions.
On the floor of the nave, there is a square area paved with colored marble pieces. Emperors used to be crowned here and it dates probably to the 12th century.
Two round urns made of high quality marble are placed on each side of the entrance to the central nave. These antique urns were brought from Pergamum in the 16th century.
In the northern corner of the church is the "sweating column". A bronze belt encircles the lower section and there is a hole big enough to insert a finger. There are many legends and stories about the column. A ramp inside the first northern buttress gives access to the upper galleries. The magnificent central nave looks completely different when seen trom the galleries surrounding the three sides.
In the galleries there were sections reserved for the ladies of the imperial family and the meetings of the church council. In the northern wing there is a mosaic panel, and there are three panels, each with groups of three figures, in the southern wing.
In the southern gallery the light from a window nearby illuminates a masterpiece of Byzantine mosaic art. The panel, called "Deesis", represents the last judgment and is a composition of three figures: Jesus is seen in the center, flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. The unusual arrangement of the mosaics in the background highlights the beauty of the figures, and the facial expressions are extremely realistic.
At the far end of the southern gallery a panel from the 12th century depicts the Virgin Mary and Christ-Child, the Emperor Comnenus II, and the Empress Eirene, while the panel on the side wall portrays the ailing Prince Alexius. The racial features of the Empress, who was of Hungarian origin, i.e. her light complexion and hair, can be clearly distinguished.
In a second panel here, Christ is seated on the throne and beside him stand the Empress Zoe and her third husband Constantine Monomachos. The mosaic originally depicted the first husband of Zoe, but the face and the inscription above were redone to suit Constantine. In this panel, the offerings of the members of the royal family, a pouch and a scroll symbolize their donations to the church.
The large panel seen while leaving the inner narthex is from the 10th century. The figures with distorted perspectives represent the Virgin and the Christ-Child in the center, with Constantine the Great offering a model of the city on the right, and Justinian offering a model of Hagia Sophia on the left. The huge bronze doors at the exit that are partially embedded in the floor are from the 2nd century BC and were probably brought here from a pagan temple in Tarsus.
In the garden of the museum there are Turkish buildings from various periods, such as the tombs of sultans, a school, the clock-winding house and the ablution fountain. The minarets on the eastern side were added in the 15th century and those on the west side in the 16th century.
Topkapi is the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive to our day. In 1924 it was turned into a museum at Atatiirk's request. Situated on the acropolis, the site of the first settlement in Istanbul, it commands an impressive view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace is a complex surrounded by 5 km of walls and occupies an area of 700,000 sq. m at the tip of the historical peninsula.
Following the conquest of the city in 1453, the young Sultan Mehmet moved the capital of the empire to Istanbul, His first palace was located in the middle of the town. The second palace, which he built in the 1470's, was initially called the New Palace, but in recent times it came to be known as the Topkapi Palace. Topkapi is a classical example of Turkish palace architecture. It consists of tree- shaded courtyards, each serving a different purpose and opening onto one another with monumental gates. The courtyards are surrounded by functional buildings. From the time of its construction, the palace developed constantly with alterations and additions made by each sultan.
When the sultans moved to the ostentatious Dolmabahce Palace in 1853, Topkapi lost its importance as the official royal residence and was left to deteriorate. It finally regained its former unpretentious beauty after fifty years of continuous restoration in the Republican era. Most of the objects exhibited in the palace today are unique masterpieces.
When it was used as a palace, it served more functions than one usually associates with royal residences. Although it was the residence of the Sultan, the sole ruler of the empire, it was at the same time the center of the administrative affairs, the place where the council of ministers met, and the treasury, mint, and state archives were located there. The highest educational institution of the empire, the university of the sultan and the state was also here. Therefore it was the heart, the brain, the very center of the Ottoman Empire. Much later, the harem (private quarters) of the sultans was moved here too.
Of the sixteen empires founded by the Turks, the Ottoman Empire was the longest lasting and the largest. It lasted for 622 years ruling over the Asian, European and African lands surrounding the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Peoples of different races and religions were united under its rule. The only other empire in history that governed such vast lands for such a long period was the Roman Empire.
Thirty-six sultans reigned during this period, and starting from early 16th century, they also became the religious leaders of the Islamic world as caliphs.
Capable civil servants, after completing their education in the school in the private courtyard of the sultan, served faithfully and successfully in the administration and organization of the empire. Most of the viziers and grand viziers were graduates of this school. Life started at dawn in the palace and it was subject to strict rules and ceremonies. Everybody had to abide by the centuries-old customs and traditions, and these were observed rigorously even when the empire fell into a period of decline. The etiquette of this palace always influenced the rules of protocol in the Western world.
The seaside mansions and pavilions of Topkapi Palace were demolished at the end of the last century.
The different tiles, woodwork and architectural styles displayed in Topkapi Palace reflects the development of Turkish art and the harmonious existence of differing styles over the centuries.
VISITING THE PALACE THE FIRST COURTYARD
The first courtyard is entered through the so-called Imperial Gate. The monumental fountain seen outside the gate is a beautiful example of 18th century Turkish art. In this courtyard there are the palace bakery, the mint, the quarters of the palace guards, and the firewood depots. The vegetable gardens used to occupy the terraces below. The first building in the palace complex, the Tiled Pavilion, and the Archeological Museum are in this courtyard, too. To the left of the entrance is the Hagia Eirene Museum, a 6th century Byzantine church.
THE SECOND COURTYARD
The main entrance to the Palace Museum is the second gate, known as the Gate of Salutation. The second courtyard was the administrative center of the state and the government. Only the sultans could enter this yard on horseback. Citizens with official business were allowed here, as well as the representatives of the Janissary corps on special paydays.
br> The reception of foreign emissaries and state ceremonies took place in this courtyard. It is known that absolute silence prevailed in such ceremonies, sometimes attended by up to ten thousand people. When the sultan was present in the event, the imperial throne was placed in front of the gate at the other end of the courtyard, and as a demonstration of respect; that present would stand with their hands clasped in front. The only tower in the palace is located here too. It was called "the Tower of Justice" because it was the venue of the state court of justice. The entire city and the port could be kept under observation from this tower, the only entrance of which was from the harem section.
The harem was the private zone of the palace, where the mother and siblings of the sultan, the other members of the family, and the concubines and eunuchs who served this large family lived. Until the mid-16th century the harem was housed in the Old Palace in another part of the town. The harem of Topkapi Palace consists of long narrow hallways and about 400 rooms scattered around small courtyards. It was altered and enlarged over the years.
The harem was strictly closed to outsiders, and it became the subject of many stories over the centuries. The concubines serving the sultan and his family were chosen from among the most beautiful and healthy girls of different races or they were presented to the court as gifts.
These girls came to the harem at a very early age and were brought up under strict discipline. After they became thoroughly acquainted with the customs of the palace, they were separated into different groups. Those who could attract the attention of the sultan had the chance of becoming his wife.
There was no such title in the empire as "empress". The sultan's mother was the sole ruler in the harem. Amid the entire splendor and wealth, rivalry, hatred and intrigues to get closer to the sultan were part of the daily life.
When a new sultan ascended to the throne, the harem of the former sultan was moved to another palace. The ladies of the harem and the chief eunuchs emerged as a political power influencing state administration if the reigning sultan was weak and ineffective. Still, life in the harem with all its intrigues, good and bad parts was superior to the life style of women of that period elsewhere.
Only a section of the harem is open to the public. It is up to the imagination of the visitor to recreate the colorful and lively old days in these dim hallways and empty rooms.
The tour of the harem starts with the 40-room section allocated to the mother of the sultan. The next sections are the large Turkish bath and the spacious, domed hall reserved for the sultans.
There are fireplaces and fountains in all available places. The large hall with a pool filled by interesting fountains is decorated with exquisite 16th century tiles. It dates to the reign of Murat III. From the end of this hall, one enters the small library and the "fruit room" which is embellished with paintings of fruits and flowers.
The two 16th century rooms seen at the end of the harem tour have beautiful stained glass windows complementing the rich wall decorations. These rooms were allocated to the crown prince.
THE WEAPON COLLECTION AND THE COUNCIL HALL
The large structure next to the "council of state" building with broad eaves was the state treasury. This eight-domed building today houses rich collection of old weapons in a modern exhibition.
Besides the armor and weapons used by the sultans, those used by the members of the palace and the army is displayed here along with weapons conquered from other countries.
The Tower of Justice rises beside the "council of state" section. The council was composed of the viziers and secretaries, and the grand vizier chaired the meetings.
The sultans did not participate in the meetings, but could listen to the deliberations from a high window in one of the walls. This window opened to the harem section and a curtain masked it. The feasts given in honor of visiting foreign missions took place in this hall.
THE KITCHENS AND THE PORCELAIN COLLECTION
On the right side of the second courtyard are the palace kitchens with twenty chimneys. Of the 12,000 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain in the palace collection, about 2,500 are on display in this section.
When these b uildings were used as kitchens, over one thousand cooks and their assistants prepared and served meals for the various sections of the palace.
Selected pieces of the largest such collection in the world are displayed in a chronological order. Sections of the kitchens have been kept as they were when in use, while another part is allocated to porcelain and glassware produced in Istanbul. Another section houses the collection of silverware and European porcelain. The unique Chinese celadons are in the room to the right. The exhibition of blue and white, mono- and polychrome porcelain objects ends with the Japanese porcelain collection. In the special kitchen where sweets used to be made, everyday kitchen utensils, coffee sets and gold-plated . copper wares are displayed.
THE THIRD COURTYARD
The third courtyard was the private domain of the sultan and it was entered only by special permission- through the Gate of Felicity, guarded by the White Eunuchs. The imperial university, the throne room, the treasury of the sultan and the quarters housing the sacred relics were located in this section. The sultans received foreign ambassadors and high government officials in the throne room, which is directly opposite the entrance. For security reasons those serving in the throne room were selected from among deaf and mute persons.
The military officers who served the sultan in various capacities were at the same time the managers of the imperial school.
The library of Ahmet III in the center of the courtyard is an 18th century building that is a typical example of the harmonious blend of the baroque and Turkish architectural styles.
Unique collections of the sultans' wardrobes are displayed in the section to the right of the courtyard. There are altogether 2,500 of these handmade costumes that were made of fabric woven on the palace looms and preserved carefully in special chests since the 15th century. Besides these garments embroidered with silk, gold and silver thread, there are also silk carpets and prayer rugs, masterpieces of Turkish art, used by the sultans.
The treasury section of the Topkapi Palace Museum is the richest collection of its kind in the world. All the pieces exhibited in the four rooms are authentic originals.
Masterpieces of the Turkish art of jewelry from different centuries and exquisite creations from the Far East, India and Europe entrance visitors. In each room there is an imperial throne from a different era. Ceremonial costumes, weapons, water pipes, Turkish coffee cups and other wares, all of them embellished with gold and precious stones are the most important items in the first room.
The second hall is known as the Emerald Room. It contains dazzling display of aigrettes and pendants decorated with emeralds and other jewels. Uncut emeralds, some weighing several kilograms each, and the famous Topkapi Dagger (the symbol of the museum) embellished with three large emeralds are also on display here.
The third room contains enameled objects, medals and decorations of state presented to the sultans by foreign monarchs, the twin solid gold candelabras each weighing 48 kilograms, and the most famous throne in the palace, the golden throne, which the sultans used during coronations and religious holidays. The 86-carat Spoon Maker's (or Pigot) Diamond, one of the most famous diamonds in the world, is also to be found here. The balcony connecting the third and the fourth rooms offers a breathtaking view of the entrance to the Bosphorus and the Asian coast. In the fourth room, a magnificent throne of Indian-Persian origin is on display. There are also many other objects encrusted with precious stones of different sizes to captivate visitors.
THE CLOCK COLLECTION
The richest collection of clocks in the world is exhibited in the room next to the Sacred Relics Section. To the right of the entrance there are clocks made by Turkish masters. These priceless wall and table clocks and watches are from the 16th-19th centuries. Clocks of a huge variety of makes were presented to the palace as gifts.
The largest clock in the room is one of English origin. It is 3.5 m high and 1 m wide, and contains an organ. Some pieces of special interest are the watches with the portraits of Abdulmecid and Abdulaziz, and a birdcage hanging from the dome, the underside of which is an enameled clock.
THE SACRED RELICS
The sacred relics of Islam were brought to the palace after the conquest of Egypt in the 16th century and have been preserved here since that time. This hall was used as the throne room before it was allocated to the sacred relics. The walls of the domed rooms are covered with tiles. Important pieces of the collection are the swords and bow of Mohammed and his mantle (cloak), which is kept in a priceless box. The seal of the Prophet, hairs from his beard, his footprint and a letter are other exhibits in the showcases in these rooms. Also on display are one of the first manuscripts of The Koran, the keys of the Ka'aba in Mecca, and the swords of prominent religious personalities.
PORTRAITS OF THE SULTANS
This gallery is located in the building with a colonnade, which stands between the Sacred Relics Section and the Treasury and also houses the museum offices. In the large hall, temporary exhibitions are organized from time to time.
The Palace Museum has a rich collection of manuscripts, books, miniatures and writing tools. Some of these rare items are displayed in this section. Oil portraits of the sultans adorn the walls of the balcony-shaped galleries of the hall.
THE FOURTH COURTYARD
A passageway leads from the third to the fourth courtyard where there are a number of pavilions set amidst gardens. The only wooden pavilion in the complex, the Revan and exquisitely decorated Baghdad Pavillions from the 17th century, and the last addition to the palace, the Mecidiye K6§ku, are some of the buildings here. On the ground floor of the last building there is a restaurant for visitors. The terrace in front of Baghdad Pavillion is the best place to Interior of Baghdad Pavilion (17th cent.). get an overall view of the Golden Horn, the Galata district, and the wonderful skyline of old Istanbul with its domes and minarets. The gardens of the palace sloping toward the sea have now been turned into a public park.